Archive for the ‘Doctrine’ category

Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 3)

February 18, 2019


I have been blogging on the problem of pain. (See the Introduction, Part 1 and Part 2). This is “the” problem, with a capital “P” for the Christian who maintains, based on biblical revelation, that God is all-powerful and all-good. If God is so powerful, why can’t He stop the evil? If God is so good, why doesn’t He stop the evil? Either God isn’t all-powerful, or He isn’t good, or (ultimately) the God of the Bible doesn’t exist.

I am working my way through the puzzle, putting the pieces in place. You will have to read through the previous posts to catch up (if you want to). The piece of the puzzle I want to explore next is the cosmic drama that is evident in the Scripture.

Jesus refers to the Devil as the ruler of this world. So the Devil most have some authority and jurisdiction over the world. If God is really God, the authority of the Devil to do what he does must have give by God. But why?! If the question isn’t simply rhetorical, there must be a purpose? Why would an all-powerful God allow restraints on His power to allow the rejection, opposition and counter-activity of being He created?

Before I try to answer that question, I want to dive into the evidence of this conflict that we see in the Scripture and look for clues as to why it would be allowed by an all-powerful God.

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The Plurality of One God

February 6, 2019


I have undertaken to explore the question, Is Jesus God?, by looking first at the claims Jesus made about himself. After all, if Jesus didn’t really claim he was God, we would have to wonder about others making that claim. It’s kind of hard to take the position that Jesus was God if Jesus, himself, didn’t make that claim.

I also explored what people in the time Jesus said about him. Some people claim that the early followers of Jesus didn’t really think he was God, that the God-claim arose generations later in the way of a legend. Unless the Gospels and letters collected in the New Testament were written generations later, clearly, his early followers, and even people opposed to him, believed that he was God or, at least, that he claimed to be God.

One puzzle that remains, though, is how the claims made by Jesus and his Jewish followers fit into an ancient Judaic theology built on the foundation of one true God. Jesus, himself, quoted the sacred text handed down from Moses: “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Luke 4:8, quoting Moses Deut. 6:13) So how do we square that statement with his evident claims that put him on a par with God?

There is no dearth of resources addressing the idea of the Trinity, but I turn to a former Muslim for help. Muslims have a robust view of God, Allah, as one. Allah is not a father and does not beget sons. He is single, undivided, and purely one God.

Nabeel Qureshi is my source for an explanation of the Trinity. Nabeel was a devout Muslim turned Christian after his college years, and he became a Christian apologist. He recalls that one of the most recited passages of the Qur’an is Surat-al-Ikhlaas, 112:2 – “God is not a Father, and He is not a Son.” This “doctrine above all doctrines” in Islam is known as Tawhid – God is absolutely one and cannot be father or son.

The question that troubled Nabeel when he was comparing the two religions was this: How is it that the Trinity could be a monotheistic doctrine?

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Where in the World is God?

December 23, 2018


I have been listening with some relish to the new podcast, Ask NT Wright Anything, with Justin Brierley the host of Unbelievable! podcast fame. NT Wright is currently the Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Mary’s College in the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. (Wikipedia) He is a renowned scholar and prolific writer and speaker.

In listening to the first few episodes of the new podcast, I have become interested in NT Wright’s view the kingdom of God, the ascension and what it means that someday Jesus will “come again on the clouds”.  calls westerners “innate Epicureans” who believe that “heaven is a long way away”. Thus, when we think of something like the ascension of Jesus, we imagine him rising up to heaven far away where He “sits at the right hand of the Father”.

This image of Jesus in heaven far away seems to be suggested in the passages from which we have coined the term ascension. The Gospel of Luke describes it this way: “While [Jesus] was blessing them, He parted from them [left them] and was carried up [taken up] into heaven”. (Luke 24:51 (NASB/ESV)) In Acts, the description is that “He was lifted up while they were looking on [taken up before their very eyes], and a cloud hid him [received Him] from their sight [out of their sight].” (Acts 1:9 NASB/ESV)

In Luke, the phrase, “parted and was carried” is a translation of the one Greek word, diístēmi, meaning literally “to set apart, to intervene, make interval” and translated as carried, parted and/or passed.[i] In the Greek, it appears (to me) that some interpretation is apparent in the English verb tenses used: “He parted and was carried [taken]”. The first phrase conveys action on the part of Jesus, and the second phrase conveys some action asserted upon Jesus, presumably from the Father.

The phrase is inserted as the interpretation of a single word so who undertook the action is really not implicitly expressed. It’s an interpretation (it seems to me). Further, the descriptor, “up” is added. That descriptor is not inherent in the Greek word, diístēmi. Rather, it seems to be a common sense addition to connect with the word translated “heaven”, which is ouranós. But is that an accurate translation?

After hearing NT Wright, I think not. Our western worldview filter may be to blame, and removing this worldview filter opens up a more accurate view, perhaps, of what the kingdom of God is, the ascension, and the second coming of Jesus.

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Digging Deeper to Mine the Meaning from Scripture

October 2, 2018


I have written on the subject of the similarity in the interpretation style of atheists and fundamentalists, or more specifically, perhaps, young earth creationists. Probably several times or more in fact. But, I am not the only who has noticed the similarity.

Among others who have made this observation is Michael G. Strauss, professor at University of Oklahoma. Strauss has been a research physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and more recently at CERN. Strauss has studied the interaction between quarks and gluons and the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics, and, most recently, the properties of the Higgs Boson and “the top quark”. Dr. Strauss is a pretty smart guy, and he is a Christian.

He writes in a blog article dated September 16, 2018, about A Shared Characteristic Between Atheists and Young Earth Creationists, observing that they interpret the Bible the same way. Both camps insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible, particularly the creation narrative in Genesis. It’s kind of like the person listening to the announcer giving the play-by-play of a baseball game on the radio when he says, “The runner is hugging the base at third.” Should we imagine that the runner is literally embracing third base in his arms?

Of course not, because we know from the context of our modern culture and language what the announcer is saying. While his words may convey a certain literal meaning, his actual meaning is different. We all know exactly what he means. He means that the runner is holding close to the base. We call this a “figure of speech” among other things.*

We don’t have to struggle to know when to take someone “literally” and when to grasp the nuance of metaphorical meaning. We don’t have to think very hard about it, usually, because we are immersed in the culture and intimately familiar with language usage that gives us clues from in the context of the statements.

We have to use that same approach with the Bible. The only difference is that we are not so immersed in the culture and familiar with ancient Hebrew that we can make those same “common sense” connections with the Bible without a little help. But, it’s not that difficult either.

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Can Hell be Reconciled with a Loving God? Part 2

May 17, 2018


In the first piece in this series about hell, inspired by a talk given by Tim Keller in 2010, we explore the idea that hell isn’t a place that God sends us; it is the result of our own choosing. When we choose anything other than God as our highest and best good, our most treasured thing, the thing we identify most with, that choice becomes our ultimate aim.

If we choose anything other than God as our ultimate aim, our most treasured thing, we lose ourselves to it. What we value most consumes us and we lose our identity to it.

Keller uses the parable of Lazarus and the rich man as the backdrop. The rich man, not even realizing he is in hell, demands Abraham to send Lazarus to him to wet his lips to relieve him from his discomfort. The rich man is delusional. He still thinks he has the wealth and station he enjoyed during life, but he has completely lost his identity. Abraham and Lazarus have names in the parable, but the rich man is without any name.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote a book, Sickness Unto Death, in which he defines sin as finding our identity in anything other than God. The word for sin, in the Hebrew, means, literally, missing the mark. To find our identity in anything other than Godis missing the mark.

The first point Keller makes about the idea of hell is this: when we choose anything other than God as our highest and best good, the thing we most identify with, we lose our identity to it, and it becomes our hell. If the thing we cherish most isn’t our identify in God, we lose our intended identify (given by God who created us) to the things we have chosen over God. And this becomes our hell.

Keller says that the idea of hell is crucial in helping us to understand the problem with our own hearts. We have a tendency to want things other than the purpose for which God made us. God made us for Himself, to reflect unique facets of His nature, and to have relationship, forever, with God. If we choose as our greatest treasure something other than this purpose for which God made us, we lose our identity to those things.

In this blog piece, we will explore this idea further.

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Is Young-Earth Creationism Another Gospel?

March 23, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 36608313 Copyright: lexskopje

The Ham/Nye debates were my introduction to Ken Ham (and to Bill Nye for that matter). I wanted Ken Ham to be my champion of a biblical view of science, but I just came away unsettled. (See Debriefing the Nye v. Ham Debate)

As I’ve admitted before, I am decidedly not a science guy. I tend to put these things on my back burner and let them simmer, and that is what I did with the debates. Quite some later I came across Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe.  He made sense of the science and the biblical creation account in Genesis. He still does to me, though I tend to take all of these things with a grain of salt because I still don’t know what I don’t know.

I have consciously avoided criticizing Ken Ham because so many Christians love him. And again, I don’t know what I don’t know about the science. But, I am changing on that score too. It isn’t the science that I am chiefly focused on at this point, but something far more fundamental to the Christian faith – the Gospel.

Reading through An Extended Analysis of Ken Ham’s Book “Six Days” (Part 1: Blame the Satanic Christian Academics) by Joel Edmund Anderson on his blog, resurrecting orthodoxy, I came to a realization – Ken Ham is anchoring his faith on something other than the Gospel. In Paul’s words, he is preaching a different gospel.

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Suffering Eternal Decisions

February 21, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 31692361 Copyright: DesignPicsInc

I often listen to podcasts in the morning as I shave, shower, brush my teeth and get ready for work. Today I was listening to Dr. William Lane Craig respond to some questions about free will and suffering, and his comments prompt this blog piece.

He made the following statement

“Natural suffering forms the arena in which the drama is played out of people being freely called to come into the kingdom of God and find an eternal relationship with God. It is not at all improbable that only in a world infused with natural suffering would an optimal number of people freely respond to God’s gracious and initiatives and come to enjoy a relationship with God and eternal salvation.”

Dr. Craig represents the Molinist view of the tension between God’s sovereignty, knowledge and power and man’s free will. On the Molinist view, God knows the future, but he does not determine it. Knowing the future, God chose to set the universe in motion, but he does not determine every aspect of it, including the choices that people make. Knowing the future, God chose to set the universe in motion, and to that extent, He determines the outcome, because He knows the outcome. He does not determine it, however, to the extent of interfering with the free will He gave humans who are created in His image. The fact that he knows the outcome, does not mean that He determine the choices each person makes. Each person is free to choose as they will, but God knows how they will choose from the beginning, and so He wills it.

This is (my simple version of) the Molinist view. It respects God’s sovereignty, while acknowledging the clear implication of free will and moral responsibility to which God holds us that is reflected from beginning to end in the Bible.

I tend to like the Molinist view, but I am always somewhat cautioned in my own thinking not to be overly concerned with doctrinal nuances. I don’t want to die on a Molinist hill other than the Gospel. The Calvinist resurgence in the church today stands in contrast to a more Armenian view of inviolate free will. Many have been the discussions and debates between these two views, and I fear we spend too much time and energy on debating when we should spend more time living out the Gospel. I think Paul might lump these debates in the category of vain discussions.

Still, I think it is good to chew on these things as they may be beneficial to our knowledge and understanding of God. As I thought about Dr. Craig’s comment above, I could not help think that this is a kind of divine utilitarianism – what is optimal for generating the most free will responses of love for, relationship with God and eternal life with God.

Dr. Craig’s thesis is an attempt to explain why suffering exists in the world when God is supposed to be good, all-powerful and sovereign. Why doesn’t God stop suffering if He is all those things? Why does he allow suffering at all?

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