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.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Shroud of Turin Interview

All right, so tomorrow I'm hoping to talk to Barrie Schwortz from the Shroud of Turin website. Barrie has worked on official investigations of the Shroud with many prestigious groups, including members of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He has been investigating the Shroud since 1978.

Barrie (he insists I call him by his first name) is Jewish, so when he was asked to work on the Shroud he felt a little uneasy about being part of a "Christian" project. But a friend of his encouraged him to go for it and do the best he could do. So he did, and though he is still Jewish, he now believes that the weight of the evidence points to the Shroud being the genuine burial cloth of Christ.

Barrie was kind enough to agree to an interview, so I hope to talk to him tomorrow at three. I have a lot of questions to ask about the authenticity of the Shroud, so I am looking forward to it.

Here are the questions I am planning on asking thus far.

What is the Shroud supposed to be?

When was the Shroud of Turin discovered? Why is it called the Shroud of Turin, and where has it been over its lifetime?

How did you get involved in the Shroud research?

When did you work on the Shroud? Who was involved in the investigation?

How do you think the image was imprinted onto the Shroud?

Why do you think the Shroud is authentic? I mean, it sounds like something out of an Indiana Jones film! Couldn't it just be a medieval hoax or a modern gimmick? Couldn't the man on the Shroud be someone other than Jesus?

Do you know anything about Luigi Garlaschelli, the Italian scientist who reportedly recreated the Shroud of Turin to show that it is a fake? He apparently wrapped one of his students in cloth, covered the cloth with pigment, baked it in an oven, and then washed it. He basically used materials that would be available during medieval times, so he has decided that it was a gimmick created by middle age artisans. In medieval times especially, fake “Christian” relics were very common.

What about radiocarbon dating done on the cloth? It reveals that the cloth is from the 13th or 14th century, not from the time of Christ, right?

In your estimate, do you think the Shroud lends evidence to Christianity? Has your view of Christianity changed since your investigation on the Shroud?

If you have any questions of your own you would like to ask Barrie Schwortz about the Shroud, let me know. I'm trying to get a good feel for the facts surrounding the Shroud with my questions.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Home Churches

So, I've been having this idea going through my head lately and I don't want to shake it. Many of my friends probably know that I want to go into pastoral ministries, i.e. pastoring a church.

Here's the thing that's been hitting me... when the church was first established, the believers met in houses. See Acts 8:3, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Philemon 1:2, Colossians 4:15, etc...

There is no mention in the New Testament of believers raising buildings for their churches. Instead, they met in churches held in believer's homes.

So I guess it's now something of a dream of mine... to restore this practice. I know Xenos Christian Fellowship does it. I've really benefited from their ministry.

I just think this makes more sense for a lot of reasons.
  • It's personal. People get into the ministry when it's so down-to-earth and in-your-face. It's way easier to build strong relationships with other believers when you're meeting in homes instead of in huge, impersonal church buildings.
  • It allows for rapid church growth. It's tough to build the church of Christ when you keep having to build buildings.
  • It's great for times of persecution. You get privacy and can easily go underground if necessary.
  • It's informal. Instead of being en garde to make sure you look good and are acting proper in your social context, you can have simple fellowship with other believers. Instead of being conscious of the social otherliness of church, this way church comes into your own personal life.
  • It's inexpensive. It allows believers to concentrate their funding on expanding the church of Christ and reaching out financially to more people instead of paying to heat a huge building and reupholster the pews.
  • It encourages sacrifice. When the church is right in a house, believers will have to provide to keep it going. They will offer their talents and time (and be taken up on the offer) more readily.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Does God Learn?

I hear a lot of open theists say that God "learns" about what is going on in the universe. In other words, God learns what human beings are doing, He learned about evil when mankind created it, etc.

Although I do think open theism is quite biblical and preserves God's sovereignty quite well, I don't feel comfortable saying that God learns.

You see, learning implies a struggle to gain information. When I learn, I have to study hard and make an effort to retain the information. For God, the process is completely devoid of effort, because He is omnipotent.

When a new fact comes into existence, then, God knows it instantly. Typically with the Platonic model of God, it is believed that when a being changes, it can only change for better or for worse. Since God is perfect, He can never change for the better or for the worse, so He can't change at all. Therefore, God's knowledge can never change at all. I disagree that changes are always from better to worse. In the Bible, God's character is revealed as unchanging, (i.e. I am the Lord, I do not change) but not in a Platonic sense. In fact, in the incarnation, God became man, that is, He changed.

It has to be this way, then. Here's the thing. If God has sequence (which the Incarnation assumes) then He is in 2009 right now with us (although He doesn't experience time in a measurable way). I am alive right now. Therefore, the statement "Cameron Versluis is alive" has a truth value of "true". If I were to die, the statement "Cameron Versluis is alive" would suddenly have a truth value of "false". Therefore, for a creature to have perfect knowledge over a course of time, the content of their knowledge would have to change.

If, however, God were completely immutably outside of time, as Plato affirmed (and as I myself have affirmed in the past) then the statement "Cameron Versluis is alive" would have a truth value of "true" yet "false"!

So, it does make most sense for God to have sequence, even if He doesn't have a measurable sequence. 2 Peter 3:8 makes this clear. God is going to bring judgment on the earth, but He has not yet. Therefore, He is in the "before" the judgment. Yet, you can't say it will be "x years" for God until the judgment, because His sequence is not measurable.

Now, back to what I was talking about. If I were to die, the truth value for "Cameron Versluis is alive" will suddenly negate. If you were to have the idea that I was alive, it would be a mistaken idea. But, if the truth value suddenly changes, then an omniscient being would recognize that it had changed and instantly the content of its knowledge would change.

God, then, does not "discover new facts" or "learn" as if He had to make some sort of careful effort to do it the right way. This is why I have been uncomfortable with open theists using these terms. Instead, God's simply knows. As David said, God knows when he sits and knows when he stands.

Anyway, some thoughts on open theism and God's knowledge...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Faith and Works

So, I just had a few thoughts on faith and works.

Way back when, Martin Luther opposed the Catholic's translation of a phrase of Jesus we now translate "repent". At the time, Catholics translated it "do penance". Martin Luther, on the other hand, called for a new translation, ushering in his new concept of justification by faith alone.

Out of these two, I would side with Luther. But I agree with N.T. Wright, I think Luther took it too far. The word μετανοέω (metanoeó, repent) means to change one's mind and purpose, according to Strong's. As I recently heard a pastor explain it, when you're headed down the wrong way on a one-way street and cars are coming at you in all three lanes, repenting means turning the car around.

Repentence calls for a lifestyle change: living a radically different life, one like Jesus lived. Yet, we often view the "repent" command as a synonym for "believe" or just "feel bad".

I think we've taken it to the point where we've gotten a drive-thru Jesus. Just have a little faith and you're cool. You're going to heaven, be happy.

But I think Jesus called for a lot more than that. He wanted our works to glorify Him. I don't mean to challenge Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone. I agree with that. But here's the thing. As I see it, it's exactly like loving someone. If you tell someone you love them but never do anything to show it, how genuine is your love? You build up love by the things you do for another person. You're not a good friend because you do good stuff for a person, you're a good friend because you love them. At the same time, your love is built up by the things you do for them.

Similarly, we build up our love and our trust for God when we do what He says. As I see it, maybe works shouldn't be thought of as a byproduct of faith and trust, but as simultaneous with faith and trust. Read Hebrews 11. By faith, Abraham uprooted his house and moved. He didn't just sit there with his faith switch on. His faith was lived out in a real, tangible response to God.

Another thing I might like to note is the definition of "works". What exactly constitutes a work? I think the reason people get so up-in-arms about the concept of works is because they associate it with legalism, i.e. the Pharisees trying to be justified by the works of the Law. But what I'm talking about here is real acts of faith before God. Like, daring to help someone who's hurting. Bringing good news to the poor. Answering the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Here's how John Fletcher saw it. Faith and works are like two oars on a boat. You have to push on both of them simultaneously. If you let slack with the left oar, you turn in circles. If you let slack with the right oar, you turn in circles. It doesn't matter how hard you work the left oar if you're not also working the right one.

Thus, I don't see the tension between salvation by works and salvation by faith alone. Sure, faith is what justifies us, but faith without works is dead. Is a dead faith a saving faith? I think not.

Adding works to salvation seems heretical today. We've got antinomian eternal security advocates running around all over the place. It's like, just say the Sinner's Prayer and you're clean. Now do whatever you want. But works was a huge part of what Jesus talked about. Actually, I think Jesus might be labeled a Pelagian heretic if He were to show up today. Live out your faith. As James says, faith without works is dead. Let's ditch the drive-thru model of Jesus and return to the real one.

Anyway, just some thoughts.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Implanted Desires and Subtle Denotation-Changing

So I've been reading Calvinism: A Closer Look by Daniel Gracely (older edition titled Hoodwinked and Happy?). Gracely writes a great deal about how Calvinists subtly flip and flop the meanings of words without intending to or realizing that they are doing it. Basically what goes on is Calvinists will change the denotation (dictionary meaning) of a word when they use it in their sentences, but the connotation (how it sounds) remains the same, so the sentence still sounds like it makes sense. Gracely is one of the smartest authors I have read in a long time. You can read the entire book online at

I would just like to quote a portion of Chapter 13, which talks about the Calvinist idea that God will take away our old desires and implant His desires. While I agree that this is a biblical principle, I do not view us as suddenly being implanted with God's desires in a totally passive way. I view this more as a process (called sanctification usually), where we gradually learn to conform our desires to God's desires. It's not like suddenly God sucks out our old desires and sticks new ones in there in a crude heart-surgery operation.

And in case any Calvinists are going to quote Ezekiel 36:26-27, see Ben Henshaw's article, "Is the New Heart of Ezekiel 36:26-27 a Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith?"

To understand the implications of this Calvinistic view, consider that I am in a chair writing this page. All of the molecules that make up my being (according to Sproul elsewhere in his book) are in sovereign control by God. According to Sproul and Boettner (who follow Edwards) any faith that I have has been a result of God putting a new desire in me apart from my willingness. Indeed, had God not implanted a new desire in me, I would have remained as I was. But the question arises-If Calvinism says that God has placed His desire in Dan against Dan’s desire, then Dan’s desires have been negated in order to receive the construct of God. That is, without God’s forceful and coercive removal of Dan’s own desires, Dan would simply remain as he is. How then, for example, can Sproul or Edwards say that this new desire is Dan’s desire? For if I now say the sentence, “God has changed my desire” there is an illusion of meaning because there is no more ‘my.’ God has overthrown the ‘my.’ He has negated the ‘my’ and replaced the vacuum with His desire. The only way, then, that ‘Dan’ could say that “God has changed my desire” is if we reduce the ‘my’ to particle physics. Thus, in place of Dan’s essence is now a bio-organic automaton that, in effect, calls up a program that God has put within him to give the illusion that when the automaton speaks saying, “I am Dan, and my desire has been changed,” Dan and his desire are still present, when in fact they are not. In reality ‘Dan’ must only be a bio-computer which God has made out of material creation. So the mass of collective molecules in process that sits in a chair, which we call ‘Dan,’ has been the object of God’s construct. ‘Dan,’ for that matter (as previously noted), could be a laundry basket for all the distinction that Calvinism requires. The ‘my’ enacts no final thinking or willing as a separate entity distinct from God. Thus ‘man’ is a non-predicated being, and the uniqueness that distinguishes him from a laundry basket is lost. For God could just as well sustain the being of a laundry basket, a plant, or an automaton in His presence, and cause it to echo back His constructs as willless computers with no consciousness. Either way it is God’s continuation of an object’s being in His presence-and that is all. We see then that under Calvinism the result is a total annihilation of the person, because to say that “God chooses another person’s choice” is the same type of irrationality that would say that “somebody else is me.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More on Statues, Calvin, and Probability of Being Correct

After reading my last post, Sam had more to say.

Though I too would commend the removal of Mary's statues in the church, I think John Calvin was against it because it was someone else's property that was being destroyed. If the whole church had become protestant and removed the figurines, then he would have been for it but he was not for destruction others property.

//"being wrong makes him more suspect to being incorrect in other areas."//
May be true, though I highly doubt that there are too many people in history with whom you agree entirely. I suppose you are going to start listing all the people in which you have found no fault as of yet and that is fine. I would enjoy browsing the list.

No; other than Jesus I don't really know of anyone with whom I would agree with entirely. On some point or another I disagree with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Calvin, Wesley, Augustine, Constantine, Pelagius, Arminius, and pretty much anyone else you could name. However, I think that Pelagius, for instance, was much further in the wrong than Arminius.

In the same way I think Calvin was very wrong on this issue, and many others. His quote of the ideal church being "four bare walls and a sermon" is exactly in character from what I've read of Calvin and fits snugly with a lot of the other things I've heard that he has said.

I do suggest reading about Calvin's rule of Geneva here and here. Calvin was a stringent dictator who despised any sort of merriment and enforced harsh rules. Everyone was examined by his pious police to see whether they were conducting themselves the right way, and questioned if they missed one of Calvin's sermons. A female hairdresser was imprisoned for two days for giving a bad haircut. Calvin got the police to side with him doctrinally and banished anyone who dared question his Institutes. When one man questioned part of Calvin's sermon, Calvin made him march all around the city and beg forgiveness at every street corner. Additionally, at risk of sounding cliche with this oft-repeated sentiment, Calvin was complicit in the murder of Michael Servetus, and executions were common in Geneva.

All in all, although Calvin did have some good exegesis here and there, I think he was quite questionable. Boyd's quote from Calvin reinforced this idea, and I simply think that Calvin's almost paranormal display of wrong-ness certainly renders any of his ideas suspect.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Calvin, Sam, and Boyd on Stained Glass

So I posted a link to a video clip from one of Greg Boyd's sermons on Facebook not too long ago. The video was called "Imagination, John Calvin, and Stained Glass". In the clip Boyd talks about how the Protestant Reformation had as one bad side effect the discouragement of Christian art.

I think it is truth; the Reformation did create a general suspision of art. I've noticed that Protestants tend to be very jittery about pictures, movies, or arts used in religion. Any depictions of Jesus often come with a lot of disclaimers and people are very shaky about things.

However, shortly after I posted the link, Sam messaged me. I think he had some excellent things to say, so I will post his message.

Greg Boyd needs a little help with his history. The reason why the reformers where against the statues and windows was because of who was on them. Go to a church today that still uses these methods and see who it is that is being shown in the windows and statues. While it may be true that John Calvin was totally against these things, the reason for his being totally against it was probably because of its former abuse, as Boyd said. So Calvin may be wrong in this regard, so what? As for the iconoclasts who did the breaking of all the statues in the churches, John Calvin was against this sort of violence. There are Calvinists who still use stain glass windows of Bible characters and statues and the like. One of them is R.C. Sproul, who you know of very well.

I would like to make a few points.

In Boyd's favor:
  • Boyd doesn't talk about Reformers in general; he talks about the "culprits" who threw suspicion onto the arts, one of them being John Calvin.
  • Calvin's being wrong in this area was the point Boyd was making here. He wasn't critiquing anything else Calvin had to say, although Boyd did make it clear that he wasn't a Calvin fan. I would also like to note that Calvin's being clearly in the wrong on this issue makes him more suspect to be incorrect on other issues.
  • The Platonic otherness theory was also clearly a "culprit" here, and I agree with Boyd that as a result of Plato's (and Socrates and Parmenides) musings, we have had our picture of God skewed and corrupted.
In Sam's favor:
  • It's true that the Catholic and Orthodox churches fell into a lot of idolatry and twisted practices involving their statues and pictures. As a result I can see how being suspicious of such images would be beneficial.
  • When you think about it, the statue-smashing rather corresponds to the Old Testament idol smashing. I'm not sure if smashing stuff is quite as acceptable under the new covenant as it was under the old, but it's still a radical way to deal with sin, and I like it.
  • I'm guessing you mean that Virgin Mary is shown on windows from such churches today. And I agree she is a very, very dangerous figure idolatry-wise. In fact, I would guess that during the end times she's going to be one of the main rigs Satan uses, and she has been a favorite of his for a long time.
So in the end, I agree with Sam that at least some Reformers (maybe most) had good motives for destroying the statues and stained glass windows, and I commend those Reformers for doing so. I agree with Boyd that a total suspision of arts is wrong and that the Platonic model of God's otherliness makes God into a big shiny nonpersonal floating gem. So I still think Boyd's sermon is excellent, but best taken with a grain of salt, i.e. a dose of Sam.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Why I'm Leaning Open Theist

All right, I am very seriously considering open theism at this point. A lot of people will think I'm a heretic (what's new?), but I would just like to make a few points as to why I am leaning toward this position.

  • The Bible portrays God as having sequence, i.e. a before and after. As Greg Boyd points out, open theism is the only view that is directly compatible with the incarnation. As Boyd wrote in his letter to me, the Word became flesh, which presupposes that there was a before He became flesh, and an after He became flesh. In short, a sequence. Also, we shouldn't think that a being that has sequence is limited, whereas a being frozen in an eternal now is not. A being capable of true relationship has sequence. That's just how it works.
  • The Bible portrays God as being flexible. He reacts and adapts to the things human beings do. For instance, after saying He would do so He decided not to send fire down on Ninevah after all, on the basis that the people repented. (Jonah 1:2; 3:2, 4–10; 4:2) He states that He will take away people's shares in the holy city if they take away from the book of Revelation (Revelation 22:18). It doesn't make much sense that He would (or could) take away the share He had given them if a) He foreknew that they would take words from Revelation or b) He was timeless (in the sense of not having sequence).
  • Prayer really does change things. The Bible portrays prayer as something that can spur God to action. For instance, God shows the prophet Amos in a vision the destruction He will bring on Israel. Amos prays, begging God to relent from sending the calamity - and God does. If the exhaustive foreknowledge view is correct, God knew Amos would pray to Him, and had already basically decided that He would not bring destruction on Israel, even though He revealed to Amos that that was His plan. (Amos 7:1-6)
  • The Bible does portray God as regretting previous decisions He made. If He foreknew from all time that man would become so horribly sinful just before the Flood, it wouldn't make sense that He would make the decision to create man and then regret it later (even though if He's timeless, there isn't a later). See Genesis 6:5-6. God also states that He regrets making Saul king (1 Samuel 15:10). How could God say, "I have been eternally certain that Saul's actions would be exactly this way" and then turn and say "I regret making Saul king"? Boyd has pointed out that it is possible to regret making a good decision. For instance, if you hire a new employee and he did the best work of anyone, but several months later he totally botched his job, stole company files, etc., you would regret hiring him because of the free actions he committed, even though at the time you made the wisest possible decision.
  • Some consider the above verses to be anthromorphisms. They're embarrassed because they've decided the Platonic view of God (as an unchanging, timeless sort of big gem in the sky) is the right one, and these passages present God as a relational being with real emotions, a being who is flexible and adaptible (though I should note, biblically God's character never changes, even if His plans do). The real problem is, anthromorphisms always point to a reality. For instance, when the Bible says that God has a strong arm (Psalm 89:10), it points to the reality that God is strong (even though He is Spirit and doesn't have arms). But when it says that God regretted making humans, or that God changed His mind or plans - what on earth is the reality that points to?
  • Open theism doesn't really have a problem being compatible with prophecy. There are different types of prophesies. Some are deterministic prophesies. God determines that this is what's going to happen, and He does it. Others are conditional prophesies, i.e. if you do this then I will respond with this. Many are illustrative prophecies. When Jews said that part of the scripture was being fulfilled, for instance, they didn't necessarily mean that something that had been predicted was now coming to pass. A lot of the "prophesies" about Jesus' life were fulfilled in the sense that they qualified and reflected principles from the scriptures. For more information, see this link.

So these are the basic reasons I am now leaning heavily open theist. For more information, I recommend you see the Q & A section on Greg Boyd's website. It's a position worth looking into, and one that is biblical, I think.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Held Up By Molecules - R.C. Sproul's Diety

R.C. Sproul says,

"If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God's sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled. Perhaps that one maverick molecule will lay waste all the grand and glorious plans that God has made and promised to us... Maybe that one molecule will be the thing that prevents Christ from returning."

Besides the fact that Sproul is obviously ignorant of quantum mechanics (as Boyd points out, of course), the implications of this quote are staggering. Sproul likes to think that his view of God, the Calvinist view, gives God the most power. But think about it.

Sproul's God gets held up by molecules.

Think about it. How pathetic is this view of a God? He's one who has to keep stringent control on every single molecule at every single time - because if one does get loose, oh boy, that could be the end of Him! He might not be able to carry out His plan!

Then again, if you think carefully, Sproul's ideas work on a sort of tautology. Assuming that God's plan is 100% perfect down to the movement of the molecules in the air, it makes sense that His plan would be thwarted if a molecule moved out of accord with his plan.

Maybe He doesn't even need to control that molecule in particular. Is He not sovereign enough to work His plans around that obnoxious molecule - or an obnoxious person - or even an obnoxious nation? Last time I checked, He does that. Except, of course, that Sproul and Pink and White and Spurgeon and the whole checklist of Reformed writers would say that that obnoxiousness was also part of God's sovereign plan. Somehow or other.

So, in the end, Sproul essentially chooses to sacrifice God's omnipotence for His meticulous control. Not only that, but I would argue that God's love is sacrificed in such a view. What is love if it is just for molecules you move around with a wave of your hand? That's all people are in Sproul's exhaustive determinist view.

Shocker! 1 Corinthians 15:22 is About Resurrection!

"For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

I've heard 1 Corinthians 15:22 used to talk about original sin and how in Adam all have spiritually died, but now I'm viewing it in a different light. I'm not much of a stickler for original sin anymore - it seems like a pretty depraved concept. Pardon the pun.

What I've been thinking is that man inherited the knowledge of good and evil and physical death from Adam, and that's it... not a depraved nature. The Greek sarx (translated flesh in the KJV, sinful nature in the NIV) is what I'm thinking is the knowledge of good and evil, that is, the knowledge that sin is pleasurable but wrong, just stuff like that.

Anyway, on 1 Corinthians 15:22 - here is the verse in context. Remember, a text without a context becomes a pretext for a prooftext for doctrines such as original sin and total depravity.

1 Corinthians 15:20-26
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a Man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to Him. Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

I have to say, this passage is awesome. But look at how verse 22 fits into the context. "For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a Man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." It's talking about the resurrection of the dead! We know everyone does die by fault of Adam (otherwise babies wouldn't - but animals die so inheriting physical death from Adam does not necessarily ential depravity), and everyone is going to be raised from the dead by virtue of Christ.

If you go back even further in the context it's still talking about the resurrection. This reading satisfies several doubts I've had about the verse. First, I've been finding the idea of original sin and total depravity weirder and weirder (read Ezekiel 18). Secondly, this reading avoids the unfortunate universalist complications. And third, it sits well with my desire to avoid limiting the range of pas (the word all) unless indicated.

So all in all, I have a better understanding of 1 Corinthians 15:22 now. I recommend reading all of 1 Corinthians 15. It's really good!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Thoughts on Ahmed's Introduction - Habermas vs. Ahmed

So after posting about Gary Habermas and the evidence for Jesus' bodily resurrection, I set out to watch more of Habermas' debates. The one I found was between Dr. Habermas and Dr. Arif Ahmed. Dr. Ahmed is an atheist and apparently quite a deep thinker.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

I believe Dr. Ahmed won this debate, simply because an atheist posted the video. Typically debates are posted by individuals supporting the side that won. Thus far, I have only seen the first 20 minutes, during which Dr. Ahmed gives his introduction.

He makes a fairly strong case against the resurrection - or so it seems. Much like a toddler can win an argument with its much more logical and rational mother simply by having a more domineering attitude, I think here Dr. Ahmed does such a good job because his personality is just so electric, warm and commanding.

I have given Dr. Ahmed's points a great deal of thought and I think I have discovered some logical flaws in what he has been saying. I have not seen Dr. Habermas' response to these points yet, but here goes mine.

Dr. Ahmed points out that Christian scholars scoff at the mass-hallucination theory because it is simply too improbable. But he says that once we bring things into the realm of the supernatural, why should we prefer a resurrection to a mass hallucination?

I would like to pick apart his logic using an example of his from earlier in his presentation. He supposed that he had 30 thermometers and a bucket of water and gave several different examples of combinations of error. I would like to build off of this.

Suppose that we have 30 thermometers that we have shipped in from different parts of the country and different manufacturers. We stick all 30 of these thermometers into a boiling bucket of water, putting one in here and there every couple of weeks, yet the thermometers all read zero degrees celsius. We have analyzed every possibility and (somehow) conclusively proven that there is no possibility that this is happening from naturalistic causes. We conclusively prove (again, somehow) that supernatural forces are affecting our experiment.

Essentially, Dr. Ahmed assumes that it is equally reasonable for these 30 thermometers (shipped in from all over the place and tested one at a time over a period of weeks) to all be malfunctioning at once as a result of supernatural tampering, as it is for the single bucket of water to be malfunctioning as a result of supernatural tampering. The fact is, there were many witnesses who testified to the truth of the resurrection very shortly after it happened. They were from various places and they were very different (Thomas was a doubter, while others were not), yet Dr. Ahmed would like us to believe that it is equally probable for supernatural forces to be acting on all of them over a period of many weeks in various different places, than for a supernatural force to be acting in one place, on one man, during one period of time. This is just like assuming all 30 thermometers were corrupt as opposed to the bucket of water being corrupt.

Additionally, though he says that theoretically the hallucination theory should not be considered less preferable to the resurrection theory, the hallucination theory doesn't properly get rid of the body. The Jews of the time admitted that the body had vanished from the tomb, although they said that the disciples had stolen the body. Unless they (and everyone else visiting the tomb) were having hallucinations, too (how many thermometers do we have now?), it would make no sense for the Jews to admit the body's disappearance. The age-old principle applies: what your enemies admit is usually true.

The other idea he offered (although he was just throwing it out there) is that Satan removed the body and placed in a new duplicate. He rationalized that if we're going to accept a supernatural theory, we might as well just throw in any theory. At this point, how believable is Dr. Ahmed? The question is, why would God allow Satan to create such a massive shockwave of deception involving His own Son? Sure, God puts up with Satan's activities, but how realistic is this? I will ask the question why Jesus went willingly, as the Gospels portray Him going, to the cross, if it was really just a ploy of Satan. Sure, Satan has gained control of certain people here and there, but I defy you to find me one biblical example where Satan led someone willingly, in such a sane manner, to the slaughter, while simultaneously convinced that His death would bring salvation for many people.

When Satan's minions took hold of the man living in the tombs, there was a "legion" of demons inside of him. Going by the Roman legion, this was probably about 7000. Yet, the demons only made the man cut himself on the rocks. I don't believe they could take his life, otherwise they might have. When Judas Iscariot died, he was certainly under Satan's influence, and Satan was described at one point as having entered him, directly before he betrayed Jesus. But when Satan led him to hang himself (assuming that Satan was still with him at that point and that Judas' will was not going along with the idea in any way, rather generous assumptions) Judas went in the most insane, haphazardly manner possible, showing clear signs of a demented, tormented mind - nowhere near the calm, focused way Jesus went toward His death.

I must ask - why are these theories equal to the resurrection theory? If we're going to go with a supernatural theory (which I think we should) the resurrection theory is frankly the most sober one out there. If we're going supernatural, let's just go for a nice tame little resurrection. It's better than other wild ideas, like mass hallucinations and Satanic body-swapping. And if you're not accepting the supernatural you've really got to come up with some ridiculous mass conspiracy theory far more complicated than any heist ever pulled off in history.

Another error Dr. Ahmed makes is an a priori assumption that I see among all atheists. Dr. Ahmed first states that we have no documented cases of people rising from the dead except the case in question, that of Jesus of Nazareth. How wrong he is. Usually filed as "near death experiences", there are all sorts of claims of people dying and coming back to life. For instance, the Near Death Experience Research Foundation claims over 1800 such accounts. But, of course, being a secular scholar Dr. Ahmed would never have heard of these cases.

But the meat of Dr. Ahmed's a priori assumption comes when he makes a few statements that are reducible to a tautology. He points out that before it was discovered how the pyramids were built, some assumed that the supernatural was involved. Then, we figured out the naturalistic explanation for how the pyramids were built, and the supernatural aspect was out. Maybe, he reasons, Jesus' resurrection was a case like this, and we just need to humbly wait for the solution.

This is where the crème de la crème of his poor assumptions comes into play. He assumes that once we have figured out how something works, we will have discovered its naturalistic (i.e. materialistic and non-supernatural) explanation. But his other assumption is of course that once we have found a naturalistic explanation for something, we have figured it out. Thus, he makes "figuring it out" and "finding a naturalistic explanation" synonymns. A tautology indeed.

He starts with the assumption that everything has a naturalistic (read: materialistic and non-supernatural) cause, and therefore, even if we don't know the explanation for something right away, we should assume that there is a perfectly natural cause.

He assumes, therefore, that all demon possessions (which are quite well documented, actually) really do have a naturalistic cause, we just haven't "figured it out" yet. And once we "figure it out", we will have found the naturalistic cause.

Do you think that ancient Greek philosopher looking at the sand on the beach (I can't remember his name) really didn't figure out the concept of atomic structure? He had no way to test it whatsoever! But his theory turned out to be correct. Why, then, does Dr. Ahmed assume that those who attribute demon possession to real demons have somehow less valid of a theory than the Greek's? Because his theory involved a naturalistic (read: non-paranormal and much more comforting to scientists in lab coats) explanation.

It's kind of hard to explain what I want to say here. But basically Dr. Ahmed is assuming that we haven't "figured something out" until we have found a naturalistic explanation for it. Until we have a cushy materialistic non-supernatural explanation, it's just a mystery we can dismiss.

Also, I suggest that the line between the supernatural and the naturalistic is much finer than we usually expect. If you've ever watched someone die... it's very natural, yet very supernatural. Something leaves.

Oh, and if you think science is 100% reliable and all we have to go on... think again. Watch William Lane Craig in this video. I'm not sure if he actually humiliates Dr. Atkins as the title says, but it's still hilarious and intriguing.

These are just a few thoughts. If I have more while watching the rest of the debate, I'll try to post them.

In the end, Dr. Ahmed, although claiming to be an objective, non-committed atheist, really starts out with the same assumptions every other atheist does. He did an excellent job presenting his ideas in such a way that they take center stage and look good. But in the end I think he made it a scientific/philosophical debate where he basically says, "look, people don't rise from the dead", instead of saying, "so, what best fits the historical facts?" In which case, you get the resurrection.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?

There is a lot of "biblical archaeology" going around these days. Thanks to Ron Wyatt, there are a whole lot of bogus Old Testament "discoveries" being advocated - for instance, the Ark of Noah, the Ark of the Covenant, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. The guys over at provide a good criticism of these "finds", check out the aforementioned links. While we do have Jericho (exactly as the Bible describes it) and plenty of other archaeology to support the Old Testament, Wyatt hasn't exactly made the stellar Old Testament finds he'd like you to think.

Interestingly, possibly the best historically verified item in all of Judeo-Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's odd that the most seemingly impossible incident - yet the crux of the entire Christian movement - is also Christianity's best documented occurrence. I would like to post a few links on the subject.

Move over Wyatt, here comes Gary Habermas.

Habermas Debates Tim Callahan
Part 1
Part 2

Here you can watch Habermas destroy skeptic Tim Callahan in a debate on the subject of the resurrection. Tim Callahan wrote a book (The Secret Origins of the Bible) about the supposed pagan origins of Christianity, particularly the resurrection of Christ, but Habermas destroyed him and his book on live TV.

There was also a debate between Antony Flew and Habermas. Habermas cleaned Flew's clock, but unfortunately I cannot find the video on YouTube again. Instead, read this article by Greg Boyd over at Christus Victor Ministries.

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

Boyd eats John Dominic Crossan (how does that guy keep his job?) for a light snack and moves on to the evidence for Christ's resurrection.

All in all, good stuff. I also recommend The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. I might condense all these points into my own article or video, but until then, this is cool.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Greg Boyd emailed me back! I had written him a letter earlier explaining my logical objection to open theism. To my surprise, his reply contained a lot of well-construed logic. It's obvious that he has thought these things out for a great deal of time. Quotes from my letter are in italic.


Hi Cameron,

I 'm delighted your looking into Open Theism with an open mind (excuse the pun). I want to encourage you to check out the Q and A and Essay section of my website which addresses many of the questions you ask. Given my limited time, I can only touch on your questions here.

But I have a couple problems with it. First off, I can't quite accept the idea of a God bounded by time. Quantum mechanics has shown that there are certain areas of the universe that are not affected by time. I have a difficult time believing that God could be limited by time and sequence, something that parts of His creation are not even limited by.

--> I would question your interpretation of Quantum mechanics. Many if not most Quantum theorists argue that the collapse of the wave packet requires the postulation of irreversible sequence. A great book on this (that touches on other aspects of science and time) is called The Arrow of Time... though I can't off hand recall the author. Also, why think that a being who has a before and after is LIMITED, while a being frozen in an eternal NOW is not? I suggest the frozen model of perfection comes from Plato (and before him, Parmenides) not the Bible. It works with mathematical truths (as in Plato) but not for a personal being (as in the Bible)

Secondly, if God has always existed, and is bounded by time, then an infinite number of seconds must have existed for Him. This seems pretty odd to me. An "infinite number" is really an oxymoron, since a number implies a limited quantity.

--> As Kant showed, the odd thing about time/sequence is that we can neither conceive of it beginning or NOT beginning. Both are equally inconceivable, so the matter must be decided on grounds other than conceivability.

The only problem is, if He is ever at a state when He's outside of time, then He is in all times at once, right? If He were totally outside of time not limited to sequence (as He probably was before the creation of the universe) then all times would be the present. If all times are the present, and the creatures He created are doing things on earth bounded by time, then He would see all the points in time as they happened.

--> yes... and from all eternity.... yet, every verb applied to God in the bible presupposes a "before" and "after"... . The Word BECAME flesh... this suggests first God wasn't incarnate, then he BECAME incarnate.

Then, say, He decides to enter time like open theists (I think) generally claim He did. So, when He creates the universe, He enters time and thus limits Himself. Open theists, if I am correct, say that at that point He also took on the mental characteristics of a time-bounded creature: i.e. not knowing what choices free will creatures would make.

--> note the verbs in these sentences... yet ruled out by the content fo these sentences. eg. WHEN he creates.... He EnTERS... etc.. So was there a "before he creates" and a "before he enters"?
--> also, if the facts of all I shall (certainly) do predate my existence -- for they are, per hypothesis, eternally known to God -- then having God "forget" them doesn't make me free, for the FACTS still precede my choosing them. In 1740 B.C. , for example, all the facts of what I SHALL do existed. I can't alter them. whether God knew these facts in 1740 BC makes no difference. IF they are CERTAIN in 1740 BC, I can no more change the facts of what I WILL do than I can change any fact about 1740 BC. So, it seems to me, I'm utterly fated to do what I shall do. It's much easier to think, and much more biblical to think (in my opinion) that my future is partly open, even to God, for sequence is REAL, even for God, so the future is partly open, even for God.

Hope this helps, Gotta run, keep thinking and loving,

Greg -


I'm very pleased he took time out of his schedule (which is no doubt crazily busy) to respond to my letter. And I think the logic he presents is quite watertight, especially the stuff about time relativity and Plato's version of a "perfect" God (which, as Boyd points out, amounts to more of a perfect little timeless unfeeling cold gem than a real, dynamic, living, supreme Being with true thoughts and true emotions).

The only problem I have is seeing why I should accept his system of open theism versus the simple foreknowledge view I have always taken. Many of his points are quite good, but what it would take for me to change my view seems to be a little more than what I have read from him so far (which is admittedly limited) I think I will read Boyd's book, God of the Possible (after, of course, I finish all of these other good books I have undertaken to read).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Explanation of Open Theism

A few friends and I had a discussion on open theism today. I wrote in my Facebook status that I was considering open theism again. So Lydia asked me today what open theism was. Pretty soon we had Amy, Joe, Mr. Hoffman, and a whole number of other people in the discussion.

I explained what open theism is but I feel like I didn't do a very good job. So here are the reasons open theism works, and why I don't consider it heretical or consider it to take away God's sovereignty.

Note that I define sovereignty like most people define sovereignty: being in control. Being in control, however, is worlds different from being controlling. When you are babysitting little kids, you are in control, but you are not controlling every move those little kids make. Those who by "sovereignty" mean "exhaustive determinism" really are just redefining the term so that any God who is not exhaustively deterministic is not soverign.

But first of all, I should explain what open theists believe. Open theists essentially hold that possibilities are real. In other words, God knows everything perfectly, and that includes possibilities. As in, at this point in time, a man is making a decision. God knows the man perfectly, and God knows the outcome of the decision perfectly, but knows that there is truly a possibility the man might do either one or the other.

In essence, that means the universe is like a giant Choose Your Own Adventure book. God knows all the possible choices any person could make at any point in time, and He is prepared to respond to every human decision with a counter-move that He sees fit.

"Being infinitely intelligent, God does not have to divide up his intelligence to cover various possibilities the way we do. He can anticipate from all eternity each and every one of any number of possibilities as though it was the only possibility – indeed, as though it absolutely had to occur! All the worry that the God of open theism can only hope for the best and thus can’t be trusted amounts to nothing more than an anthropomorphic denial of God’s infinite intelligence. Not only this, but unlike us, God controls the parameters of all possibilities and perfectly knows all the variables that affect all these possibilities."
-Greg Boyd

Basically, the idea is that God is like a master chess player. He perfectly knows every single move his opponent could possibly make, even though the actual sequence of moves the opponent does make is open to possibility.

As Greg Boyd explains it, if an angel were to come running up to the open theist's God and say, "hey! Guess what, God! I found a blueprint of every single move every single human being is ever going to make over the course of all history!"

God would reply, "why on earth would I need that?! I already know every possible move any human being could ever make! And I have a perfect plan of retaliation for any move they do make!"

God is the infinitely wise chess master. On top of this, God created the rules that govern the chess game we are playing. He may therefore announce a checkmate ages before we are capable of ever imagining how such a prediction could be ensured. Because we with our limited ability to anticipate possibilities cannot see how he makes such a prediction, we might be inclined to suspect that he must somehow foreknow or must have predetermined our future moves in order to make it come to pass. Indeed, we may even suspect that those who believe God doesn’t foreknow or didn’t predetermine our future moves can’t really believe he made this prediction inerrantly! If believing the infinitely wise chess master makes predictions inerrantly is a requirement for belonging to our chess club, we may even lobby to have them removed! But, I submit, all such suspicions are rooted in an anthropomorphic conception of deity. We who have finite intelligence would need to foreknow or predetermine everything about a game of chess to ensure a checkmate this far in advance, but an infinitely intelligent chess player would not.
-Greg Boyd

This is how Boyd and other open theists believe that God can predict the future. He can see everything that is going on and make all that information add up to what is going to happen. A really good economist with an infinitely small fraction of God's intelligence can predict stock market crashes, etc. How much more could God, with completely infinite knowledge of every intricate detail of everything that is going on, predict the future based on what is happening in the present?

And why on earth does Boyd support the open theist view instead of the simple foreknowledge (Arminian) or exhaustive determinist (Calvinist) view? He thinks it is more biblical.

Now, the sheer fact that openness theologians believe that “God changes his mind” can hardly count against their affirmation of the inerrancy of Scripture, for Scripture explicitly teaches this very thing! God inerrantly states he’s intending to do one thing and then, in response to changing circumstances, decides to follow a different course of action. There are 39 times where this is explicitly stated in Scripture, and several hundred times where, on my reckoning, it is implied. So explicit and prominent is this scriptural motif that one might have thought that charges of denying inerrancy would have been raised against Roger Nicole and others who deny this!
-Greg Boyd

In this quote I don't quite think Boyd makes something clear: open theists do not necessarily believe that God changes. They do, however, believe that He changes His plans, or changes His mind, about what He is going to do. But it is not Him who changed - it is people who changed, thus, He changed His plan to reflect that change.

The fact of the matter is that nobody takes everything in the Bible literally and no one takes everything in the Bible to be metaphorical (anthropomorphic or otherwise). We all have to determine what genre a passage fits into – and thus, whether it’s intended to be more literal, or more anthropomorphic. The only claim of Open Theists is that there’s no good exegetical or philosophical reason to take passages that speak about God changing his mind as anthropomorphic. The only reason traditionalists interpret them this way is because admitting God changes his mind conflicts with the traditional view that God exhaustively knows the future from all eternity as a domain of settled facts. If you grant that God really changes his mind, you must acknowledge that the future is partly open.

I would go further and argue that interpreting these passages as anthropomorphic renders their meaning unclear. If God doesn’t actually change his mind, then what do the passages that explicitly declare that he does change his mind mean? Saying they’re anthropomorphic doesn’t help us, for anthropomorphic expressions, if they’re true, must still communicate something accurate about God. Saying God has “a strong arm,” for example, communicates that God is strong – even though he doesn’t literally have arms. But what does it mean to say “God changes his mind” if in fact God doesn’t change his mind? This is simply inaccurate.
-Greg Boyd

So that is why I am considering open theism, and why I do not consider it a heretical system or one that shortchanges God's sovereignty. I doubt we'll ever be able to entirely figure out how God works, but I think we can certainly try to aim for a theology that is closer to what God has revealed in scripture. The only question is, who's theology is closest?

By the way, I still have some reservations against open theism, which I explain in my letter to Greg Boyd. But I don't entirely discount the open theist system.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Calvinism and Church History

I know April, though she holds Arminian convictions of her own, is going to kill me for posting another post about Calvinism. She's just sick of hearing about it, and I can hardly blame her... but I did manage to go five posts without mentioning it! So here we go again.

Makenna sent me a message earlier. In it she mentioned how she had a DVD I should watch - Amazing Grace, on the history and theology of Calvinism. I've been writing an article on the subject of Calvinism's lack of historicity, so I sent her back a few points.

...I don't really think Calvinism is supported by church history, and I'll just give you a few quick reasons why. I'm currently writing an article about this but these are the major points:
  • Augustine of Hippo actually formulated the doctrines of Calvinism, not Calvin. John Calvin merely popularized Augustine's theological system, which is why it is now named after Calvin.
  • Augustine was born in 354 A.D. He formulated and taught "Calvinism" (exhaustive determinism, unconditional election) several hundred years after Jesus and the apostles walked the earth. For comparison, Paul wrote Romans in about 56 A.D., almost 300 years before Augustine was even born.
  • Augustine was a former Gnostic Manichæan. Just to give you a taste of what they taught, Gnosticism held to two gods, a good god and a bad god. In the Gnostic view the bad god created the entire universe.
  • Gnostic Manichæanism held to exhaustive determinism, like Calvinism does today.
  • When he first converted to Christianity, Augustine adopted the mainstream Christian view of libertarian free will and synergism (the generic title of Arminianism, Arminius was not around until the late 1500s), writing a book titled On Free Choice of the Will, in which he opposed the deterministic ideology he once supported.
  • During his later years, Augustine fiercely debated Pelagius, a heretic who claimed that man can achieve moral perfection of his own free will. As Augustine fought Pelagius, he slipped further and further back into his old exhaustively deterministic worldview, yet kept much of his new Christianity. As a result he mixed the doctrines of Manichæan determinism and Christianity, to get Augustinianism, what we now call Calvinism.
  • Augustine could not even read Hebrew or Greek, so his exegesis was limited to his Latin manuscripts, and often flawed.
I recommend reading the following articles:

From the first article, a good quote:

"It may occasion some surprise to discover that the doctrine of Predestination was not made a matter of special study until near the end of the fourth century. The earlier church fathers placed chief emphasis on good works such as faith, repentance, almsgiving, prayers, submission to baptism, etc. They of course taught that salvation was through Christ; yet they assumed that man had full power to accept or reject the gospel...They taught a kind of synergism in which there was
co-operation between grace and free will...[Calvinistic Predestination] was first clearly seen by Augustine,..he went far beyond the earlier theologians [and] taught and unconditional election. (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 365, emphasis added)"

"Although the Calvinist author above intended to say that Augustine discovered a lost teaching of the apostles, his words serve to confirm that (1) unconditional election first emerged in the church about 400 years later than the apostles (2) that unconditional election can be traced to a single influential individual (Augustine), and that (3) unconditional election went “far beyond” the teachings of all those who went before. His
words should also prompt one to ask, “How did free will become the universal teaching of the church for the first 400 years, in the first place?” Indeed, what would it take for “free will” to overcome the alleged lost teaching of unconditional election so that free will became the universal teaching of the church for 400 years? And where is the evidence that something like that even happened?"

I must apologize for the length of this email! It's just odd that you mentioned church history and Calvinism because I had been writing an article (and consequently doing a lot of research) on the subject. Hopefully you will understand my position.

History, God's Attack on Satan

I was reading about the Christus Victor model of the atonement and a thought hit me. Actually, it was a series of thoughts.

Maybe God set up all of human history as a strategic counter-attack against Satan.

Here's what I'm thinking. You know how in the Old Testament, God was pretty violent and pretty Jew-partial? I mean, every hundred years or so He would kill someone who provoked Him. And He reserved most of His liberties for the Jews, His chosen people.

Of course, it's OK for God to be justly violent and unconditionally partial (believe me, check out the pagan gods and you'll be pretty glad you serve Yahweh), but I wonder if He had a strategy to it?

The Pharisees got so caught up in their Jew-partial, punish-the-sinner mindset that God rightly did have (to a degree, but not so much as the Pharisees believed) that they could not see that Jesus really was the Messiah. They expected Him to do the same sorts of things God did in the OT. Kill blasphemers, lead a violent expedition against enemies of Israel - that sort of thing. Actually, most of Israel thought this, as indicated by Luke 9:54.

But I wonder what Satan thought? Maybe he got tricked, just like the Pharisees? Maybe he saw so much of God's OT wrath that he didn't understand God's love when it was manifested in Jesus Christ?

It's like Jesus was undercover. The Father set up all kinds of expectations for what the Son would be like, so that the Son could slip in almost unnoticed.

In other words, the Incarnation is God undercover. Like the Father acted in certain ways and thus other beings (demonic especially) thought that He always acted in those ways, so that Satan never really suspected that Jesus could be God, or even the Messiah.

I doubt Satan would have helped put Christ to death if he had any idea about what would result. I wonder if perhaps that was the point - to keep things just obscure enough so that people who allowed themselves to be enlightened by God could find the truth, yet Satan wouldn't get it?

1 Corinthians 1:27 seems perhaps to have hit this point. Paul's sermon in Acts 17:24-27 seems to say something like this as well.

Just some thoughts. They certainly help to explain the whole disconnect between the OT God of wrath and the NT God of love, although you can really find both Gods in both Testaments if you look a little. I will be reading God at War by Greg Boyd (which I have), then Satan and His Kingdom by Dennis McCallum (which I've ordered), then hopefully God's Strategy in Human History by Forster and Marston (which I plan to order). Maybe these books will help

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Live. Learn. Experience. By April.

This is the first time I have posted something written by anyone other than myself on my blog. However, it is completely warranted. This is an essay written by my good friend April.

I almost wonder if she wrote this essay for me and about me. I am the person of the first few lines... a kid studying to be a pastor, so wrapped up in theology, doctrine, and who's right and who's wrong that I forget what pastors do. They help people. They teach people. They get out and they live for God. They Live Out Loud - ironically, that's the title of April's blog.

I've always been the doctrinal guy, but she's always seen the value of living the faith instead. I've always been the one who's wrapped up in first-century manuscripts, she's always been the one wrapped up in twenty-first century relationships.

So I guess I need to take to heart a lot of the values of April. I don't need to forfeit my doctrinal study. But at the end of the day, I need to realize what's most important. Jesus did. He could quote the scriptures forward and backward, sure, but He knew that that those scriptures were meant to be lived out.

Here is April's essay. April, if you're reading this, I just want to say thanks for reminding me of things I all too easily forget.


Live. Learn. Experience.

Let’s say I wanted to learn all I possibly could about Christianity. I could watch documentaries, learn theory and doctrine, and of course study the Bible. I could be considered a very religious person because I know so much about God. But as many Christians know, truly knowing God is different than knowing about God. You have to experience God’s love and Christ’s forgiveness to really know what it means. Just as one cannot fully understand what it means to lose a friend, until he has lost-- what it means to face a fear, until he has faced it-- or what it means to love, until he has loved. It is said by many about life “live and learn.”

It is also said, “Learn from your mistakes.” Unfortunately, some things have to be learned the hard way, because after discovering what not to do, you usually learn how to do it the right way too. Like the baby who cannot walk yet, all she knows is what she sees from watching others. But no matter how much the baby studies other people’s walking, she will always fall down the first time. It may take many tries before she can get anywhere on her two feet. But if she doesn’t give up, she will soon learn to walk. Because we are humans, we will fall sometimes, but we were created to learn from our mistakes, and to learn from experience, good or bad.

In Francis Bacon’s “Of Studies” he says, “[studies] perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need proyning, by study; and studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience.” In modern English you could say something like this, “People have natural abilities, and they are perfected by experience, like plants that need pruning. Much can be learned from studies, but true knowledge comes through experience.”

Another way to learn is to take what you already know and strive towards improvement. In my years of playing flute I’ve found that practice makes (almost) perfect; however, just sitting in the band room wasn’t what improved my skills, no. I think what most helped me was going to Solo and Ensemble contest, which meant my abilities would be seriously tested. It’s never easy stepping up to a new level and having to make your work as best as it possibly can be. Performing in this contest meant I would play in front of a judge and a small audience, and I could also listen to others do the same. Experience. It’s what can polish natural ability, and inspire you to keep pushing forward.

Because we are humans we learn something new every day; because we live our life, we grow from experience. Today, we need to open up our minds to new information, a new perspective, and new experiences. For every experience there is the chance of not only knowing more than before, but being more than before. Whether it be mistakes or successes, experience and the memory of those experiences make us who we are today.