My Journey

Stepping out of that myopic existence I began to get an inkling that there existed a world of truth that I wanted to encounter, and so I set off.


Walking


It’s time for a little update, not much, but I am no longer new to blogging. I have been at it a few years. Not that I have gained any particular stature. I simply can’t claim to be new at it. I still write as part of my profession, but blogging is more interesting. Blogging is my way of sharpening ideas and fleshing them out. I know I don’t always “get it right”, but it’s the journey that counts.

I have been on a journey for truth since I emerged from the haze and confusion of adolescence, much of it self-induced. Stepping out of that myopic existence I began to get an inkling that a world of truth lay in front of me to encounter, and so I set off. I didn’t realize, then, how much faith is required to seek truth. Continue reading “My Journey”

If God Desires All People to Know Him, Shouldn’t All People Know Him?

On logical syllogisms, the hiddenness of God, and unimaginable treasure


Many people make logical arguments that begin with assumptions about God. The latest one I saw was a syllogism beginning with the following premise: God desires all humans to know Him…. As the syllogism goes, it states that all people do not know God, and it ends with the conclusion. “Therefore God does not exist.”

The critical thing about syllogisms on the existence of God is that initial premises make some assumptions about God. Immanuel Kant famously developed a logical syllogism proving that God exists; then he turned around and developed a logical syllogism proving God does not exist. Both syllogisms were well-constructed, and the conclusions logically flowed from the initial premises.

That’s the thing with logic: we need to set the initial assumptions, and the conclusions are dependent on those assumptions. The logical syllogism I saw this morning seems solid at first glance, but it leaves out a critical word that makes all the difference.

Logic can be abstracted from reality and still make sense. The exact terms of the assumptions are critical. If the assumptions are inaccurate or poorly stated, our conclusions will be false, no matter how logical they are.

In this case, the assumption is that God desires for all humans to know Him. For the assumption to make real sense, though, we would need to add one word.

Implicit in this premise is that God desires only for humans to know Him, and He has no other desire, purpose or goal. If the initial premise is that God desires only for humans to know him, that God has no other desire, purpose, or goal for humans, then the logic follows.

If God’s only desire, purpose, goal is for humans to know Him, He could so dominate and overwhelm us that we would have no choice but to know and acknowledge Him. The fact that people are not overwhelmed or dominated by God, and that people do not know God, would prove, on this syllogism, that God doesn’t exist.

We have to ask, though: Is that really God’s only desire, purpose, and goal for humans is to know that He exists? Is God that simple-minded?

If God is really God, God is (at least) as complex as the universe He created. Taking note of the sublime nuances of physics, quantum mechanics, biology and chemistry, we should assume God is (at least) as sublime and nuanced as the world He made with these elements.

Does it make sense that God has one singular desire, purpose, and goal for humans? Is the entire thrust of creation summed up by an unconditional desire by God for humans to know Him and acknowledge His existence?

The problem with logical syllogisms is in the initial assumptions. We have to presume to know the mind and purposes of God. If we are wrong, even if God really does exist, we will come to the wrong conclusion.

As finite, limited creatures of an infinite Creator of the universe, we do not have the capability of knowing on our own why God created the world such as it is and what His purposes are. I believe we have no capacity to know these things apart from God revealing them to us.

The Bible purports to be that revelation from God to man, so let’s take a look at what it says. If we are going to be “scientific” about the Bible, we shouldn’t come to it with preconceived notions. We should consider what it says on its own merits and come to our own conclusions.

Continue reading “If God Desires All People to Know Him, Shouldn’t All People Know Him?”

How Should Christians Live Out the Gospel in a Post Roe v. Wade World?

What does God do with babies who die in the womb?

Davide French has expressed some of my own angst at the news that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a recent article, Roe Is Reversed, and the Right Isn’t Ready. Like him, I have championed the pro-life cause. My wife and I marched in Washington. We protested at an abortion clinic. We supported a crisis pregnancy center. I have largely been silent, however, for the past 30 some years.

In 1988, the year I entered law school with two children, financial difficulty, and a very uncertain future, my wife became pregnant. It was the most difficult year of our lives. She was severely sick, living in a strange place 1000 miles from her family under extreme pressure.

When the doctor told her the baby tested positive for spina bifida, and she should consider an abortion, she changed doctors. I supported her fully. We were committed to life.

My son who was born in 1989 is 33 years old now. He bears the scar tissue at the base of his spine where his spinal cord once looped outside his spinal column. He was born that way – with the scar tissue, healed over, fully formed and perfectly healthy.

He became a champion wrestler, All-State, many times All-American, many times national finalist, multi-time national champion. My wife might not have been born if abortion was legal in 1961, and my son would not have been born if we we listened to our doctor.

We were very fortunate, and we are very grateful, and I realize the story could very well have been different. Many people are not as fortunate.

There is a constitutional issue with abortion, a moral issue, and then there is the issue of how the body of Christ demonstrates God’s love in this broken world. I have some thoughts on each of these issues, and I feel compelled to weigh into these turbid waters despite my hesitation.

The constitutional issue has been settled… for now. As an attorney and having studied the Roe v. Wade decision in law school, I can say with some degree of confidence that it had thin precedential support. It’s foundations were shadowy and wispy as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence, relying on a medical understanding of the day, and not legal principles, to shore up a lack of solid, legal precedent.

In the David French article he quotes Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg who seems to admit the same point. She once “declared Roe ‘breathtaking’ and warned that ‘Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped, experience teaches, may prove unstable.’” Her prescience was accurate. It stood for one year shy of 50, but those doctrinal limbs have given away under their own weight.

“The Court’s job is not to determine which rights we should possess but rather which rights we do possess,” says French. (Emphasis in the original) So, it should be. So, the Constitution is written. So, the jurisprudence informs us.

Lawmaking is the province of Congress, not the judicial branch. Ironically, though, the instability of that decision haunts not just the left today. Framed on the back of a politically motivated opinion for which little precedent existed for support, that one decision has greatly politicized the Supreme Court to our jeopardy.

That most people perceive the opinion that struck down Roe v. Wade as a political accomplishment is proof, and that should not be comforting news. A Supreme that can be lobbied and jockeyed and filibustered to do the majority’s bidding is a threat to freedom and sound government.

And, of course, the recent decision was just as political as the decision it overturned – maybe more so. The Court that decided such a progressive decision as Roe v. Wade was largely appointed by conservative presidents. Richard Nixon appointed Justice Blackmun, who write the majority opinion.

There was a day when Presidents made an attempt to appoint the most impressive legal minds to the high court. Confirmation hearings focused on their credentials and legal acumen. The justice appointees and the senators who vetted them knew well and respected the value of impartiality that is essential to true justice. In an odd way, Roe v. Wade, penned by a conservative appointee is proof.

For the last 40 or more years, however, most confirmation hearings on appointments to the high court have been political circuses. No question is off limits, including the direct question of how a justice will decide an issue that comes before him or her. It no longer matters that the Rules of Professional Responsibility that govern all judges forbids that very thing.

Pro-life champions are notching the recent decision as a win, but the battle rages on. This decision pushes the battle to the legislatures of the 50 states.

More fundamentally, though, pro-lifers may have won this battle, but the Republic may be losing the war. The more our Supreme operates by political fiat, the less stable we become.

As for morality, it seems that many people assume the pro-life position is a religious view. While many religious people are pro-life, many religious people are pro-choice also. I have seen many of my religious friends categorically criticize the decision in the last few days.

At the same time, the pro-life crowd includes non-religious people, including atheists, like Kelsey Hazzard, who says, “The abortion industry would have you believe that people like me do not exist.” Reducing the abortion issue to a religious category is scapegoating and insulting to people who claim not to be religious.

No other modern issue offers less common ground for compromise. A fetus is either human life with intrinsic value, or it isn’t. A women’s body is either an inviolable vessel subject to her self control, or it isn’t. A fetus in a woman’s womb is part of her body, or it’s an unborn baby with separate and distinct personage, value, and legal status.

I find the arguments for life to be compelling, but the arguments for choice are compelling also. The stories are real. The fact that women, alone, bear the burden of the consensual (or non consensual) act of sex is reality.

A man can and often does escape all responsibility, but a woman has nowhere to hide. The fact that man are not compelled by the state to bear their responsibility is criminal.

Yes, many states have laws on the books that allow a woman to prove paternity and make the man pay support, but that’s on her dime! Some local prosecutors will take those cases, but those positions are too few, too overworked, and have insufficient resources to take on all cases.

I have slowly come around to an uncomfortable angst on the morality of abortion.

Thirty four years ago, our conviction about what we should do when faced with the probability that we might have a physically deformed child was unwavering. We chose to protect the life God gave us. I still think abortion is morally wrong.

It doesn’t matter whether that life might be deformed or have down syndrome. It doesn’t matter what the economic, social, and other circumstances are. I am not saying there are no exceptions, but most exceptions do not justify taking a life.

This is the black and white, analytical position I believe in, but I know the challenge is not in the black and white, but in the grey. The exceptions to the rules are always where the difficulty lies. Life is complex, and complexity is nuanced.

I am not going to say much more about the morality. I know where I stand, but I know good people who share my faith – people I have prayed with – who do not share my position.

About 18 months go my view of things shifted through the unlikely coincidence of my annual Bible reading and a serendipitous sermon on Sanctity of life Sunday. (See Thoughts on the Sanctity of Human Life….” I hope you will take the time to read it, because it informs my questions to the body of Christ.

Does God hear the cries of unborn babies? Does God hear the cries of women who have been abused and misused? The answer is certainly, “Yes”.

There are people on both “sides” of the abortion story. I believe Scripture warns us about our focusing on the “sides” and urges us to consider the greater purposes of God. Do you remember what the angel of the Lord told Joshua, when Joshua asked which side he was on? Go ahead and check it out.

Do you think God rejects innocent babies who have not yet taken a breath? How you answer that question may well reveal how you perceive God.

How you answer that question likely influences how you respond to this issue. Read Exodus 2 and Exodus 3. Whose cries does God hear, and what cries prompt Him to respond?

I hope you don’t gloss over these questions. I hope you wrestle with the implications. Who is it that God is concerned about? And why?

Go back to the question about how God handles the death of an unborn baby who has yet to take a breath. Does He receive them? Or does He reject them?

I urge you not to gloss over these questions.

How we answer them informs how the Church should orientate itself on the issue of abortion. Our answers suggest the priority of our focus and how we should live out the Gospel on this issue.

How we do that individually is a matter of the gifting God has giving each of us, the burden He has put on our hearts, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. We will only make our way forward as the salt and light God intend us to be with much prayer and humility and trepidation.

Digging into the Accuracy and Inspiration of the Bible

I wrote recently on the character of Scripture, prompted by a statement made by Marty Solomon in Episode #82 of the BEMA Podcast, focusing on the question: Does inspiration mean accuracy? The idea that Scripture is inspired by God comes from 2 Timothy 3:16:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness….” 

2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB)

This statement from Paul is one of the few comments on the character of Scripture in the Bible. In this article, I want to focus on other comments on Scripture in the New Testament.

You might be surprised to know that Peter cross-references Paul. Peter recognizes Paul’s letters and lumps them in with “other Scriptures”. (2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV) The recognition by Peter that Paul’s writings are “scripture” is highly significant because Jesus said Peter was the “rock” on which Jesus would build his church. (Matt. 16:18) If Peter considered Paul’s writings “scripture”, we should too.

Paul cross references Luke in his first letter to Timothy. Paul quotes “the Scripture”, saying “’Do not keep an ox from eating as it treads out the grain.’ And in another place, ‘Those who work deserve their pay!’” (1 Timothy 5:18 NLT) The first quotation is from Deuteronomy 25:4. The second is from Luke 10:7 (NRSV). Thus, Paul quotes Luke’s Gospel, as Scripture in the same vein as Deuteronomy.

This discussion, though, begs the question: what is Scripture? Obviously Peter thought Paul’s letters were Scripture, and Paul thought Luke was Scripture. Most of Scripture in that time would have been what we call the Old Testament. There was no “New Testament”, so what else is Scripture?

Many misconceptions abound. People claim that books were removed from the Bible. People claim that a group of church fathers got together and determined what should be in the New Testament. These claims are false. They have no basis in the historical record.

The truth is more complicated, and the NT canon developed more organically than what is popularly believed. The writings of the NT developed from the texts that were considered authoritative throughout the early church.

We may think of Christianity being controlled centrally from Rome, but that didn’t happen until the 4th Century. Before that, churches were scattered all over the Roman Empire and beyond. Various centers of influence existed, including Rome, Alexandria (Northern Africa), Caesarea (the Levant), Antioch (Syria), Lyons (France) and other places, but the top down authority of Rome (and Constantinople) developed much later.

The writings that make up the existing New Testament were shared and circulated throughout a wide area, wherever churches took root. Opinions were shared, and a consensus grew based primarily on the authorship (apostolic connection) and message (consistency with the teachings of Jesus).

Many of those writings were accepted very early by a majority of people, and others gained acceptance later by consensus. (See The Formation of the New Testament Canon) Many other writings were considered helpful, but not Scripture, and some writings were considered heretical. Late writings (turning up after the apostles were gone in the 2nd Century and later) were categorically excluded.

Eusebius of Caesarea was one of the first people to attempt a summary of authoritative writings. The 22 “books” he identified in the 3rd Century are nearly identical to the canon we have today, minus a few and plus a few. The consensus was close to settled at that time.

The first person to name all 27 writings exactly as they are known today was Athanasius in Northern Africa in his Festal Letter written A.D. 367. The same canon was accepted by the rest of Christendom at the African synods of Hippo Regius (A.D. 393) and Carthage (A.D. 397 and 419). (Not the Council of Nicaea as the popular myth goes!)

In between the 1st Century and the early 5th Century when the canon was officially settled, other lists were offered by various sources. Bruce Metzger, the Princeton Theologian, says, “The slowness of determining the final limits of the canon is testimony to the care and vigilance of early Christians in receiving books purporting to be apostolic.”

Metzger notes that “the chief criterion for acceptance of particular writings as sacred, authoritative, and worthy of being read in services of worship was apostolic authorship”. The early church focused on the source or authority – connection to the apostles who knew Jesus. They also measured them by the known message of Jesus, as preserved by those apostles.

Keep in mind that the apostles lived on after Jesus. Peter died in 64 AD during the reign of Nero in Rome according to contemporary, extra-biblical sources. John, the Apostle, died in 100 AD according to reports preserved from multiple sources.

Thus, the apostles, the closest people to Jesus, lived on 30 to 70 years after Jesus died. They were the standard by which the authority of contemporary writings were judged.

Determining (or accepting) what is Scripture is only a beginning, though. How we view Scripture and interact with it is where the real rubber meets the road. In my last article, I wrestled with what it means that Scripture is inspired, suggesting that accuracy is not necessarily the key component. I will dig a little deeper in the rest of this article.

Continue reading “Digging into the Accuracy and Inspiration of the Bible”

Wrestling with the Accuracy and Inspiration of the Bible

In episode #82 on the BEMA Discipleship Podcast (dealing with “textual criticism” of the Bible), Marty Solomon made the following statement about growing up in a fundamentalist church: “Inspiration means accuracy in the world I grew up in.” Now he says, “That’s not what inspiration means. Inspiration means it was inspired by God.”

Solomon is talking about one of the few verses in the Bible that gives us explicit insight into how we should view Scripture:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness….” 

2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB)

That Scripture is “inspired by God” is what those with a “high view” of Scripture hang our hat on, but what does “inspired by God” mean exactly?

Jesus revered Scripture, and he quoted from it often, He quoted from the Torah at least 21 times and from the Prophets at least 18 times. He referenced those writings when he said,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” 

Matthew 5:17-19

His words seem to suggest a high standard of accuracy in “the Law”, but I have often noted that the quotations of Jesus in the New Testament do not often match (if ever) the exact phrases from the passages he quotes. He doesn’t cite “chapter and verse” because there were no chapters or verses then.

Further, the Scriptural texts were written out carefully by scribes who were highly specialized in the tedium of copying the text verbatim, but many people could not read or write. Scripture was committed to memory and quoted often from memory.

Solomon’s comment reveals how his position has changed from the view of the church in which he grew up. He still believes the Bible is inspired by God, but he no longer believes that inspiration means accuracy.

The exact words quoted in the New Testament writings that were spoken by Jesus were likely spoken in Hebrew, or maybe Aramaic, and they were translated into Greek. We have Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and Latin manuscripts. We also have manuscripts in Coptic, Syriac, and other languages.

We have a virtual treasure of manuscripts of the biblical texts, so much that they dwarf the text of any other ancient writing many, many times over. We also have many modern translations, each with differences in words, sentence structure, phraseology, etc.

The Bible we have is magnitudes more certain in its reliability and integrity than any other ancient text. We can trust that we have a very, very close approximation in the Bible of what was originally said because of the wealth of texts we can compare to each other. But can we say it is 100%, word for word, accurate in every jot and tittle?

Solomon has a “high view” of Scripture, as I do, but he doesn’t necessarily demand, expect, or hold on to it as if every word is accurate (without error). This can be a difficult “concession” for many people who are Christians and believe the Bible must be viewed as 100% accurate in every word and detail.

A “high view” of Scripture, to me, means to view it with the utmost respect, to embrace it as authoritative and inspired, and to study it regularly as food for the soul/spirit, for guidance in knowing and understanding God and His purposes and how to live as one who would follow Christ.

The idea that the Bible is inerrant (without error) is not to be found in the Bible. Rather, we can find in the Bible that it was inspired by God. In the second letter Paul wrote to his young disciple, Timothy, he said:

Most people who claim to be Christians, and some people who don’t, agree that the Bible is inspired. The idea that the Bible was inspired, and inspired by God, is somewhat noncontroversial, but some people take it further: they say that every word in our modern Bible is from God; they say the Bible is without error; they say the Bible is inerrant (meaning, incapable of being wrong).

When Paul said all scripture is inspired by God, he was likely talking about the Old Testament, as there was no New Testament as we know it when Paul wrote his letter to Timothy. He also doesn’t clarify what he would include in the term, “Scripture”. We have to try to fill in those blanks.

Can we really say the Bible – every word of the text we have today – is 100% accurate to the words that were originally inspired by God, spoken and written down? Which translation? In which language?

Maybe there is a reason Paul did not say that Scripture is an accurate, word for word, and verbatim script of God’s words to the people who were inspired to receive them. Muslims claim that is what the angel Gabriel did with Muhammed. They claim the angel dictated to Muhammed, who wrote down everything exactly as it was spoken to him. The biblical text doesn’t make that claim about itself.

Paul says that Scripture is “beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness“. He implicitly says we can trust it and rely on it. He holds it in the highest regard, but he doesn’t say what we try to claim about the Bible.

Maybe we shouldn’t go as far in our claims as we do. In writing this piece, I am not suggesting that we should not trust the Bible or rely on it. I am not saying we should disregard it or discount it.

I believe Scripture is “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Does it need to be 100% accurate to do that? Does it need to “inerrant”?

NT Wright makes the bold claim that we have the Scripture God wanted us to have. Human beings have a strong desire to categorize, define, and reduce to certainty. Maybe we should resist that temptation.

“God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.” We are finite and limited beings. We will always have a measure of uncertainty. Faith involves placing our trust in what we believe is trustworthy. Faith doesn’t require certainty.

We will never have certainty because we are finite, limited beings. We are not gods, and we are certainly not God.

I realize I have not, perhaps, brought much clarity to the subject. I do have some more thoughts on the subject, including what Peter has to say, and what Peter and Paul say about each other. I will pick where I leave off here in future writings.

What We Can Learn from the Letter to Diognetus

Map of the Roman Empire, 2nd century AD. Publication of the book “Meyers Konversations-Lexikon”, Volume 7, Leipzig, Germany, 1910

Fellow blogger Joel Edmund Anderson wrote a short summary of the Letter to Diognetus on his blog, Resurrecting Orthodoxy (March 19, 2022). This is part of his series on early church fathers.

I feel like we tend to believe that we have advanced from our peers centuries ago, and I am ever skeptical of that advancement. I tend to believe the writer of Ecclesiastes:

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Yes, we have made great technological advancements, but how different are people, really? I direct your attention to the Ukraine where Russian bombs fall on hospitals, schools and people fleeing a war with very questionable motivations.

Lest we be too smug, more people died at the hands of despotic rulers in the 20th Century than all the previous centuries combined.

But, I don’t want to preach, and I don’t exempt myself from my personal indictment. I am not exempt. People are still people, and we have a tendency to do bad things.

On this point, though, I like reading the thoughts of ancient minds to remind myself of the ways in which we tread the same ground. The Letter to Diognetus is a good example, and I commend the article I have linked for your consideration.

Joel Edmund Anderson observes that the Letter to Diognetus is the first communication (in records we have) attempting to explain Christianity to pagans. It was written early, around 130 AD, and it distinguishes Christianity from Judaism and from paganism.

Who is Diognetus? What was the occasion for the letter? Was the letter sent unsolicited? Did Diognetus inquire about Christianity? Was it the product of a discussion? Who wrote the letter? We don’t know.

I imagine the letter wasn’t unsolicited. Writing utensils and parchment, papyrus or whatever medium was used then not in abundant supply in the 2nd Century. Writing was an effort.

That the letter was preserved speaks, perhaps, to the way the letter was received. Whoever received this letter thought it was valuable enough to keep it and preserve it.

As I read the summary of the letter today, though, I am interested in several points made in the letter and how they relate to us 19 centuries later.

Continue reading “What We Can Learn from the Letter to Diognetus”