Monday, April 29, 2013

Quote of the Week - Michael S Horton on the Christian Religion

“Jesus was not revolutionary because he said we should love God and each other. Moses said that first. So did Buddha, Confucius, and countless other religious leaders we've never heard of. Madonna, Oprah, Dr. Phil, the Dali Lama, and probably a lot of Christian leaders will tell us that the point of religion is to get us to love each other. "God loves you" doesn't stir the world's opposition. However, start talking about God's absolute authority, holiness, ... Christ's substitutionary atonement, justification apart from works, the necessity of new birth, repentance, baptism, Communion, and the future judgment, and the mood in the room changes considerably.”

― Michael S. Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Mentionables - Suffering, Molinism (again? ugh), Nietzsche, and patriotic atheism!

It's that time again. Your favorite time of the week - Friday mentionables!

Sentintias Why I'm not an Arminian
Paul Helm Shunning Middle Knowledge
Theology for the Church ROSES vs TULIP
Design of Providence Therapeutic Theology III: the lost context

A View From the Right Atheism is Patriotic? What the...?
Nietzsche on the Deaths of Socrates and Jesus

Quotes on suffering from Sproul and Bill Craig
"God deserves to be trusted. He merits our trust in Him. The more we understand of His perfections, the more we understand how trustworthy He is. That is why the Christian pilgrimage moves from faith to faith, from strength to strength, and from grace to grace. It moves toward a crescendo.
The bottom-line assumption for anyone who believes in the God of providence is that ultimately there are no tragedies. God has promised that all things that happen—all pain, all suffering, all tragedies—are but for a moment, and that He works in and through these events for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). That’s why the apostle Paul said that the pain, the suffering, the affliction that we bear in this world isn’t worthy to be compared, isn’t worthy to be mentioned in the same breath, with the glory and the blessedness that God has stored up for His people (Rom. 8:18)."
Sproul, Surprised by Suffering

"Christ endured a suffering beyond all understanding:  he bore the punishment for the sins of the whole world.  None of us can comprehend that suffering. Though He was innocent, He voluntarily underwent incomprehensible suffering for us.  And why? - because He loves us so much. How can we reject him who gave up everything for us?

When we comprehend his sacrifice and his love for us, this puts the problem of evil in an entirely different perspective. For now we see clearly that the true problem of evil is the problem of our evil.  Filled with sin and morally guilty before God, the question we face is not how God can justify Himself to us, but how we can be justified before Him.

When God asks us to undergo suffering that seems unmerited, pointless, and unnecessary, meditation upon the cross of Christ can help to give us the moral strength and courage needed to bear the cross that we are asked to carry.  So, paradoxically, even though the problem of evil is the greatest objection to the existence of God, at the end of the day God is the only solution to the problem of evil.  If God does not exist, then we are locked without hope in a world filled with gratuitous and unredeemed suffering. God is the final answer to the problem of evil, for He redeems us from evil and takes us into the everlasting joy of an incommensurable good, fellowship with Himself."
William Lane Craig, The Problem of Evil

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ligonier blog: Paul Helm's Molinism 101

So how interesting is it that Ligonier's blog has a post from Paul Helm on Molinism 101? It's interesting because I posted links on molinism here at my Reformed blog and am working on a post detailing how reformed Christians can and should embrace Molina's middle knowledge and view on divine providence. Now while it's interesting that Ligonier posted this piece in their blog, that doesn't mean it has changed my mind on the molinism and reformed theology. I have some questions about his post and hopefully one of my readers can answer them (Tony I'm talking to you). Let's get into it.

Paul Helm seems to have a nice understanding of Molinism. He wrote:
"What is middle knowledge? At the center of this recent interest has been God’s knowledge of possibilities involving human choice (the ‘counterfactuals of freedom’ as they have been called). Why this innovation? Its proponents are concerned to preserve what they consider to be two vital beliefs. The first is God’s providence and total foreknowledge. The second is the idea that human beings are ineradicably free in an indeterministic sense. When we speak of indeterministic freedom, we mean that any human being, in a given set of circumstances, has the power to choose A or to choose not-A. The problem is obvious. How can this be consistent with God’s universal providential rule and his purposes of redemption?"

He then goes on to explain, on Molinism, how that question is answered.

"The Molinists’ way of attempting to keep all this together was to suggest that there existed, besides God’s natural knowledge and his free knowledge, a third kind of knowledge. They argued that God also has “middle knowledge” (between the other two). What this means can be briefly explained. Given a whole array of possible worlds (that God knows), given worlds in which men and women were free in the relevant indeterministic sense, God knows what they would freely choose in every possible circumstance. God has knowledge of all such possible outcomes. If placed in one set of circumstances, God knows what Jones would freely choose. If placed in another set of circumstances, God knows what Jones would freely choose. This is true for all possible people and all possible circumstances. God has this middle knowledge by inspection of all the possibilities that the free will of each person might choose.

In His power and wisdom, He chooses that possible world, that total combination of individuals and circumstances, whose expressions of free will best serve His purposes. Thus, God’s omniscience is preserved, and human free will is preserved. The moral evil that occurs in the chosen world is not the direct responsibility of God but of those creatures who exercise their choices in a malevolent fashion."
Again, yup. You're correct sir. God chooses that possible world. He chooses what world to actualize. He sovereignly brings into being the individuals and circumstances that best serve His purposes. That is sovereign. Also, man's free will is still kept in the equation. This seems like a good way to explain the biblical concept of divine providence! Why then does Paul Helm, close to the end of his post, write this?
"...the Molinists’ conception of free will makes it impossible for God to exercise providential control over his creation. Why? Because men and women would be free to resist His decree. God can only bring to pass the actions of free agents via his middle knowledge of what they would freely do if…
Further, given the Molinist view of freedom, it is impossible for God to bring about the conversion of any person by the exercise of His effective call, for in the view of the Molinists it is always possible for an individual to resist God’s grace. Men and women must freely cooperate with what God says and does if they are to become Christians. God’s grace is always resistible. Reformed Christians have no good reason to accept the speculative concept of middle knowledge and strong reasons to reject it."
 Why did Paul write that? I was reading along in the post thinking "Okay, he does understand this, he understands that. Huh, what is his concern then with molinism?" Then I get to the above part, "Whaaaaaaaat?" Men and women would be free to resist his decree? Actually no, the men and women who are created, living, making decisions, etc. are only doing so because God, in His power, wisdom, and sovereignty chose to make them to bring about His purposes. See that's the thing with molinism: it's not *just* foreknowledge. Simple foreknowledge doesn't get the same result as molinism. On molinism, God is working through all the various circumstances, decisions, possibilities, worlds, etc. that serve His purposes then he creates. He builds. He does what God does. It's not as if he creates everything then hopes, wishes, and pleads with man to conform to his plan. On the contrary, man does what God has chosen for reality (directly and indirectly, you know the permissive will thing).

I'm very surprised at Paul Helm's concerns with molinism. From my tadpole, amateur perspective it seems as though he is confusing molinism with open theism or general foreknowledge of the charismatic/pentecostal variety. I don't know. Someone help me out here. 

Quote of the Week - Augustine on Natural Revelation

“Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?”

― Augustine of Hippo

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Mentionables: Music, freedom of the will, and more!

Songs for the book of Luke - good music here. You know, it's actually worship music. So, if you like the contemporary "boyfriend jesus" music then you may not like it. Check it out anyway.

Usual stuff
Molinism vs Calvinism - This is a great answer to a question by Dr. Craig.
What is molinism and is it biblical?
Molinism - Greg Koukl
Molinism/middle knowledge entry at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Robert Adams's New Anti-Molinist Argument
William Hasker on Divine Knowledge - Another objection critiqued by Dr. Craig

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Quote of the week - Gottfried Leibniz on problem of evil

"I do not believe that a world without evil, preferable in order to ours, is possible; otherwise it would have been preferred. It is necessary to believe that the mixture of evil has produced the greatest possible good: otherwise the evil would not have been permitted. The combination of all the tendencies to the good has produced the best; but as there are goods that are incompatible together, this combination and this result can introduce the destruction of some good, and as a result some evil."

- Gottfried, Leibniz, Letter to Bourguet (late 1712)], as translated in The Shorter Leibniz Texts (2006) edited by Lloyd H. Strickland, p. 208

Monday, April 15, 2013

Michael Ruse on the compatibility of Christianity and Darwinism

From Patheos 
I see nothing in Darwinism that should upset the Christian, although I fully admit that the Christian is going to have to work hard on some issues. Obviously you cannot be a Darwinian and believe in a totally literal interpretation of Genesis. However, at least since the time of St. Augustine around 400 A.D. it has been the Christian position that one can and indeed must interpret the Bible metaphorically at times. So I don’t think that literal readings are necessarily part of traditional Christianity, even though they are certainly part of American evangelical Christianity.

Of course, there are certain issues which come up from Darwinism which seem to give great worries for the Christian. Most obviously, there is the problem of evil. I myself am inclined to think that the problem of evil in itself is a fatal barrier for Christian belief. The question rather is whether or not Darwinism exacerbates the problem. I would argue that it does not. For instance, I am inclined take Leibniz’s position on the problem of natural evil. If God created through law – and I think there are good theological reasons why God would create through law – then probably the only way in which he could have created humans naturally is through the Darwinian process of natural selection brought on by a struggle for existence. The struggle for existence necessarily involves pain and suffering. So my position here would be that pain and suffering are a necessary condition of getting a greater good, namely humankind.

My personal feeling is that probably the biggest problem of all is that of the randomness of Darwinian evolution, and yet of the necessity of the appearance of humans in the Christian schema. My most recent thinking on this issue is to invoke the notion of multiverses. Since humans have evolved, it’s all a question of enough time and space to do this. Of course one might wonder about God having to wait so long for humans to evolve, since planet after planet might prove to be unsuitable. But in the Christian position this is no real problem because, as Saint Augustine argued, God stands outside time. He is not sitting around waiting for things to happen. So I do think that this is a problem that can be solved.

More positively, I would argue that this is a wonderful world brought about by natural law. It is a world of mystery and excitement. This, it seems to me, fits far more with a creator God of Christianity than the god who simply did it all by fiat in an instantaneous miracle. In many respects, therefore, I want to argue that, far from being a difficulty, Christianity finds Darwinism to be a challenge and a triumph. The Christian should welcome Darwinism just as he or she welcomes the Copernican revolution. Science is not the enemy of religion, but its complement.
Some Christians disagree with Michael Ruse, for example Wintery Knight, who says that theistic evolution is "...basically atheistic evolution, with an unnecessary fairy tale riding on top." 

Check out some other links to comments on theistic evolution by conservative Christians (is that the correct label? I'm unsure).
Melinda at STR: The trouble with theistic evolution

Reasonable Faith: Evolutionary Theory and Theism

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Quote of the Week - Lionel Trilling on Jane Austen's Intelligent Love

[Austen] was committed to the ideal of "intelligent love," according to which the deepest and truest relationship that can exist between human beings is pedagogic. This relationship consists in the giving and receiving of knowledge about right conduct, in the formation of one person's character by another, the acceptance of another's guidance in one's growth. The idea of a love based in pedagogy may seem quaint to some modern readers and repellent to others, but unquestionably it plays a decisive part in the power and charm of Jane Austen's art. And if we attempt to explain the power and charm that the genre of the novel exercised in the nineteenth century, we must take full account of its pedagogic intention and of such love as a reader might feel was being directed towards him in the solicitude of the novel for his moral well-being, in its concern for the right course of his development.

 - Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 82.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

New Rasmussen poll: Fewer people believe in the resurrection since last easter

Fewer people believe in the resurrection since last easter (2012). To think of the man Jesus of Nazareth resurrected from the dead by God is just as crazy as believing the man Shredder returned from the dead in the TMNT movie. It's crazy right? 

h/t Wintery Knight's post on the Rasmussen poll

A study released by the Rasmussen Reports polling firm on Good Friday found that 64% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
While Americans who believe in the resurrection remain in the majority, that number is down significantly when compared to a Rasmussen Poll that asked the same question, released a year ago.
On April 7th, 2012 Rasmussen released a poll finding that 77% of Americans believed the resurrection of Christ to be historical fact.
The difference between the two polls shows a 13 percentage point drop in the number of Americans who believe that Christ rose from the dead, since last Easter.
Additionally, this year’s poll found that 19% of Americans reject the central tenant of the Christian faith and do not believe that Christ was resurrected.  That’s compared to only 7% who said they didn’t believe that Christ rose from the dead a year ago.  A staggering 12 percentage point jump.
 I don't focus on the resurrection very much on this blog. I do have a few resources though. If you're unsure of the credibility of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the debate video below, I think, gives the best arguments for both camps. Check it out.

The following is from the post: Thinking about the Resurrection

If Jesus of Nazareth was not bodily raised from the dead, then Christianity would be "dead." Paul of Tarsus wrote to the Corinthians "...if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless," and "...we should be pitied more than anyone." Strong conclusions huh? If Jesus Christ has not been raised, then Christianity is not worth living, much less thinking about. True, the arguments for God are not thrown out the window, but as far as I know, one could not argue for *Christian* theism without the resurrection of Jesus.

Theologian R.C. Sproul wrote,

"The claim of resurrection is vital to Christianity. If Christ has been raised from the dead by God, then He has the credentials and certification that no other religious leader possesses. Buddha is dead. Mohammad is dead. Moses is dead. Confucius is dead. But, according to Christianity, Christ is alive."

We understand how important the doctrine of the resurrection is. How do we know it happened? Can we know? Given the evidence we have I think we can. Generally, apologists use the "minimal facts" approach to the argument for the resurrection of Jesus,  which are the following:  the empty tomb, the appearances and the early belief in the resurrection. Given my rookie status as a defender for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth by God, I'm going to take a different approach, one I am most comfortable arguing for and that is: given the data we have, the best explanation for the appearances of Jesus is that it was Jesus Himself that appeared to the disciples, the women, and the 500. What are some of the other explanations for the appearances?  The most popular one is the hallucination hypothesis; this is the conclusion I want to make you think about.

 What is a hallucination? Hallucinations are like dreams, they're subjective. I can't see your dreams nor can you see mine, they happen in the mind. There's no objective reality outside the mind that more than one person could see. And since the appearances of Jesus happened in groups, it could not have been a hallucination. Historians agree on the appearances being seen by groups. In chapter 8 of the Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ronald Tacelli gave thirteen arguments against the hallucination theory:

"(1) There were too many witnesses. Hallucinations are private, individual, subjective. Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples minus Thomas, to the disciples including Thomas, to the two disciples at Emmaus, to the fisherman on the shore, to James (his "brother" or cousin), and even to five hundred people at once (1 Cor 15:3-8). Even three different witnesses are enough for a kind of psychological trigonometry; over five hundred is about as public as you can wish. And Paul says in this passage (v. 6) that most of the five hundred are still alive, inviting any reader to check the truth of the story by questioning the eyewitnesses -- he could never have done this and gotten away with it, given the power, resources and numbers of his enemies, if it were not true.

(2) The witnesses were qualified. They were simple, honest, moral people who had firsthand knowledge of the facts.

(3) The five hundred saw Christ together, at the same time and place. This is even more remarkable than five hundred private "hallucinations" at different times and places of the same Jesus. Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter. (The only other dead person we know of who is reported to have appeared to hundreds of qualified and skeptical eyewitnesses at once is Mary the mother of Jesus [at Fatima, to 70,000]. And that was not a claim of physical resurrection but of a vision.)

(4) Hallucinations usually last a few seconds or minutes; rarely hours. This one hung around for forty days (Acts 1:3).

(5) Hallucinations usually happen only once, except to the insane. This one returned many times, to ordinary people (Jn 20:19-21:14; Acts 1:3).

(6) Hallucinations come from within, from what we already know, at least unconsciously. This one said and did surprising and unexpected things (Acts 1:4,9) -- like a real person and unlike a dream.

(7) Not only did the disciples not expect this, they didn't even believe it at first -- neither Peter, nor the women, nor Thomas, nor the eleven. They thought he was a ghost; he had to eat something to prove he was not (Lk 24:36-43).

(8) Hallucinations do not eat. The resurrected Christ did, on at least two occasions (Lk 24:42-43; Jn 21:1-14).

(9) The disciples touched him (Mt 28:9; Lk 24:39; Jn 20:27).

(10) They also spoke with him, and he spoke back. Figments of your imagination do not hold profound, extended conversations with you, unless you have the kind of mental disorder that isolates you. But this "hallucination" conversed with at least eleven people at once, for forty days (Acts 1:3).

(11) The apostles could not have believed in the "hallucination" if Jesus' corpse had still been in the tomb. This is very simple and telling point; for if it was a hallucination, where was the corpse? They would have checked for it; if it was there, they could not have believed.

(12) If the apostles had hallucinated and then spread their hallucinogenic story, the Jews would have stopped it by producing the body -- unless the disciples had stolen it, in which case we are back with the conspiracy theory and all its difficulties.

(13) A hallucination would explain only the post-resurrection appearances; it would not explain the empty tomb, the rolled-away stone, or the inability to produce the corpse. No theory can explain all these data except a real resurrection. C.S. Lewis says,

"Any theory of hallucination breaks down on the fact (and if it is invention [rather than fact], it is the oddest invention that ever entered the mind of man) that on three separate occasions this hallucination was not immediately recognized as Jesus (Lk 24:13-31; Jn 20:15; 21:4). Even granting that God sent a holy hallucination to teach truths already widely believed without it, and far more easily taught by other methods, and certain to be completely obscured by this, might we not at least hope that he would get the face of the hallucination right? Is he who made all faces such a bungler that he cannot even work up a recognizable likeness of the Man who was himself?" (Miracles, chapter 16)
I find the above 13 arguments to be satisfactory defeaters (all or some, take your pick) for the hallucination theory. I don't intend to reiterate what has been said in the arguments, but I will go over some thoughts that have come to mind from reading other work on the hallucination theory. Historian N.T. Wright makes a good point: if people were individually claiming to see the risen Jesus, it's inexplicable that these appearances seem to have suddenly stopped. If people were going about claiming to have seen Jesus just to be trendy and fit in (like owning an iPad), we shouldn't expect those claims to all of a sudden stop. People would have been doing just that.

What about the group appearances?  Do the group appearances undermine the hallucination theory? I don't think so. Groups of people claim to see the mother mary in re-fried beans right?

If you and I were looking at clouds and I say, "Hey, see that dinosaur?" You might would say, "Nope. Oh, wait a minute, yeah I do."  Remember this answer though in argument (3) "Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter. (The only other dead person we know of who is reported to have appeared to hundreds of qualified and skeptical eyewitnesses at once is Mary the mother of Jesus [at Fatima, to 70,000]. And that was not a claim of physical resurrection but of a vision.)" I think the numbers are important in this argument against the hallucination theory. If just a few people were witnesses to this resurrection, then the hallucination rebuttal would be weighty and effective, but given the data we have, I don't find it to be weighty and effective.

Maybe the apostles saw something or somebody who resembled Jesus, and they believed it was him. The problem with this reasoning is that the apostles weren't expecting to see Jesus. One reason, as Bill Craig often points out, is that Jews who believed in resurrection all seemed to think of resurrection as an eschatological event. It was something that happened on the last day, not in the middle of history. And the resurrection was supposed to be general, not individual.

To wrap up, I'll borrow from an illustration I heard listening to a podcast: Think of somebody you know to have died, like a relative or something. Maybe your parents. What would you honestly think if you saw that person standing right in front of you right now? It seems like you'd have a few options: you're dreaming. you're hallucinating, you're seeing a ghost, the person never died to begin with, the person has risen from the dead. Honestly, I would probably think I saw a ghost, which is what the apostles first thought. They only believed after touching the scars and such. I don't buy the hallucination theory. If we only had the appearance to Paul, which was more like a vision, then I probably would. 

I must give credit where credit is due. I learned a lot about the rebuttal to the hallucination theory from a discussion between Greg Koukl and Sam Harper on the radio show, "Stand to Reason." Harper's printed work can be found here. Is the evidence for the resurrection perfect? No, but given the data we have, I'm convinced that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Quote of the Week - Louis Berkhof on Man, Grace, and Sin

In modern theology, with its belief in the inherent goodness of man and his ability to help himself, the doctrine of salvation by grace has practically become a “lost chord,” and even the word “grace” was emptied of all spiritual meaning and vanished from religious discourses. It was retained only in the sense of “graciousness,” something that is quite external. Happidly, there are some evidences of a renewed emphasis on sin, and of a newly awakened consciousness of the need of divine grace.

-Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology. Quoted from The Doctrine of God: The Communicable Attributes, The Grace of God, page 72