Thursday, March 31, 2011

The public-face of Christianity

John Macarthur comments on the health and wealth doctrine:

"Someone needs to say this plainly: The faith healers and health-and-wealth preachers who dominate religious television are shameless frauds. Their message is not the true gospel of Jesus Christ. There is nothing spiritual or miraculous about their on-stage chicanery. It is all a devious ruse designed to take advantage of desperate people. They are not godly ministers but greedy impostors who corrupt the Word of God for money's sake. They are not real pastors who shepherd the flock of God but hirelings whose only design is to fleece the sheep. Their love of money is glaringly obvious in what they say as well as how they live. They claim to possess great spiritual power, but in reality they are rank materialists and enemies of everything holy.

There is no reason anyone should be deceived by this age-old con, and there is certainly no justification for treating the hucksters as if they were authentic ministers of the gospel. Religious charlatans who make merchandise of false promises have been around since the apostolic era. They pretend to be messengers of Christ, but they are interlopers and impostors. The apostles condemned them with the harshest possible language. Paul called them "men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Timothy 6:5). Peter called them false prophets with "heart[s] trained in greed" (2 Peter 2:14). He warned that "in their greed they will exploit you with false words" (v. 3). He exposed them as scoundrels and dismissed them as "stains and blemishes" on the church (v. 13).

Those biblical descriptions certainly fit the greed-driven cult of prosperity preachers and faith healers who unfortunately, thanks to television, have become the best-known face of Christianity worldwide. The scam they operate ought to be a bigger scandal than any Wall Street ponzi scheme or big-time securities fraud. After all, those who are most susceptible to the faith-healers' swindle are not well-to-do investors but some of society's most vulnerable people—including multitudes who are already destitute, disconsolate, disabled, elderly, sick, suffering, or dying. The faith-healer gets lavishly rich while the victims become poorer and more desperate.

But the worst part of the scandal is that it's not really a scandal at all in the eyes of most evangelical Christians. Those who should be most earnest in defense of the truth have taken a shockingly tolerant attitude toward the prosperity preachers' blatant misrepresentation of the gospel and their wanton exploitation of needy people. "But we don't want to judge," they say. Thus Christians fail to exercise righteous judgment (John 7:24). They refuse to be discerning at all.

How many manifestos and written declarations of solidarity have evangelicals issued condemning abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and other social evils? It's fine, and fairly easy, to oppose wickedness and injustice in secular society, but where is the corresponding moral outrage against these religious mountebanks who openly, brashly pervert the gospel for profit 24 hours a day, seven days a week on international television?

Advocates of abortion and euthanasia don't usually try to pass their message off as biblical. The people who say we need to redefine marriage haven't portrayed themselves as an arm of the church. But the prosperity preachers deceive people in Jesus' name, claiming to speak for God—while stealing both the souls and the sustenance of hurting people. That is a far greater abomination than any of the social evils Christians typically protest. After all, what the prosperity preachers do is not only a sin against poor, sick, and vulnerable people; it also blasphemes God, corrupts the gospel, and profanes the reputation of Christ before a watching world. It not only tears at the fabric of our society; it also befouls the purity of the visible church and abates the influence of the true gospel. It is surely among the grossest of all the evils currently rampant in our culture.

In the weeks to come, we're going to be looking at the preposterous claims and false teachings of some of religious television's best-known figures. We'll analyze why a disproportionate number of celebrity faith-healers and prosperity preachers have succumbed to serious immorality. And we'll see what Scripture says about how Bible-believing Christians ought to respond. I hope this series will challenge you to take a more active stand against the phony miracles and false teachings that are being peddled in the name of Christ."

John brings up a very good point: Christians will condemn secular evil, but not evil that is rising within Christianity. This is an excellent point.

If you want to read his blog post in full click here

Read John's other blog posts on the charismatic movement here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why read the bible?

I was reading blog posts about the recent 2011 Ligonier National Conference the other day when I stumbled across the transcript of the Q and A session with R.C. Sproul and John Piper. The question was, "What does it look like for a believer to treasure the holiness of God?" Part of Sproul's response:

"Being on a quest to know God must be a passion, not something we just do in our spare time. That desire takes us every time to the Word of God.
As a philosophy major, my professors emphasized the acquisition of critical reading skills. That is a worthy enterprise. But that does not happen when I read the Scripture. I have to read it carefully, but it criticizes me. I can’t argue against it. It is wonderful because it is saving me, putting salve on my wounds. I am meeting God. He is revealing His mind and heart to me in the Word of God. You have to immerse yourself in the Word."

Whenever I read the bible in the past, the reading wasn't from a desire to read God's revelation to us nor was the reading a product of my wanting to know God; it was because I felt like that was the right thing to do and that I had to do it. I really didn't want to read the bible then. It's not that I hated it, I just wasn't into it. When you're not into something, you won't want to read about it. Sproul makes a very excellent point when he said that being on a quest to know God must be a passion. He's exactly right. When I want to know about something, it's from a desire to know that something.

I don't blame people when they don't want to read the Bible, because when you're not interested in something, then you're not going to study it, are you? Generally, folks that really "wear out" their Bible are those that have a passion to know God. If the passion isn't there, then you're not going to study the Bible, much like if you don't have a passion for history, you're not going to read a history book. However, if you do have a desire to know about God, then the best thing you can do is read the Bible. It's just like Sproul said, " is saving me. putting salve on my wounds. I am meeting God. He is revealing His mind and heart to me in the Word of God."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Understanding Evil: The Best of All Possible Worlds

This is the second part to my post Understanding Evil. In the last post we looked at the problem of evil. The problem of evil is, simply put, our understanding of how evil can be in a world that is created by a good God. If God is good, then is he willing to prevent evil and unable? Or, is he unwilling to prevent evil and able to prevent evil? The problem of evil when raised is an attempt to show that a good God is incompatible with evil and to show that God does not exist, or at least the God portrayed by Christianity. However, as I attempted to explain in the last post, God's goodness is not erased by the evil in this world. This world he created is the best of all possible worlds that could be created. He has given us the ability to have free moral choices and the ability to choose and do evil is a result of that. Remember, plenitude is the highest good and that requires more than general freedom, it requires moral freedom; and moral freedom spawns the possibility of evil.

The Best of All Possible Worlds?

Is our world truly the best of all possible worlds? Consider what Greg Koukl says in his article, Augustine on Evil:

"A world that had never been touched by evil would be a good place, but it wouldn't be the best place possible. The best of all worlds would be a place where evil facilitated the development of virtues that are only able to exist where evil flourishes for a time. This would produce a world populated by souls that were refined by overcoming evil with good. The evil is momentary. The good that results is eternal. 

What good comes out of a drive-by killing, someone might ask, or the death of a teenager through overdose, or a daughter's rape, or child abuse? The answer is that a commensurate good doesn't always come out of those individual situations, though God is certainly capable of redeeming any tragedy. Rather, the greater good results from having a world in which there is moral freedom, and moral freedom makes moral tragedies like these possible." 1

Bill Craig gives a good example of how good can result from evil:

"To borrow an illustration from a developing field of science, Chaos Theory, scientists have discovered that certain macroscopic systems, for example, weather systems or insect populations, are extraordinarily sensitive to the tiniest perturbations.  A butterfly fluttering on a branch in West Africa may set in motion forces which would eventually issue in a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean.  Yet it is impossible in principle for anyone observing that butterfly palpitating on a branch to predict such an outcome.  

The brutal murder of an innocent man or a child's dying of leukemia could send a ripple effect through history so that God's morally sufficient reason for permitting it might not emerge until centuries later or perhaps in another country.  Our discussion of divine middle knowledge (chapter 26) stressed that only an omniscient mind could grasp the complexities of directing a world of free creatures toward one's pre-visioned goals. One has only to think of the innumerable, incalculable contingencies involved in arriving at a single historical event, say, the Allied victory at D‑day.  This has relevance to the probabilistic problem of evil, for we have no idea of the natural and moral evils that might be involved in order for God to arrange the circumstances and free agents in them requisite to some intended purpose, nor can we discern what reasons such a provident God might have in mind for permitting some evil to enter our lives.  Certainly many evils seem pointless and unnecessary to us ‑ but we are simply not in a position to judge."   2

This is not an appeal to mystery, rather this is an appeal to show that we are limited in our ability to know what actions will bring a greater good. We are not in a position to say it's improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing some evils in this world. We all recognize our inability to see the future outcomes of our decisions; consider the moral structure of utilitarianism for a moment. Utilitarian thought suggests that a moral action is indeed moral if the action causes  the greatest happiness or pleasure for the most amount of people affected by the action. Utilitarianism's flaw is that it's impossible for us to know what actions will lead to the greatest pleasure/happiness for the world. 

It's simply impossible for us, as finite creatures limited in our power, to create the greatest good and also to even try to plan ahead for the greatest good. Our problems and struggles that we endure could be purposeful for our lives. We have no idea what will happen in the future, so like Bill Craig said in the article, "Certainly many evils seem pointless and unnecessary to us - but we are simply not in a position to judge." That does not mean we shouldn't talk about the problems of evil or not attempt to figure things out; we definitely should try to understand philosophical problems like evil, eternity, etc. Craig is telling us that sometimes we don't know exactly why God allowed a certain evil in our life, but he is not saying when someone asks you why evil exists, you should throw your hands up in the air and say, "We shouldn't question that! It's all up to God, we are in no position to judge what God does with his creation!" That is dishonest to say such a thing and evasive to the person (and yourself) who asked you the question. 

Related post

I highly, highly, highly recommend reading the following sources (web links - free reads, not too long either) from Greg Koukl and William Lane Craig. 


1. Greg Koukl, Augustine on evil

2. William Lane Craig, Problem of evil

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Understanding Evil

There is evil in the world. I can't think of any normal person that would disagree with the statement, "There is evil in the world," and I don't think anyone will ever not wonder why there is evil in the world. How could you not think about it? I'm sure all of us think about it at least once during our day because evil actions happen every single day from weather to human actions; you will encounter something evil first-hand or by seeing/reading it via media of some kind. What do we make of this knowledge? How can the world be so evil and also have a good God watching over it? Christopher Hitchens has, in the past, characterized God as a being that watches the world with folded arms while we humans endure suffering and pain of all kinds. So, can God truly be good if he allows such misery, anguish, and pain to go on?

To understand the problem, we must identify the problem. Yes, there is evil in the world, we all agree on that, but what is evil? My definition might be substantially different from yours. Some might think it evil that humans can become fat by eating too much ice cream and other sweet, tasty treats. Others might think the death penalty is evil. However, we can certainly agree on some things that would be easily labeled evil, e.g., murder, disease, rape, child abuse, slander, famine; the list could go on. While that short list brings to mind things that are evil, we still don't know what evil is by reading that list alone. The list is representative, it doesn't give us the origin of evil. So, like any researcher, let's explore what some of the great thinkers have concluded on the problem of evil in the world.

David Hume, an 18th century philosopher, formulates the problem of evil this way:

"Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?" 

"[God's] power we allow [is] infinite: Whatever he wills is executed: But neither man nor any other animal are happy: Therefore he does not will their happiness. His wisdom is infinite: He is never mistaken in choosing the means to any end: But the course of nature tends not to human or animal felicity: Therefore it is not established for that purpose. Through the whole compass of human knowledge, there are no inferences more certain and infallible than these. In what respect, then, do his benevolence and mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy of men?" 1

Hume was most likely agnostic, since in his writings there is ambiguity of which side of the theist/atheist debate he was on. There is however, no doubt that he was against some of the religious activity of his day, so some simply label him irreligious. Whatever his position, there is no doubt that he questioned the attributes of God as described by Christianity, i.e., God's omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience. Hume's questions seem to be clear defeaters for God's mercy and ability to prevent evil. I'm sure bad things have happened to you and you think, "Where is God?" or "Why did this happen to me?" I have and I'm quite sure all have thought something along those lines. Why do bad things happen to us?

Looking at Hume's argument, "Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able?" I'll begin the first section.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?

Hume's argument seems to be devastating to Christianity doesn't it? If God is all good, all loving, etc., then he should stop evil from ever happening. Before we answer the question Is God willing to prevent evil, we should know what evil is. First, evil is not a thing; it doesn't attach itself to the bumper of your car, nor can you introduce yourself to evil and talk to it. Evil is a lack of good, it's the lesser good. Another way to think of evil is to think of free-will. Augustine, a 4th and 5th century philosopher, said, ""And I strained to perceive what I now heard, that free-will was the cause of our doing ill." 2 Augustine viewed evil as a perversion of the will turned away from God to lesser things.

When we ask the question, is God willing to prevent evil, we have to define our terms first and know what we are asking. Are we asking if God is willing to make every decision for us? To ask the question appropriately would be to ask, "Is God willing to make us robots to prevent evil?" When asked that way, we can see that in order for evil to be eliminated, you have to eliminate our free-will choices. When our free-will is gone, it necessarily follows that evil will no longer be an option.

Atheist philosopher Antony Flew 3 thought the man could be immutable in his goodness and still make free choices in other areas of life. Will man not have the ability to freely choose in the afterlife and be completely good at the same time? Why can't man be like that now on earth? It would seem that God could simply remove evil as an option for man to choose.

Greg Koukl answers this objection quite nicely:

"God could have created such a world. Freedom in the larger sense (the ability to make choices) does not require freedom in the narrow sense (the ability to make moral choices). 

They miss the big picture, though: God would not have accomplished a second purpose. He not only wanted free creatures; He also wanted plenitude, that is, the greatest good possible. Plenitude--the highest good, the best of all possible worlds--requires more than just general freedom; it requires moral freedom, and that necessarily entails the possibility of evil. 

Since all that God made is good, even those things which appear evil only appear that way because of a limited context or perspective. When viewed as a whole, that which appears to be evil ultimately contributes to the greater good. 

For example, certain virtues couldn't exist without evil: courage, mercy, forgiveness, patience, the giving of comfort, heroism, perseverance, faithfulness, self-control, long-suffering, submission and obedience, to name a few. These are not virtues in the abstract, but elements of character that can only be had by moral souls. Just as evil is a result of acts of will, so is virtue. Acts of moral choice accomplish both." 4

So we can see that certain virtues (which are essential to our character and desired by humans) couldn't exist without moral choices made by moral souls. Since moral freedom must exist for the "best of all possible worlds" to exist, moral tragedies will result from our moral freedom. Hume's argument is not a defeater for God's omnibenovelence, omniscience, and omnipotence; rather his argument is simply a good conversation starter for the problem of evil. While Hume's argument is answered, we're not out of the woods yet. I will follow this post with the "Best of All Possible Worlds" argument.

Related content:


1. Hume, David. "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 2008-08-15.

2. Augustine, Confessions VII: [III] 5. 

3.  Antony Flew, "Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom," New Essays in Philosophical Theology, 1955 (referenced in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 3, 138) 

4. Greg Koukl, Augustine on Evil,

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How to abolish capital punishment

We seem to have a love-hate relationship with capital punishment. Those who are for it, usually are against it when capital punishment is going to be enforced on them or someone dear to them. Then those who are against it, usually want to enforce it on those that have done them wrong or when someone they love has been wronged. We have this love-hate relationship with capital punishment. Of course, there are those that don't fit into those two categories I mentioned above. Some really are for capital punishment at all times and the same with those that are against it. The question is, should we abolish capital punishment? 

Arthur Schopenhauer asserted, "For safeguarding the lives of citizens, capital punishment is therefore absolutely necessary." 1 "The murderer," wrote Schopenhauer, " who is condemned to death according to the law must, it is true, be now used as a mere means, and with complete right. For public security, which is the principal object of the State, is disturbed by him; indeed it is abolished if the law remains unfulfilled. The murderer, his life, his person, must be the means of fulfilling the law, and thus of re–establishing public security."2 

How do we abolish capital punishment? According to Schopenhauer, ""Those who would like to abolish it should be given the answer: 'First remove murder from the world, and then capital punishment ought to follow.' "3 
I agree with Schopenhauer. 


1. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation 

2. ibid.

3. ibid.  

Friday, March 4, 2011

The courage of Nietzsche

I've wrote on Nietzsche's philosophy in the past and I think it's time to write about him again, especially after reading and listening to a recent question given to Richard Dawkins. His (Dawkins') response to the question was weak and sophomoric, which is very unsurprising given Dawkins' history in these events. Now, I don't want to bash Dawkins here because he is excellent in his field (Biology), so I will certainly give him credit for that, but I don't think he should be engaging in debates given his poor argumentation. Consider philosopher of science Michael Ruse's comments on Dawkins' book The God Delusion:

"It is not that the atheists are having a field day because of the brilliance and novelty of their thinking. Frankly - and I speak here as a nonbeliever myself, pretty atheistic about Christianity and skeptical about all theological claims - the material being churned out is second rate. And that is a euphemism for "downright awful." [. . .] It is simply that it (and the other works, some of which I have gone after elsewhere) is not very good. For a start, Dawkins is brazen in his ignorance of philosophy and theology (not to mention the history of science). [. . .] Dawkins misunderstands the place of the proofs, but this is nothing to his treatment of the proofs themselves. This is a man truly out of his depth." 

He later says that the God Delusion makes him embarrassed to be an atheist. Can you blame him? Dawkins is not alone in the new atheist method of argumentation. The method (wrapped in different ways) is simply to remove God and Christianity, but to keep the morality that comes from God. How can you do this? When following atheism and all of the flavors of it (naturalism, nihilism, etc.) to its logical conclusions, you don't get objective moral values. What do you get? Nietzsche realized that when you take God out of the picture, all you have is meaninglessness. That is the natural conclusion. What does Dawkins do with his naturalism? 

"Dawkins:….What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don’t feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do. We feel like admiring people for what they do. None of us ever actually as a matter of fact says, “Oh well he couldn’t help doing it, he was determined by his molecules.” Maybe we should… I sometimes… Um… You probably remember many of you would have seen Fawlty Towers. The episode where Basil where his car won’t start and he gives it fair warning, counts up to three, and then gets out of the car and picks up a tree branch and thrashes it within an edge of his life. Maybe that’s what we all ought to… Maybe the way we laugh at Basil Fawlty, we ought to laugh in the same way at people who blame humans. I mean when we punish people for doing the most horrible murders, maybe the attitude we should take is “Oh they were just determined by their molecules.” It’s stupid to punish them. What we should do is say “This unit has a faulty motherboard which needs to be replaced.” I can’t bring myself to do that. I actually do respond in an emotional way and I blame people, I give people credit, or I might be more charitable and say this individual who has committed murders or child abuse of whatever it is was really abused in his own childhood. ….

Manzari: But do you personally see that as an inconsistency in your views?

       Dawkins: I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with otherwise life would be intolerable. But it has nothing to do with my views on religion it is an entirely separate issue."

That's not courage. That is not being consistent with your argument. Maybe Dawkins doesn't really believe the evidence? Or maybe our moral values and duties are not products of naturalistic determinism? Either way, Dawkins, like many of the new atheists, is not following his arguments to their logical conclusions. 

Looking at Nietzsche, we see a man that was truly revolutionary for his time. To go against the moral establishment of his day took courage. Not only did he make a case against Judeo-Christian morals, but also against utilitarianism and kantianism; looking to bring a more naturalistic source to life itself. Nietzsche observed the master and slave moralities as being in opposition to each other and thus, creating tension on people. The slave morality called for people to suppress their inner urges for "selfish gains" and concentrate on helping others, even though such persons could be supermen if allowed to pursue their "will-to-power." Nietzsche felt that morality is good for the masses, but exceptional people should be left follow their "inner-law." 

The statement "God is dead" is made in several of Nietzsche's works leaving many to label him as an atheist, but the more important question to this statement is, "What now?" If God is dead, what happens now? Nietzsche believed that the death of God would lead to utter nihilism, i.e., universal meaning and objective truth would no longer exist; life would be meaninglessness. The result would be that each person would have his own perspective, but there wouldn't be any real truth, hence no morality. Even though Nietzsche knew the conclusion to the death of God, he did offer a solution to the nihilistic fate of man: Ubermensch. 

What is most important here though is that Nietzsche realized that if you kill God, then there is nothing more than nihilism. You no longer have moral values and duties. Rape, murder, slander, etc., would no longer be evil; such acts would just be unfashionable. Nietzsche didn't try and retain objective moral values in his philosophy. The Ubermensch didn't act as an objective value giver, because it is free from the "failings" of truth and essence. Nietzsche was attempting to create a new world, one of Supermen. A way to visualize this concept is to look at Hitler and the Nazi regime, while it's not a true concept of Nietzsche's philosophy (he was against antisemitism and German nationalism) you can see that Hitler read Nietzsche's work (though not too clearly). 

Do I follow Nietzsche's philosophy? No, I believe the Christian worldview is the best explanation for our questions. However, I do respect his honesty in following the evidence where it leads. His work is also interesting and did shed light on issues. People should enjoy their life here on earth because life is short. Some theologians during Nietzsche's time were encouraging self-mutilation, reminiscent of eastern religions, which is not at all what God wants us to do with our time on Earth. Yes, Christians look forward to life after death, but the Christian is not to hate this life and to view it as evil. Heaven and Earth are not in opposition like good and evil. So, I think Nietzsche made good observations in that some religions do encourage hatred of this life and that is wrong to place such a heavy burden on the backs of people like that. Therefore, there are two things important to this blog post that I want to make clear:

1. Be consistent in your thinking and honest with the conclusion(s). If you don't like the conclusion(s), then change your position. 

2. Love life. There are moral values and duties to follow, yes, however they are not so binding on us that we cannot enjoy life. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Is God blessed?

He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. —1 Timothy 6:15–16

What does it mean to say that God is blessed? The Calvinist Gadfly gives us a good answer to that question. 

"It will be helpful to start with a definition. I used to think it odd to describe God as blessed. I thought of blessings as good things that happened to me — a raise at work, the love of a wife, healthy children, enjoyable experiences — things that came from God to me. When I encountered passages in the Psalms exhorting me to “bless the Lord,” I didn’t really know what to do with that. Isn’t God the source of all blessings? It never occurred to me that God would bless himself, and that he might use me to bless him. I believed he would use me to bless others, but not himself. I believed that because my definition of “bless” was anchored in the material, the giving and getting of good things.

The definition of “blessed” is really quite simple. It means happy. To be happy is to be content, satisfied, fulfilled. God is happy. Have you ever thought of him that way? He is content; he is satisfied. He has everything he needs and wants; he is content with his circumstances. He is not worried, frustrated or afraid. God does not experience anxiety.

That is not to say that he is unconcerned. But in his sovereignty, he has no worry that his concerns will remain unmet, because he meets them himself, infallibly. Whatever God wants, God gets. Whatever he plans comes to pass. I, on the other hand, worry. I know that my will determines nothing. My plans fail. I get hurt, people I love get hurt, and I can’t prevent it. Will my bills be paid? Will my teenagers with driver’s licenses make it home alive? So I worry.

But God doesn’t worry, because it’s all in his hands. I worry because it’s out of mine — which makes no sense at all. The God who is unworried because he is sovereign over his every concern is sovereign over mine (Matthew 10:28–31, cf. Luke 12:4–7). To know that God — who knows all things because he created and controls them — has no worries, is happy, blessed, ought to make me happy. I ought to be intirely free from fear, content, satisfied, resting in the knowledge that I, and all my concerns, are covered. I ought to be happy." 

Now, we all know that since we're humans we will not be entirely free from fear, that would be the only thing I would change about this post. However, I do understand the concept in that we can find comfort in knowing God is sovereign and our fear of the small things in life can diminish quite quickly based on that knowledge.