Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Blog is moved over

You can now access my blog at http://blog.renewedtheology.net. I only moved over the two series that I am working on (Romans and Psychology of Redemption) as of now, though if I find any other post I wish to include I will. All other posts can still be accessed at this blog though.

Transfering blog to WordPress

Since I got some web space and since I have found that WordPress is more flexible than Blogspot, I am deciding to switch my blog over. It can be accessed at http://blog.renewedtheology.net though I have yet to really be completed as I want it to be, so this is still the "official" blog. I want to move certain posts over to WordPress and get a couple other things set up. Once I do that, I'll then make my final post to this blog location informing you it is complete.

Also, there has been a fiasco with domains and what not (long story). The result is that I went ahead and bought renewedtheology.net in addition. Renewedtheology.com works, but it simple redirects to the .net domain.

Most importantly though, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

New domain

You should now be able to access this blog by http://blog.renewedtheology.com. I plan on doing other things with the domain once the holidays slow down and I can dedicate some work to a website.

"The power of death" - Hebrews 2:14

Hebrews 2:14 -
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might render powerless the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil
This early morning, I was pondering this phrase. It has long troubled me in a person who was very familiar with the Old Testament attributing to Satan the ability to control death. Doesn't God decide who dies? Can Satan really bring certain people to death? Why then did Satan have to ask permission from God to afflict Job, but was forbidden to kill him (the author of Hebrews was most probably familiar with Job)?

But then I go back to my basic knowledge of the genitive in Greek and how this could potentially be understood differently. Tradtionally, it is taken as the death being the power that is had. However, it could be understood alternatively as "death's power" or more dynamically "the power from death" (though it probably shouldn't be translated specifically as an ablative). If this is indeed a viable understanding, then it would place not death in the power of the devil, but the rather a result of death in the power of the devil. According to my theology, death (and pain and suffering in addition) leads us to become sinners when we choose for our own safety and well being (out of fear), which often times comes at the costs of others and God will (which makes it sin). Thus, the sinfulness gives place in our hearts for Satan to rule over us. And in that way, I naturally saw death leading to sin and the power of Satan over humanity. In other words, power in fact refers to control.

But despite my theology and theological objections, I can not ignore exegesis as the primary arbiter of the proper interpretation and translation.

There is the genitive usage in the following verse in "fear of death." Should we maintain consistency with the genitive? Probably so, although I have wondered if Hebrews 2:14-15 was in fact poetry or something to that effect, in which a fluid usage is more acceptable. Ultimately, we should have to not rely on the notion without greater evidence. Also though, we may considering reunderstanding "fear of death" as "death's fear" or "the fear that comes from death." In this scenario, death would be seen as the source of the world's problems but not the ultimate problem. By Jesus' death, He then destroys the problems created by death (namely the control of the devil over people and fear)

However, this understanding is perhaps a little bit more strained and awkward.

Anyone with an exegetical mind that might be willing to comment on this? I am still inclined to the traditional interpretation, simply because I can not find significant enough evidence to validate the newer understanding with a bit more of a strained reading.

Friday, December 21, 2007


To facilitate accessing my series on Romans, here is a list of links to blog posts on Romans and also future planned posts (though it might change a bit as I move ahead).

1) Romans 1-2
2) Romans 3
3) Romans 4:1-8
4) Romans 4:9-17 (Now up)
5) Romans 4:18-25
6) Observations on Romans 1-4 as a whole
7) Romans 5
8) Romans 6
9) Observations on Romans 5-6 as a whole
10) Romans 7
11) Romans 8
12) Observations on Romans 7-8 as a whole
13) Romans 9
14) Romans 10
15) Romans 11
16) Observations on Romans 9-11 as a whole
17) Romans 12-16
18) Final comments on Romans

Synopsis on Romans (Part 4- Chapter 4:9 -17)

A couple notes about the previous verses that I forgot to include:

First, my comments on the first eight verses of chapter 4 fall in line with a covenantal view where one freely enters into the covenant but must have works to remain in the covenant and for the covenant to be fulfilled by God (BTW I might soon do a post on Abraham's covenant to validate this). In other words, at first one is justified freely by faith, but if there is time to, one must have works in addition to trust in God to remain justified. But with that said, I find impressing the idea of covenant upon Romans any more than as simply a possible explanatory framework of how Paul's theology developed is pressing too much on Paul's message in my opinion.

Secondly, I alluded to this point a little bit, but I failed to develop it further. The importance of faith in justification is that it is by faith that righteous character springs forth. Paul states in 1:18. Also, this is central to Paul's discourse on Jesus' faith. Faith is the human means of obtaining righteous obedience. This is important point to see in Paul's development of faith in order to see what Paul is stating in 4:1-8; not that faith is some part of a checklist needed to be fulfilled to be justified, but rather that it is the human means by which the righteous life may be lived and hence it is acceptable to justification.

Third, while I concluded my previous post at verse 8, it would in fact be a mistake to think that Paul's primary motivation was to prove that works were not necessary to first become justified. He does on the side prove that point, but it is only a minor point with him in this letter. He is trying to prove that a person does not need the works of the Law in order to become justified. The point is made by noting that Abraham was justified by faith before he was ever circumcised. If God credited Abraham with righteousness before circumcision and if God is one who does not change His dealings with humanity (implicit in Paul's argumentation), then the conclusion that could be drawn is that it was never necessary to be circumcised to be justified (and by implication the Law as a whole).

What was the role of circumcision then? Paul states that it was a seal or a sign of the righteousness he had beforehand when he trusted in God. The question that must be asked here about this is whether this seal was a sign of God seeing Abraham as righteous or as a sign that Abraham was vindicated by his obedience in being circumcised. If we presume that Paul is pulling this from what is said in the Old Testament narrative (specifically in Genesis 17 here), the latter is probable. There is no statement from God to the effect of "this is a sign of my acceptance of you" or "you are righteous, therefore I ask you to be circumcised" Rather, God simply commands Abraham and his household to be circumcised as part of the covenant. As the narrative reveals in Genesis 17:23, Abraham obeys God's command. It is from this part of the patriarchal story that Paul concludes that circumcision was a sign of righteousness. Or another way to put it is that circumcision is the sign that Abraham is obedient to God.

Now faith was also pivotal to the story of Abraham. Because Abraham trusted that God would fulfill the covenant He had made and because Abraham believed that God would give him a son to be his heir (compare Genesis 15:1-6 with 17:15-21), Abraham in turn obeyed God's command for circumcision. So faith here is the human means needed to accomplish righteous obedience.

What is the result of all this? Paul states there are two conclusions. First off, the uncircumcised who do not have Abraham has a genealogical father may be a father for all those that do believe. Once again, this must be seen in light of the Genesis story. Paul is stating that the whole world can in effect become part of Abraham's promise regarding his descendants. The concept of "father" and the promise Abraham received is being broadened by Paul. It now being envisioned as meaning a person who does something that other people then do later on (though not necessarily by cognitively following the example of the "father").

Paul then shifts focus to those of the circumcision, which is synonymous with being Jewish. Abraham was to be a father to them too, but there was another qualification they needed. They needed to follow in Abraham's example of faith. Otherwise, Abraham is their father only in the biological sense, but not necessarily a true descendant according to the promise given to Abraham (mentioned in the follow verse). This coincides with the thrust of Romans 9, which we will address more at that point.

Why then are those who are not circumcised included? And why are those who circumcised must also have faith? Because the promise Abraham received came when he had trust in God but had not yet been circumcised, although it is a bit more than that. How exactly was this promise received? And what exactly is the promise that Abraham is referring to? It is all likely a reference to the story of Genesis 12.

In Genesis 12, Abram is told two things. First, he was told to leave his home and go into a new land that God would show him. Secondly, as a result of going he would then be made a great nation and all families of the earth would be blessed because of him (the Hebrew waw-consecutive verb would argue this). What happens next? Abram goes off. As a result, God then says that his descendants would inherit the land he had come to (the waw-consecutive again).

Lets read between the lines in this story. God commanded and conjoined a blessing to it if Abraham went. Abraham did. How was the obedience to God's command initialized (for lack of a less technical term) in Abram though? Implicit here is that Abram believed God. His obedience allowed him to follow through with God's command to him (this echoes the statement of the Pauline influence letter of Hebrews in 11:8). Once Abraham traveled there, God gave him the promise that his descendants would inherit the land. So we can infer that if Abram had not obeyed, Abram would not have received the promise. But more than that, if Abram had not trusted God, he would not have obeyed God, and therefore would not have received the promise.

It is because of that that Paul can say that the promise was received not merely by faith, but by the righteousness of faith (synonymous with the obedience that comes from faith). Both the righteousness/obedience and the trust in God are necessary. This serves as a natural contrast against the righteousness that comes from the Law, as opposed to merely a belief that does not follow through with obedience.

Now there still is the matter on what basis can Abram would become an "heir of the world." There are two possible interpretation of this phrase. One is that Abraham would receive the entire world. However, there is not Old Testament precedent for this and that premise is also lacking the context of Romans. So the second interpretation would be taking "world" as referring to the world of people, Jews and Gentiles (or circumcised and uncircumcised) alike. So a better translation would be "the world's heir," identifying Abraham as the one through whom the world, Jews and Gentiles alike, would receive an inheritance. This comes from Paul transplanting his idea of both circumcised and uncircumcised alike having Abraham as a "father" upon the "descendants" of Genesis 12:7. It is in all likelihood not a direct reference to Genesis 17:4, as it does not directly talk about inheritance that would constitute a reference of being an "heir" (though doubtlessly it influences Paul's view of "father" and "descendants" as 4:16-17 shows, which in turn affected his interpretation of Genesis 12:7).

Nor does Paul mean to see "the promise" as collective of all the episodes centered around the covenant between God and Abraham in addition to Genesis 12. It is an interesting interpretation on the part of some, such as Douglas Moo. However, it is rather unnatural, especially considering that Paul is developing his argumentation from specific episodes and not so much general themes or ideas. Plus a specific phrase like "the righteousness of faith" suggests a particular means of reception, which would more naturally be taken as a reference to an episode of the "righteousness of faith" where it could be seen as being the cause of reception, rather than merely a broad generalization with no one specific episode in mind about the nature of the promise (which it would have to be if "the promise" is collective).

Having now established through Abram's life and how what he found (look back to 4:1), Paul goes on to state that the Law if it is essentially is mutually exclusive to faith and the promise in verse 14. In other words, it can not be a mixture of the two. The reason why is because the Law ultimately brings about wrath for those who are under it and thus invalidates those who do have the Law to follow it. Also, Paul is not validating an antinomian premise when he states "where there is no law, there is no violation." He is not affirming there is no type of law at all, but rather he is giving a general proposition. If the Law of Moses is not in effect for the the inheritance, then it brings up no violation that takes away the right of inheritance. There is in fact another law that is in effect than can disqualify one, but it is the law of faith (or the righteousness that comes from trust in God) that Paul has talked about.

From his argumentation, Paul infers that the inheritance is received by faith. There are two results from that. First off, grace is shown to people on the basis of faith, as his argumentation showed 4:1-8. Secondly, the promise of an inheritance is not given only to those who have the Law, in exclusion of the rest of the world, but it is given to all who have the same type of faith that Abraham had (notice Abraham has an example of faith, just as Christ is an example of faith in chapter 3).

Here Paul then calls Abraham father of everyone, based upon the statement of Genesis 17:5 that he quotes. This goes back to the expanded meaning of "father," where Abraham walks in the life of faith and the others follows in the pattern he had. However, it is at this point then that Paul goes on to allow Abraham's "fatherhood" to be more than just a mere example-copy relationship.

Paul then makes a statement that has resounds with the statement of the John the Baptist, as recorded in Matthew 3:9 (amongst other places). I would contend the reference of life to the dead is a implicit reference to the idea that John the Baptist presented about raising up (or resurrecting) children of Abraham from lifeless (or dead) rocks. After that then, Paul proclaims that God can speak into existence that which is not yet the case. Or in other words, those who are not descendants of Abraham God can make them descendants. So in addition to the example-copy meaning of "father," Paul also includes a more "spiritual" connotation to it (see Galatians 3:29). While generally double meanings are to be avoided in interpretations, Paul here purposefully does it to convey both the idea of following a pattern and the idea of a spiritual family (however one should not press the concept of spiritual family too far in an exegesis of Romans).

While I initially intended to complete chapter 4 in this post, it was getting rather long so I conclude it here at a logical stopping point. The next post I should in fact finish Romans 4.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reactionary theology

The history of the Christian theology is in fact owing to its reaction to its culture (for instance Justin Marty in response to persecution by Rome), its own influence upon sects of "Christianity"(say Gnosticism with it background in Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy), or independent groups within "Christianity" (like Arianism), or even reaction against the power in "Christianity" (the Protestant Reformation). In some sense, we can not know what is good till we see the ugly. Nor can we know what to think about till we are challenged.

This is the nature of things. And it hasn't changed today. The mainline church and the emergent church are a contemporary example (this fits both ways). However, there is a danger in these episodes that help us to define our theology. In social psychology, it is called group speak. When there are two rival groups, each group will gradually get more and more extreme. What happens is that a person in the group who is fighting the "evils" of the other group will make stronger remarks than were previously made against the group and the whole will agree and move a little more extreme. In response, the other group will respond with more extreme remarks. Over time, both groups are far cry from what they originally stood for. They become more reactionary. This has certainly been the case within Christian theology.

My original task with this blog was to try to recover the basics and reaffirm the good while perhaps throwing out what was more reactionary. However, this became a bigger task then I originally envisioned, and the purpose of this blog has since changed.

However, we are living in this reactionary type of theology today. For instance, on one blog some commenters (and not the blogger himself) have a seeming hatred for anything fundamentalistic. And among a lot of more "academic" blogs (though half of them and their supposed academic approach have left me yawning) there seems to be more reactionary against fundamentalism than merely seeing fundamentalism as a challenge. There are certain ones who approach it with a proper attitude (such as.... that English chap Tilling). But then I fear for a good portion of academic Christian blogging because it seems to be too reactionary.

The problem with reactionary theology is that our primary motivator become fighting a certain group instead of striving for truth. Instead of merely taking a group's beliefs as a challenge to further explore our own (and then from that respond for or against), we essentially react against the other group. In the end, we have subtly shifted towards an extreme, which is more likely to blind us than give us deeper knowledge.

In addition, it serves to divide Christians. One guy said he can't stand fundamentalists. Right there is the stuff that needless church dividing is made out of. MacArthur and other conservatives, if not fundamentalists, start lambasting the emergent church (I have my problems with some and think that a lot of them have essentially stripped Christianity of its true power, but there are some of them that seem good enough). The emergent church, a reaction to mainstream orthodoxy, has essentially run away from the mainline church. And so on. And instead of trying to work together to mold ourselves from the principles each other has (more often than not, they truth is somewhere in the middle), there comes a division and both go along their same paths they were going, just as ignorant as before.

In the end, we need a bit more grace. Otherwise, honestly, if we judge those groups as being in error from the truth and treat them harshly, and we are just as off in our own judgments of the truth, we can expect the same treatment from God.

I am not saying lets accept just any opinion and never say something is wrong. Farthest from that. But there has to be a spirit of grace and love. After all, love and grace are the highest ideals of our religion, not theology. Call a spade a spade. Just be sure as heck it is a spade before you do it, and make sure yourself don't have any spades in your hand. And then still treat them as Christians brothers till their fruits show them otherwise.

I'll jump off the soap box now. I am just tired of the utter gracelessness I see from some (maybe in saying that, I have lacked grace too). Thankfully there are some people in the blogosphere (bloggers and commenters) that encourage me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Synopsis on Romans (Part 3 - Chapter 4:1-8)

As I sit here on the night before church, being faced with insomnia, I figure I might as well go ahead and get back into my series on Romans. Since it is a bit to absorb, I will only address the first 8 verses of chapter 4.

At the conclusion of chapter 2, the hypothetical Jewish objector asks if what Paul says is true, how then how can one boast that they have worked and reach the level of justification. Paul's answer is that they can not and that is because of "law of faith" (or the "righteousness that is based on faith" in Philippians 3:9, or the "obedience of faith" in Romans 1:5).

In response then, the hypothetical objector would bring up the topic of Abraham and the things he had found. Abraham received the promises from God because of his works, specifically the sacrificing of Isaac (see Genesis 22) and we justified because of his works (see also James 2:21-23). If these works allowed Abraham to be righteous in God's eyes, then he has ever reason to boast about obtaining justification by his own striving. However, Paul's response is simple. "Not before God." Paul goes on to explain the rationale in the 4:3-9.

Paul first quotes from Genesis 15:6, where Abraham believed God. The result was that this trust in God was accounted to Abraham as righteousness. The natural meaning of this phrase isn't to say that Abraham was accounted something he did not have (IE to impute Christ's righteousness to Abraham), but rather to say that Abraham's faith came from a righteous principle that Abraham had. What Paul proves here is that justification is, at least in some part by faith. This is the beginning of his response and not proof in and of itself. Paul's quotation says nothing of works, nor does it exclude works.

To move on further, Paul uses the analogy of a person who works for an employer. When a person works, they receive a wage. But then that wage is not due to any favor (or grace) from the employer. It is simply what is due.

Many people interpret Paul here to be referring to any person that tries to work their way to salvation, but this is not Paul's point whatsoever. He is explaining the promises Abraham received. Abraham obeyed God, which showed he was righteous. Therefore, if that is the case, a person who is righteous should indeed be declared righteous.

Paul is also not referring to the idea of merit. We should be careful to make too much of the metaphor to pull out of it a theology about merit. The wage (justification from works) is not due because of "merit" in Paul's eyes, but rather because it is the truth. To do otherwise would be to lie, so in that sense works are due a wage.

One important thing to note here. When I speak of a person being righteous, it does not mean they are perfectly righteous. Just as being a sinner doesn't mean a person only sins, it's opposite, righteousness, does not mean a person does only what is right. It simply means they practice what is right and by implication do not practice what is wrong. It does NOT mean perfection.

But Paul now give the example of the person who does not have works. He has shifted away from someone who has been obedient like Abraham. He is now talking about someone who has in fact been disobedient. If one were to evaluate their works, no one, including God, would consider them a righteous person. However, while they do not have works, they do "trust in God to justify the ungodly." As they are, they are ungodly and unrighteous. They deserve nothing from God. However, what does God do? He credits righteousness without having any works in their lives to base that upon. This is an act of grace from God. They don't have to have works to become accepted by God, but they are freely and graciously accepted by God immediately. Their trust in God leads to justification and is the application of Genesis 15:6 which he had just quoted.

What Paul has given here is the case of the obedient Christian on one hand and the ungodly man who has recognized his sins and trusts in God. Implicit with this second person is a contrition over their sins and repentance. They are, in a sense, a new convert. They do not have to work first to get God to accept them. By sincere repentance and trust in God, God will accept them immediately.

What is the reason for that? Paul doesn't explicitly give it here, but let me attempt to give a theological explanation. When a man repents and trusts in God to wash him clean of his sins, God in turn grants this request by making them a new creation (or by making them born again, regeneration, etc.). The result is that they have a principle of righteousness in their hearts now imparted to them by God through the Holy Spirit. So while they have no works to base justification upon, God credits their trust in Him to righteousness because He has given them a righteous principle from which they will then live by. The result is that they will have the works of a righteous man, like Abraham.

Paul does not stop with a simple statement that the ungodly may obtain justification. He does on to quote from a Psalm of David. The Psalm he quotes from is Psalm 32, which is a psalm of repentance. Implicit here to Paul and the Jewish readers is that it refers to a person who been disobedient to God, and could and would be called ungodly. However, in this psalm of repentance, David rights that he confessed his guilt and God forgave him (32:5). Furthermore, this is related to the topic Paul is talking about because in 32:11 David writes "he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness with surround them." Taking all this into consideration, Paul is right to judge that David is speaking of the blessing to those who God credits righteousness apart from works, because the psalm of repentance implies a man whose works do not show him to be righteous.

Paul quotes from the first one and half verses of Psalm 32. Two benefits are spoken of here. Forgiveness and sin not being imputed/credited. If sin is not credited to someone, it would imply that righteousness would be credited to them. Secondly, since they are forgiven, God is no longer angry with them.

A couple important things to note though. First off, if justification means forgiveness itself (defining justification as God in a trial setting absolves us of any guilt from what we have done), then Paul makes not sense here. He is needlessly redundant when he talks about the blessing of those who are credited with righteousness, since that phrase is used synonymously with justification in Paul's writing. Rather, it is better to understand that Paul is showing that the person who is justified without works is indeed forgiven by God. Paul quotes from 32:2 to show that forgiveness and justification are indeed linked, but the terms do not mean the same thing.

So what Paul has gone on to show by this quotation that there are indeed people who have no works, and that God forgives them and justifies them before they can do any works as a righteous person, if they only trust in Him (and implicitly repent like the Psalmist did). If that is the case, then this goes to show why Abraham or no other man can boast before God about their justification. Before they did any righteous works in according with justification, God saw them as righteous when they had lived wickedly. God first justified, so they did not earn their way up to that state. They merely obeyed afterwards, in line with God's judgment of them as being righteous. God worked first, then man responded.

I'll pick up the rest of chapter 4 in my next post.

Disdain for others and grace

Person: I want nothing to do with those people for [insert reason]
God: Then I want nothing to do with you (Matthew 7:2)

Our relations to others must overcome the concepts of justice and feelings of being wronged. We must take our cross, deny our own selves and our feelings, and treat those who wronged us just as God treated us when we yet were sinners. If we show others grace and mercy, we can expect to receive it from God. It we fail to show grace and mercy, we can not in turn ask and expect it of God, no matter the situation, because we did more to God than what anyone could ever do to us.

Biblical inerrancy and idolatry

Jim West and Chris Tilling (in response to Jim) have both posted on the topic of inerrancy and fundamentalism (I think the topic of inerrancy comes up every two weeks, AT LEAST!).

First off, let me start of by saying that I am not an inerrantist. Let me clarify though. I don't believe every intended meaning of the writer is in fact true, if it not from God himself (such as a prophet conveying the words of God). By implication then, I do not believe the Bible to be the "Word of God," but rather a book that contains mostly:
the words of God, such as in occasional quotations of God in the historical books, the prophetic oracles, and the words of Christ
b) a historical record (albeit possibly in error in some points) of people (a lot of the time focused upon Israel and their ancestors) and God's dealings with them
c) a blending of God's work in history, the words of God, experience, and logic (this is specifically the case for many of the New Testament epistles).
There are some other classification for some of the materials contained in Scripture, but that covers most of the bases. In all that, the only things I attribute as inerrant are the words of God in their intended meaning or meanings.

Now, when I say a statement that purports to be the word of God is inerrant (or infalliable), no one would accuse me of be a idolater. If God came down to earth and said something to me, if I take Him at His word and believe their is no lie or mistake on His part (He is after at omniscient) it is not idolatry to attribute the words that come from Him as infalliable. While the words are not God, they are in fact directly from God. I am sure people like Jim West would agree with that (I hope....).

However, what differentiates me from most inerrantists is not that I say that God can lie or God may be mistaken. We both affirm that God does not lie and His knowledge is perfect. The only difference is that I do not believe that God dictated the whole Bible (or any other idea similar to that). But if God in fact dictated the whole Bible, to attribute inerrancy to the Bible is not idolatry. If I can attribute a part as inerrant without idolatry, I could conceivably attribute the whole with inerrancy without committing idolatry (whether it is mistaken or not).

Now in saying the Bible is infalliable, one is in likelihood guilty of not accepting evidence against the idea. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they do not realize their attempts to harmonize the Bible are in fact, to borrow from Chris, applying a "deductively logical wringer" to the Scriptures. They may be in error, but this by no means is idolatry. Or they might be ignorant of certain errors because they do not retain information from all parts of the Bible, and are suspicious of anyone else who makes claims that there is errors. This suspicion is not without reason, as recent trends are to tear away the bulk of Scripture and file it away as false and made up by religious zealots and priests. One again, they may be incorrect, but this is not idolatry.

Of course there is the case where inerrancy is idolatry. I had the experience recently of having my faith questioned because I did not believe the Bible is inerrant. Right then and there, if inerrancy is taken as central to the faith, we have made the Bible the "fourth part" of the Trinity. And this idolatrous statement was not far off the mark because the person said something to the effect of the Bible is Christ.

My point is that inerrancy at times exists in the form of idolatry, but by no means is it all the time. As Chris says, we must treat those who believe the Bible to be infallible with grace. We need to for four reasons.

1) If we treat them with contempt or act condescending to them, they will attribute our belief to hardness of the heart and they will become more resolute in their beliefs.
2) Their whole faith at that moment may take a terrible blow if the inerrancy is no longer true in their minds. This may not be due to idolatrous conceptions of the Bible, but other reasons. For instance the false dilemma might be in their mind that if the Bible is not inerrant, it is not trustworthy, and therefore the can have no assurance with their faith. One must slowly work with this in addressing false conceptions.
3) The fact is we may in fact be wrong and the Bible may in fact be inerrant in some way (for instance in the originals of the Bible). As much as scholars and what not like to think they have a good understanding, we do not have all the information. We don't even have the original copies of the books of the Bible. So it is best for us to remain humble in discussions.
4) There are reasons that Biblical inerrancy is so cherished by many. It is in the face of liberalism in Biblical studies that have made the Bible out to be a pack of lies and denied it has any revelation. While it is one extreme, it came from another extreme and we must still show grace to them.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The emergent church... Good yet ultimately deadly

I have a friend who, whether he believes it or not, is a postmodern thinking, which combined with his Christian faith makes him something of an emergent Christian. I remember a discussion we had a while back where he said that truth is subjective, but I replied that while truth may have different applications to different people and that what is is in fact is whether we perceive it properly or not. I had no idea I was facing emergent principles.

Before I criticize, let me state that I think the emergent church can perform the function of a needed corrective within orthodoxy. First off, orthodoxy has become a bit too steeped into unquestioning dogmatism. Witness the fact that if someone disagrees with a core group of doctrines, they are immediately branded as unbelievers and heretics. Of course these core teachings vary from one group to the next. However, the typical response isn't to look at oneself and consider what is the basis why the other person believes as they do, but the immediate response is criticism. The emergent church in some ways has a proper response. Their epistemology (while I think it is ultimately flawed) allows them to have a dialogue with others. My friend would openly engage in a conversation with others, and at one time had a more graceful spirit than I when it came to disagreements.

Furthermore, there is am emphasis of experience within the emergent church that is sorely lacking in the orthodox church. There is a sense of suspicion within the church when it comes to feelings and experience. I had one lady in one of my churches said during the Bible Study time (she leads it) that Christianity isn't about feelings. The orthodox church feels that in order to defend truth, one must exclude subjective experiences. The emergent church on the other hand tries to meet the people where they are, addresses, discusses, and legitimizes experiences, which is part of what makes them a progressively more popular sect within Christianity. They do a better job of reaching out than the mainstream church is doing.

Also, there is an acknowledgment of cultural differences in the emergent church. They recognize that there are differences between cultures and do not attempt to subvert the culture to the church. The unfortunate history of the mainstream church is that it has often time forced not only religious conversion, but cultural conversion. When such changes occur swiftly, it creates a sense of confusion within the "converted" group since what in fact happens is a strange conglomeration of old and new ideas that they have not time to fuse together. Its one thing to exert a natural influence, but when the church feels their culture is in fact the moral standard and forces that upon a group, it creates turmoil and eventually leads to suspicion and division in the subjected group.

I could go further, but I think there are some principles Christianity could take from the emergent church. However, I feel despite the value the emergent church has, it is ultimately flawed so far as that it takes the Christian faith and makes it powerless.

Going back to what I mentioned, the emergent church does a better job of dialoguing others. But the reason is that their epistemology ultimately rejects any claims that one group could potentially be closer to the truth than another. Because there have been a variety of interpretations in the past, the postmodern and emergent movement have essentially rejected any notion that one could have truth. While we can never be truly certain of the truth, it is possible for us to have truth without us being certain that it is true.

Furthermore, the Scriptures talk about faith, which in its nature often times excludes outright certainty, but the postmodern church have essentially argued in a round about way against the validity of faith. In one sense faith is upheld in that we can have subjective beliefs, but in the other sense, since we can be certain of nothing, we can not have faith that anything is really true. Of course this is to deny faith by the very thing it is an answer to, the lack of absolute certainty. The emergent church essentially conflicts with this idea of faith that Jesus and the Apostles talked about. In the end, emergents don't often times know what to believe. In this way, the emergent church is diametrically opposed to the message of the Bible.

Next, the emergent church has recognized the validity of experience. But what has happened is essentially experience, or more importantly the interpretations of experiences, are not met with a healthy skepticism. In one sense, since our understanding (and therefore our interpretations) can not be validated, then the logical conclusion is to reject skepticism of our own beliefs. Sure, in one sense there is a form skepticism, but it is a hallow skepticism in my opinion. The skepticism does not lead to a pursuit of absolute truth, since one can not be absolutely certain, but instead a shallow acceptance of any interpretations.

Now let me add that I do not believe that we need to be skeptical so as to become cynical. We need a healthy skepticism that asks why can what we believe not be true while maintaining our belief (until we study it deeper and find we need to reform our beliefs).

All this leads to nothing really. I remember reading Brian McLaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy, and while it was littered with statements of so-called humility (though much of it smacked of "humility" rooted in arrogance) and talked about the positives of other denominational beliefs, I was left feeling like I had wasted my time reading the book, honestly. I learned nothing new and upon deeper analysis of the book, it felt very shallow. Maybe this is due to my world-view and epistemology and judging shallowness/deepness according to my view.

However, the irony is that emergents who seek to reach out to the beliefs of others fail to reach out to those who have an epistemology that conflicts with theirs. Furthermore, for their lack of criticism of other beliefs, there are sure as heck critical of "modern" churches (take in mind I wouldn't classify myself as a modernist, nor postmodernist). Upon a deeper analysis of it, all the emergent church is is simply a reaction to the orthodox and "modern" church, with no real foundation of its own instead of opposing the mainstream church. And that is, in my opinion, why it is ultimately so shallow. It stands not for something so much as it stands against something else. And when that mistake is made, the groups that initially is fighting against something that needs change goes to an extreme and becomes just as much of a problem as the original institution from which it was fighting against (the Protestant Reformation is another example of a needed reform gone too extreme).

When we get down to the intellectual basis, it is a matter of epistemology. Postmodernists and the emergent church feel that because we can not be certain of truth we should give up any real claims to being able to have the truth. It is essentially a quitter mentality. They demand certainty to accept truth, which is not too much unlike the modern mentality (especially in regards to faith). Postmodernists are essentially atheistic in their mind set in that they can not see it, therefore one must reject the notion (either in the absolute sense of the atheist or the practical sense of postmodernism). Once again, it goes back to the notion of faith (in the Biblical sense and not mere cognitive function that all people practice).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

An argument against atheism

In my spare moments and when I am jogging, I like to play mental exercises and give logical validation for theism or while dogmatic atheism is in fact unreasonable. So this isn't athoroughly develop thesis, but just something that came to my brain in the middle of my jogs and stuff like it.

One thing that one can notice in human history is the notion of the divine. While it manifests itself in a variety of different beliefs, there has been a common trend that societies have a sort of spiritualism, if not a form of theism (whether it be polytheism or monotheism).

Now if there is no higher being (or power), then the world is essentially random. But yet how then did humanity come to have notions of the divine if the world is random? The best response would be that because of their lack of knowledge, there were things that did not seem random but upon scientific analysis it would be just some laws of nature at work. Or something to that effect.

If that is the case, what is the "vehicle" so to speak that would make sense of this seemingly non-randomness. The atheist would probably say God or the notion of the divine. But then we must ask the question, where could the notion of God come from? If human knowledge is essentially the totality of all our senses (seeing, hearing, taste, touch, and smell), what human perception would allow for the conceptualizing of God or the divine, since it is not seen? What would lead a person to develop the notion of an being that they can not directly sense?

But then we have a further complication. How does this belief in the divine become common enough to allow it to eventually dominate. It is one thing if one or two people come up with the idea. There have been people who have been the lone individual to bring up a certain notion, but it never gained traction among individuals. So not only must God/the divine be conceptualized, but it must gain prominence within human society in order to explain the common belief among most cultures. What is needed for an idea to gain prominence? It must explain humanity's common experience better than previous notions.

So, the seemingly lack of randomness is looked at, the concept of the divine is developed, and then the world is explained through the notion of the divine? But hold up, there is a problem.

First off, if there is no God, wouldn't the world seem random more often than orderer. In fact, wouldn't the simple people be the ones more prone to see the world as random, and only a more developed mind could put together enough data to see some sort of order that would imply in their minds a higher beings?

Secondly, the argument is often brought up that humans have a innate need to explain the world. However, Maslow's hierarchy of needs postulates that humanity is concerned about substinence, shelter, and clothing first. Humanity won't move on up until they get their first needs met. Now Maslow's theory isn't necessarily perfect. However, if there is some validity to Maslow (and I believe there is), what room would there be for enough humans to be postulating about the existence of God when food, shelter, and clothing were much harder to obtain early in human history?

Also, there is perhaps, to borrow a term from another field, an irreducible complexity when it comes to the relationship between perception of the world as random or ordered and the concept of God. The concept of God needs the perception that the world is ordered in order for it to thrive among the populace (how many people believe in God and yet in a totally random world?). However, in turn, in order for the world to be seen as ordered, there needs to be a way to explain the order. In other words, the concept of the divine and a perception of an order need each other in order to survive and they can not survive apart from each other (unless one has an alternate explanation for the order, but then that would argue against humanity coming to have theistic-like beliefs since a notion that involves the senses would probably be more readily accepted than one that can not be sensed). If this is a valid observation, an atheist would have to explain how humanity could develop one belief apart from the other in order to lead to the other conclusion. The theist on the other hand has some form of divine intervention as a reasonable explanation.

The only explanation I could see are evolutionary memes. However, that conclusion is just as valid for theists and theistic explanations are for atheists. Furthermore, while I won't comment on it here right now, I find the notion of memes to really fall short upon further analysis.

Also, one could substitute animism in place of the God/theism/divine talk. I just don't happen to think animism came before theism, but rather from the reverse and then the God part was deemphasized enough for there to be little talk of God but the perception of beings having souls.

Again, this isn't a thoroughly developed thesis. It perhaps needs a lot more polish and there are no doubt some holes that I have not seen that I might need to close up. Heck, it might not even be very clear. But I basically post it for food for thought for the more brilliant minds out there that might see this post (that isn't necessarily directed towards you Chris :-p).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I see the light at the end of the tunnel....

Three more days. By Friday I will be finished with my first semester of seminary. Won't have great grades, mainly because I am adjusting to having coursework over the internet, but I should survive it. It may be like my first semester of college where I didn't go great but then adjusted and did pretty well from there (save one year where I was hating my major and changed as a result).

Once that gets through, I should have some more stuff on Romans and then on redemption.

Back now to my studying (or my procastination of it).

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Free Rice

School is keeping me from posting anything recently and it is finished in a couple weeks and then I will resume my posting. However, in my little free time, I go to freerice.com. It is a vocabulary game and every correct answer you get, they donate 20 grains of rice to help world hunger. Its a fun game and it helps your vocabulary, but you are helping the world out just a little bit. 2900 grains of rice equals a pound. Also, one billion grains of rice can feed 50,000 people for 1 day. Right now, they have gotten right over 5 billion.

While it won't solve world hunger, it can help out a few people and you can have fun. But where it really benefits is when we get the word out. So go to this website, have some fun, improve your vocabulary, help out the world, then spread the word out to all your friends and your blogs or websites if you have them and ask them to do the exact same thing. If we get this out enough, we could conceivably reach a billion grains of rice per day, which would make a small dent in hunger, all for about few minutes of people's days.