Sunday, May 17, 2009

Closing up shop and moving

As of today, this blog is officially closed. It has been as good as closed for the last eleven months because I just had too much on my plate to blog. I found my breaking point, however, and have scaled back my schooling to try and make my life more livable. I really want to see my family more. If you try to do too much, you can't do any of it well, it seems. My life should be slowing down now to the point where I could start blogging again.

So why close up shop, and not just start back up here? Because I have been invited to join my friends at The A-Team Blog, and will be blogging there starting this week. I'm excited to be a part of a group blog of such calibre, and will be posting regularly once a week there. Please come check it out!

I am grateful for the experience I gained in doing this blog, and will leave it up as a record of my work. Thanks to those of you who read, and I hope to see you over at the new site!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Is ID a science stopper?

Many scientists (including some Christian ones) argue that introducing God or a “designer” as a valid scientific explanation will be a “science stopper” – that it will stifle research or produce only trivial “god of the gaps” (or what Dawkins calls “incredulity”) type of answers. I think this view is flawed, and would like to offer some initial thoughts along these lines.

First, I believe it is important to point out some historical facts. It is now widely recognized that modern science developed in the West – and not anywhere else – because of the unique Judeo-Christian understanding of the world. In this view nature was not deified (as in animistic or pantheistic religions) nor held to be necessary (as in Greek thought), but rather considered contingent and good because it was created by a transcendent God. So not only was it able to be studied, but that was understood in the early days of modern science as a Christian responsibility. Note here that a) belief in the actual design of nature was present and b) it was more of a science-starter than a science-stopper. If belief in design gave rise to scientific inquiry, belief in design cannot be sufficient to end scientific inquiry.

Second, it is important to clarify that ID does not necessitate that every biological structure be designed. Adaptation to environment is readily acknowledged by design theorists, and there would be many cases where pursuit of a naturalistic explanation would be totally appropriate even given design as a valid option. It would only be those cases in which the structures, objects or events in question met the strict criteria of specified complexity that ruled out non-design explanations in principle, that naturalistic explanations would be abandoned.

However, even this wouldn’t mean the end of scientific inquiry in these cases. A forensic pathologist doesn’t stop examining a dead body once it has been determined that the cause of death was murder (design) – there is still the question of how it happened. Scientific inquiry in other fields (such as forensics) is almost always stimulated by the detection of design, and there’s absolutely no reason why the same thing wouldn’t happen in physics, cosmology or biology. Moreover, there is no actual sociological evidence of actual cases of design theorists stopping their scientific endeavors. In fact, there are contemporary examples of research programs investigating aspects of design. Should design be granted scientific status with equal opportunity for research, you would see rigorous science being done to explore this new avenue of scientific inquiry.

What about producing trivial “God of the gaps” types of answers? The purpose of science should be to give us accurate knowledge about the world as it is. This type of fallacy happens when an extraordinary explanation is given when an ordinary one suffices. If, however, it can be shown that it is impossible in principle for an ordinary explanation to work, then the ordinary would not suffice, and the scientifically responsible thing would be to investigate the extraordinary explanation. Moreover, the charge of incredulity misunderstands the design argument – it’s not that a naturalistic explanation in these limited cases is possible but unknown; it’s that a naturalistic explanation is not possible even in principle. This whole objection hinges on a presupposed naturalism; but such a stance is not logically implied by the empirical data and is not arrived at via some scientific process. It is a philosophical commitment that then colors how we see things. Science existed without naturalism before and it can exist without it again.

No, I'm not dead!

At least not yet. But this spring has been one of the most difficult periods of my life for a number of reasons, and blogging was forced to a much lower place on the priority list than it was before.

So here I am, a good four - almost five - months since I last posted an entry, and I'm wondering if there's still anyone who bothers to read such a derelict blog. One of the things that has kept me away, however, has been my masters program studies, for which I have produced a fair amount of material that I would like to post here. But I'm just sort of curious - is there anyone still out there who's reading? If so, could you please let me know in the comments?

Thanks, and sorry for being gone so long.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bad Design in Nature - an argument against evolution

Note of explanation: this post is an entry of mine on a discussion board for my Scientific Apologetics class regarding some of our reading. I'm trying this out as a method of integration for my studies and my blogging (actually, this is my first attempt to find a way to keep my blog alive in the midst of juggling the new demands of being back in school whilst trying to fulfill all my other commitments). We're having pretty good discussions in our online class forum, so I thought I'd bring some of that here to kick around. Expect to see more of these.

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander (or something like that...)

In The Panda's Thumb, Stephen Jay Gould worked hard to show that less-than-ideal design in nature is an argument against a divine designer and an argument for evolution (Dawkins' "blind watchmaker"). I think his argument is horribly circular, and so is quite invalid, though it is often rhetorically effective. My claim, on the other hand, is that less than ideal design is just as much an argument against evolution. Here's why:

Dembski, in arguing against the need for larger brains for human intelligence in The Design of Life, made note of the evolutionists' answer to the problem of anomalies in relation to brain size - that the brain must contain tremendous amounts of redundancy. He then made the following counter-argument:

If the brain is redundant, then why didn't we evolve the same cognitive abilities without developing larger brains? Redundancy carries hidden costs. Big brains make it difficult for humans babies to pass through the birth canal, which, historically, has resulted in heavy casualties - many mothers and babies have died during delivery. Why should the selective advantage of bigger brains with lots of redundancy outweigh the selective advantage of easier births due to smaller brains that, nonetheless, exercise the same cognitive functions, though with lowered redundancy?(p. 12)

The point is a good one, and not only in response to the specific argument in the text. This "design" is less than ideal enough to argue against the likelihood of its evolutionary origin. Natural selection would have weeded out such a considerable cause of high infant mortality long before it became the norm for our species.

There are many examples touted by the mainstream bioscience community as evidence of the "tinkering" of evolution rather than design by immeasurable intelligence. One problem seems to be that there are examples of poor and harmful design that seem statistically incompatible with the proposed evolutionary process. Proponents of evolution sometimes even use these (ironically) as evidence against a creator. In fact, I've heard the "big head vs. small birth canal" used in just this way before.

An adaptive, "tinkering" approach to design as an answer to such things as, say, Gould's panda thumb, seems a lot more rational to me than holding the statistical demands of evolution in tension with obvious counterexamples.

Am I on to something here, or am I missing something?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Presidents and Politicians

Every time an election rolls around, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. As I survey the furiously paced and often palpably desperate campaining, the following thought regularly crosses my mind: a successful campaigner does not a good president make. In other words, the qualities of a candidate that gets him or her elected do not necessarily translate into qualities you'd want to see in the Oval Office. An unfortunate weakness of our system, I guess.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

State of the Blog Address

My fellow blogosphereans...

Thank you to those of you who have stopped by to read my blog over the last year. I'm grateful that a) you found my thoughts interesting enough to read, and b) some of you actually took the time to enter into a discussion or two with me. My main purpose in starting this blog was admittedly selfish, but that selfishness itself had a selfless goal. I wanted to stretch myself, to grow through the discipline and practice of communicating my thoughts in writing ,and through exchanges with other minds on the various views I've presented (hence the caption below the blog title, and the title itself). But the chief end was not to grow for myself; it was to grow to be of better service to my Lord. I think that has certainly happened this year.

Embedded in that goal of self-growth for service, however, were some personal goals for myself that I found to be more challenging to achieve than I had anticipated. I feel I have failed to fully live up to one in particular: namely, posting as frequently as I would have liked with contributions of substance. I would have liked to have posted more developed entries with greater regularly and frequency, but writing is hard work, particularly when the demands of a career, family and church often eliminate my time for blogging for long stretches. There's also a weird love-hate thing that develops between a blogger and his blog, which I didn't understand before, but totally get now. If you blog, you know what I mean. Suffice it to say that a strange sort of psychological intimidation has sometimes kept me away longer than I would have liked.

All that to say, it really has been a rewarding experience, and my thanks go out to those of you who have helped it be just that. It's time now, though, to look to the future. What will 2008 mean for this blog?

Well, my intent is to keep it going, but there's been one major change in my life that will probably impact my expectations for The Crucible. I'm going back to school! Next week I begin classes towards getting my MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Specifically, because of my location and family commitments, I'm doing the Modular Program (a distance program that combines online classwork with summer on-campus residencies) which will probably take me around three years to complete.

I'm very excited, and I know that this is a great next step for me as I seek to develop my gifts for service to the Kingdom, but the demands placed on me will most definitely impact my blogging habits. I hope to be able to incorporate some of what I am doing in my classes with my postings here, but I'm not quite sure how that's all going to play out yet. I've also entertained thoughts of bringing another author on to the blog to help out. I'm not sure yet, and I think I'll just have to wait and see how things go.

After a year here my desire to grow and for this blog to be a vehicle for that has not changed - if anything, the former has grown. Please bear with me as I figure out just how this new facet of my education and growth will affect the latter. And thanks again for reading.

God bless.

Happy birthday, blog!

Whoops! Looks like I missed it by a day. It's been a year of up-and-down blogging for me on my trial run of this thing, but overall I'm glad I did it. I'll save the rest of my reflections and future plans for my next post - my "State of the Blog Address." Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Red and Blue Block Addiction

I didn't think it would be, but this is terribly addicting. I'm up to 20.797 seconds. How about you?

What is it that makes something like this hard to stop? I think it's the "if I try it just one more time" impulse.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why I Read the Bible

I suppose there are several ways I could put this, but one of the main reasons I read the Bible is captured well in Peter's response to Jesus in the end of John 6:

And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father." As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?" Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God." John 6:65-69 (emphasis added)

I read the Bible because it is life - the words of life from the One who is the true life, spoken to the creatures he made to receive that life from their Creator. Separated from that life that one has by believing in and knowing the Holy One of God, Jesus of Nazareth, a man is dead even though he lives. Once made alive by God, though, a man hungers for the words of the One who, being rich in mercy, made him alive together with Christ.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

My oldest son is four, and the whole Christmas thing is really getting fun now. I had to tuck him in super-fast, so he could go to sleep and get to Christmas morning sooner. It is really special to view Christmas through the eyes of a child again.

Merry Christmas, everyone (and to my friends across the pond, Happy Christmas)!

Since God became flesh and dwelt among us, I pray that you would truly behold His glory this season and, if you don't already know Him, find out just who the man was that baby grew to be.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Craig's Cosmological Argument - Cause Qualities and Conclusions

These are my notes from an argument given by William Lane Craig in a debate - specifically, his Cosmological Argument for the existence of God. I don't agree with Craig on everything (most notably his Molinism), but he's no slouch of a philosopher and apologist - the man can put together a powerful line of reasoning, and I think this is one of his best. Enjoy, and if you have any thoughts, I'd love to discuss them in the comments!

Craig’s Cosmological Argument – Cause Qualities and Conclusions

1. Everything that begins to exist must have a cause
2. The universe began to exist
Supporting evidence: Big Bang Cosmology and the Law of Entropy
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause

If the universe has a cause, such a cause must have a number of striking qualities:

As the cause of space and time, this cause must transcend space and time, and must therefore:

a. exist non-temporally and non-spatially (at least without the universe)

b. be changeless and immaterial

  1. something can be timeless only if it is unchanging
  2. something can be unchanging only if it is immaterial

c. must be unimaginably powerful

  1. since it created all matter, space and time

d. must be personal

  1. the only entities we know of which can be timeless and immaterial are either minds or abstract objects (e.g., numbers)
  2. but, abstract objects don’t stand in causal relations
  3. therefore, the transcendent cause of the universe must be an unembodied mind

Only a free agent can account for the origin of a temporal effect from a timeless cause
  1. if the cause of the universe were an impersonal, mechanically operating cause, then the cause could never exist without its effect
  2. for if the sufficient condition of the effect is given, then the effect must be given as well
  3. the only way for the cause to be timeless but for its effect to begin in time is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any antecedent determining conditions

Conclusion from the Cosmological Argument:
A personal creator of the universe exists, who is uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

One reason I love theology

I'm listening through a debate right now on infant/covenantal baptism vs. believers' baptism, and was just struck by a thought. One of the things I love about Christian theology is that, if it's true, it is of eternal and utmost importance; if it's false, it is a colossal waste of time. There is no middle ground.

Okay, I'm a geek, but that's my idea of living on the edge :)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Relativism: A misuse of terms

There's nothing like a little frustration to awaken me, a la Kant, from my "blogmatic" slumbers (haha).

Recently, Greg Koukl, President of Stand to Reason, was on Stu Epperson's show TruthTalkLive to discuss/debate (though I hesitate to use that term here) with Bob Enyart, a Christian talk show host from Colorado, on the question, "Should a Christian ever vote for a pro-choice candidate?" You can listen to it here. Greg took the affirmative, arguing that the greater moral imperative is to realistically and pragmatically save the most lives possible, even if that means voting for a pro-choice candidate, if that candidate is the lesser of two evils, and a vote for a third party candidate would ensure that the worse of the two realistic candidates would take office. Bob took the negative, arguing that supporting someone who is pro-choice, regardless of pragmatic concerns, is morally despicable in the eyes of God, and likened it to the Herodians of 1st century Palestine.

My point here is not to get into the arguments, for or against. What was frustrating was that several times during the show, Bob Enyart accused Greg of being a moral relativist (along with a few other things, such as a situational ethicist and a legal positivist) without displaying any evidence that he understood what those terms mean or how in the world they would apply to someone like Greg. (Anyone who would call Greg a moral relativist clearly doesn't understand what the term means, or at least can't identify the type of argument with which he is being presented.) On top of that, he kept using horribly fallacious lines of argument (e.g., Giuliani is a "mass-murderer", so you can't believe he's telling the truth when he says he'll appoint conservative, constructionist judges). And on top of that, he was rather beligerent and unprofessional in his manner of discussion - a steamroller, as some would call it, rarely letting Greg finish a thought before interrupting, and consistently putting words in Greg's mouth that he plainly didn't say.

It didn't end there, however. In the comment section for that show on the TruthTalkLive blog, commenter after commenter proceeded to apply labels inaccurately to Greg, misrepresent his position and views, and display overall deplorable reasoning skills. (Here, here and here are some examples.) I am reminded of why James White calls blog comment sections "Internet Ignorance Aggregators." I made a few contributions to try to help clear up the confusion. Here are some excerpts:

You all have no idea what “moral relativism” means... one thing you can’t call [Greg's position] is moral relativism - unless you also don’t object to me calling you all a bag of potato chips. Words have meaning...

Greg claiming that Christians have an objective moral obligation to, by choosing the lesser of two evils, act in such a way as to produce the greatest moral good - in this case, saving the innocent lives of future aborted unborn humans - is NOT moral relativism...Now, if he were to say that he thinks he should vote for Giuliani, but if you as a Christian think you shouldn't, then that’s what’s right for you - THAT’S moral relativism.

...would someone care to explain to me how Greg Koukl, when he says that all Christians everywhere have an objective moral obligation to act in such a way as to produce the greatest good, is being a moral relativist? Like I said, perhaps he’s got his objective morality wrong - maybe there is a greater moral imperative that would apply here. You can argue that. Maybe he’s wrong in his assessment of the efficacy of his recommendation (voting for Giuliani as the lesser of two evils) in achieving the moral outcome (preserving the loss of innocent life through abortion) - maybe there is no greater chance of conservative, even pro life judges being appointed to the Supreme court with Giuliani as president vs. Hillary. You can argue that, too. But it is the height of intellectual dishonesty to make him say something he’s not, and the last thing he’s saying is that the moral rules that apply to this decision are relative.

I promise, I'm not pointing to controversy for controversy's sake. Okay, I'm a little upset that a man I respect and admire is being falsely accused, but that aside, here's my concern: I'm worried that "relativism", in virtue of it having become a dirty word among most evangelical Christians, and compounded by the rather disheartening state of modern American Evangelicalism's critical thinking skills, is now being used much like "intolerant" is used (abused) in our mainstream culture - as a conversation stopper and a signal that no more rational argumentation is needed to condemn someone. I'm also concerned with the lack of careful thinking on the part of Christians making a statement in the public square. As an anonymous commenter wrote in response to the problems I addressed:

If we want our opinions to be taken seriously, we must learn to construct coherent arguments. Too often Christians are guilty of throwing out far more heat than light. Inflaming the debate with ad hominem attacks and misunderstanding the meaning of moral relativism only make us look uninformed. I am not saying that I side with Koukl. I am only trying to plead for more sound argumentation.

I'd agree, and add that, as I view both Greg and Bob as my brothers in Christ, and inasmuch as we are all trying to be pleasing to our God, our Lord is not honored by sloppy thinking and inaccurate accusations, particularly coming from those to whom other Christians are looking for leadership. "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." (James 3:1) We can - and should - do better than this, Mr. Enyart.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Are you trying to be cool, Christian?

"Coolness is heretical. Or at least the pursuit of it is."

So says The Scriptorium's Matt Jensen in his latest post, The Heresy of Cool.

Give it a read. Is he right? Let me know what you think in the comments.

The Gaze of the Holy God

Though I am a big fan of RC Sproul and a joyful supporter of Ligonier Ministries, I had not yet gotten around to reading what some consider to be his most powerful book - The Holiness of God. Written over twenty years ago, it is considered a standard work and a masterpiece by almost every Christian reviewer I've read. Finally deciding to take it up, I read the first chapter last night, and would like to describe my experience.

I say experience rather than thoughts because I am beginning to understand why many people have called this a life-changing, send-you-to-your-knees kind of book. Most say they finished it in a single sitting, and it left them forever changed. Thankfully my wife is sick, and I didn't want to keep the light on, or I'm sure I would have stayed up all night (as I've often done in the past) to finish the thing.

Be that as it may, after I read the first chapter, entitled "The Holy Grail" (in which RC recounts the first time that he, as a young Christian, really caught a glimpse of God's holiness), I lay awake in bed staring blindly at the darkened ceiling. I could not sleep. I was laid bare to the core. I felt the great weight of the gaze of the Almighty, the Eye of Heaven, Creator of the universe, stripping my heart bare, and I knew that I was as nothing compared to Him who saw into my innermost parts. It was truly awful, in the literal sense of the word - a moment full of awe, my finitude glimpsing His infinitude; my hidden deceits exposed to His pure, terrible goodness. I think I understand a very small part of what Isaiah meant when he said, "I am undone."

And yet, that was not all. There was not just this terrible weight. There was something else. As I lay there in bed, my heart an open window to heaven, I knew that I was known. I was - and am - known far better that I will ever know myself. And if His presence was strong, his chiding was gentle. Have you ever seen the gentleness of great strength? Say, a man, whose hands could crush you, tenderly holding a newborn, a "gentle giant," as my mom says? With my walls down, there was no need to thunder at me. And this gentleness spoke to me of love (though a terrifyingly infinite love). It was not a force that gazed into my heart, that made it's immense weight felt in my soul; it was a Person.

I am no artist, but this experience left me with more of a mental image than words, so I thought I'd try to reproduce it here. I don't know if this is any more elucidating than my inadequate words, but I couldn't get the image out of my head. Go easy on me :)

I have no idea if any of this makes sense, or if I'm coming close to describing the impression God left on me last night. I do know that, though I've been a Christian for years, and have gained glimpses of God's holiness before, He opened my eyes to Him in a way that I sorely needed and which echoes RC's own experience. I get exactly what he's saying. I hope to offer a review of the whole book here once I'm done, but if the first chapter and my previous experience with Sproul's teaching are any indication, this one's going right to my top five list of most-recommended books.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Being Good for Goodness' Sake

Sorry I've been gone so long - school has started up, and I just haven't had the time to invest here as I would like.

But hey, even if I can't produce anything good right now, at least I can point you to someone who is! Paul Scott Pruett recently examined the objection to Christian morality that says one shouldn't do good things to get a reward (i.e. heaven) but rather because those things are good in and of themselves - being "good for goodness' sake." His post is called Santa Claus Morality, and it's well worth the read. Go check it out, and tell him I sent ya!

Friday, August 10, 2007

"Logos" Understood In Context

I got into a conversation over at the Stand to Reason blog with, among others, an old sparring partner of mine, the Mormom Heideggerian Kevin Winters (I hope he won't mind me calling him that, but it's the most concise way of describing his position I am capable of - and if you don't know what a "Heideggerian" is, don't worry about it, or visit his blog and jump into continental philosophy to find out). The conversation centered on the translating of "logos" in John 1 as "logic" or "reason" in defense of the claim that logic comes from the very nature of God Himself. My response to Kevin ended up being so unexpectedly long and (hopefully) cogent that I decided to post it here as a blog entry. Who knows - maybe someone out there in this big great blogosphere will find my thoughts on this somewhat helpful. In any event, I put so much time into it that I thought it would be a waste not to put it up here.

Kevin's comment to which I was responding read:

The interpretation of Logos in John 1:1 as "logic" is highly anachronistic. Was John a closet Aristotelian philosopher? No, he was a common Jewish fisherman. F.F. Bruce said it best:

"No doubt the English term 'Word' is an inadequate rendering of the Greek logos, but it would be difficult to find one less inadequate... But if logos is not completely meaningless to an ordinary reader, it probably suggest something like 'reason', and that is more misleading than 'Word'. A 'word' is a means of communication, the expression of what is in one's mind...

"The term logos was familiar in some Greek philosophical schools, where it denoted the principle of reason or order immanent in the universe, the principle which imposes form on the material world and constitutes the rational soul in man. It is not in Greek philosophical usage, however, that the background of John's thought and language should be sought. Yet, because of that usage, logos constituted a bridge-word by which people brought up in Greek philosophy, like Justin Martyr in the second century, found their way into Johannine Christianity.

"The true background of John's thought and language is found not in Greek philosophy but in Hebrew revelation. The 'word of God' in the Old Testament denotes God in action, especially in creation, revelation and deliverance."The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes, 29.

The use of John 1:1 as a proof text for the necessity of logic is silly.

Here is my response.

I agree that:

1) John was not a closet Aristotelian philosopher

2) "logos" as "reason" (as understood by some strands of Greek philosophical thought, and as modern readers here are understanding it) may not communicate exactly what the author of the fourth Gospel was trying to convey, and

3) Bruce is mostly correct when he says, "The true background of John's thought and language is found not in Greek philosophy but in Hebrew revelation. The 'word of God' in the Old Testament denotes God in action, especially in creation, revelation and deliverance."

However, it is my studied opinion that a closer look at both the cultural and textual context reveals a fuller understanding of John's use of "logos" in his gospel than you or Bruce (who I fully admit is a much more qualified scholar than myself to speak on this) seem to be suggesting. Don't take that humble admission too far, though - I do have other scholarship on my side here, and am not pitting myself alone against Bruce.

The gospel of John was written during the time that the early church was dealing with the rise of proto- and early Gnosticism. (As I'm sure you know, Gnosticism varied greatly, but the basic belief was one inherited from Platonism - that all matter is evil. Consequently, according to the Gnostics, Christ did not "come in the flesh," or have a real body - since bodies are matter, matter is evil, and a divine being could not be joined to such an evil thing - but instead his appearance as a man was an illusion.)

In any event, this notion was in play when John wrote his gospel. In fact, the epistles attributed to the apostle John, who is also traditionally credited as writing the fourth gospel, were direct attacks on Gnosticism in its early form as it began to sway the first century church (2 John 1:7 - "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.").

Within this context, then, it is important to perhaps look at the prologue as a whole to understand just how the author was using "logos". If one were a Gnostic reading it, one would be happily trucking right along and have no problem with the first thirteen verses. Suddenly, though, verse 14 hits:

"And the Word (logos) became flesh (sarx)"

What? says the Gnostic. The divine logos could NOT become flesh! (Bear in mind that sarx was the equivalent of dung, or an even stronger term perhaps, to the Gnostic mind. Furthermore, in the Greek these two terms are situated right next to each other, so the juxtaposition could not have been sharper.)

I think this textual and cultural context gives amazing insight into John's usage of "logos". He was certainly aware of the Gnostic claim, and also how they would understand in some fashion what he was talking about when he applied "logos", a term they were probably quite familiar with and to which they had tied certain associations. That he used this term, then stresses that the "logos" became flesh, became matter, argues powerfully that he had this sort of polemic in mind when writing his gospel. I see verse 14 as being the key to understanding John’s point of using logos – to incisively cut down the Gnostic view of Christ, something he would be keen to do, given that he had lived with the man for three years and was witness to both his divinity AND his humanity. I think we don’t give John, or the other apostles for that matter, enough credit when we call them merely common Jewish fishermen. These guys certainly encountered the philosophies hostile to Christianity that were circulating in the ancient world of the first century, and had adequate tools with which to combat them – not only that, but an empowerment by the Holy Spirit to do so. I see John 1 as evidence of that, though really the New Testament is full of more.

Now, I actually do think that later, more Greek-oriented thinkers (such as Justin Martyr) probably took the Logos doctrine farther that John intended. But I don’t think that an understanding of the Greek usage of the term was totally missing from the author’s mind or intent when he wrote his famous prologue. I actually think he was using the enemies own ideas against them – attempting to impale them on their own sword, so to speak.

UPDATE 10/4/07: Upon further reflection and reading, I decided I should probably have used the more specific term "docetism" rather than the much wider "gnosticism" to avoid confusion.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Hard Mind, Soft Heart

The best combination for a Christian is a hard mind and a soft heart. Without both in equal measure, one's life in Christ and ability to fulfill God's calling suffer. Moreover, both are equally objects of conformation.

Matthew 10:16 - Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.

1 Corinthians 14:20 - Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

"We don't offer a system"

I admire what Lee Strobel is doing in defense of the Christian faith, and I really admire him for posting so many good video clips on his website, free of charge, featuring some top Christian thinkers addressing important subjects. One clip brought to my attention today, however, is a little problematic from my perspective (and puzzling, because it seems to undercut Strobel's whole enterprise, though to be fair, it's not Lee's position). It features a portion of an interview with Scot McKnight and seems to be focused on Gnosticism and the reliability of the New Testament texts. Pay close attention to the last half, when Scot addresses Lee's second question. Here it is.

OK, done? I don't know about you, but it looks to me like another stroll down Self-referential Lane:

Just after making an argument for the latecomer Gnostics' attempt to make themselves the heroes and the earlier orthodox church the dopes, and in the midst of making his argument about what brings people to Jesus and presenting a system in which this view operates, McKnight says,

"The reason [the Gospel account of Jesus] is believable is because it's Jesus. This is all the church has to offer. We don't offer arguments, we don't offer a better system, we offer Jesus."

We don't offer arguments? Tell that to Paul. Or to the many other Christians who are busy doing just that. Furthermore, why then are you arguing this point?

We don't offer a better system? What does McKnight think he is offering when he effectively says that "offering Jesus" is the best way to go? It's a system, too.

Now, don't get me wrong. I agree that we do, in a very real way, offer Jesus, and that an important way God draws people to Christ is through this kind of direct encounter through the pages of the New Testament. I would actually argue that an encounter with the risen Jesus on a personal level (and by that I mean "seeing" Jesus through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit) is necessary for a saving faith. I even agree with McKinght's very next statement: "Jesus is good enough to attract people to himself."

What I don't get is the false dichotomy. It's as if you either present Jesus, or you present rational arguments and a coherent system, but heaven forbid you try to offer both. That kind of radical dichotomy is not only unreasonable, but it is downright unbiblical. I wonder how much time McKnight and others who at least seemingly view it like this have spent studying Paul's apologetic and proclamatory methodology. McKnight must have a woefully anemic view of "system" to think that the worldview inherent in the message of Christ is free from any systematic element. If we offer, through the person of Christ, a true view of reality, then we are indeed offering a better system, and you can't separate the person of Christ from the way Jesus in fact saw the world.

HT: Brett Kunkle/Stand to Reason

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bultmann's Fundamental Mistake

Alright, enough with the lightweight posts. Time to get back to dealing with things of substance in a substantive way. This one may take a little bit of foundation-laying, but bear with me - the point at the end, I think, is good - if you're a logic and theology geek like me and actually like this stuff, that is. My apologies if you aren't.

One of the things I have been studying lately are the various prominent theologians of the 20th century and their thought. The last century saw a strong reaction against the liberalism of the 1800's (which sought to discard or reinterpret the old doctrines of orthodoxy where they seemed problematic to the modern mind), mainly (or at least initially) in the form of the so-called neo-orthodoxy or dialectical theology of Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann. These two men were at odds with each other in some significant ways - so much so that Barth accused Bultmann of reverting to the old liberalism they were attempting to demolish and replace - but have been included together under the common umbrella term of "dialectical theology" by historical theologians because of a stress from both men, contra liberalism, of the differences between God and humanity. While much more could be said about both men (which I may do later on), it is on this last point in regards to Bultmann's theology on the nature and knowledge of God that I would like to offer some comments.

Bultmann (1884-1976) was not a systematic theologian, but during his life as a career scholar he enjoyed a high standing among academia as a major New Testament scholar. After an initial foray into the dialectical theology of the 1920s, he became deeply influenced by existentialism (particularly that of Martin Heidegger) and allied this somewhat paradoxically with his deep interest in historical explanations and biblical studies to produce a brand-new restatement of the message of the New Testament - a sort of Christian existentialism. He is best known for his program of demythologizing, the task of restating Christianity in language that made sense to people with a modern, "scientific" worldview by stripping it of the outdated, "mythological" worldview in which it had first appeared. In other words, there was a core of theological truth contained in Scripture, but you had to get rid of the mythology (such as supernatural occurrences, expectations, and the worldview that made these possible) to find it and understand it as a modern. (Though motivated differently, this view in many ways put him in the same bed as the old liberals.)

This idea rested on what Bultmann saw as the most important message[1] to be extracted from the New Testament: God. A great God far above and vastly different from the material world and the humans who inhabit it - so far beyond us, in fact, that there is no way we can know Him, or even speak sensibly of Him at all. God is not an object out in the universe at which we can point, an existing thing; He is the underpinning reality of every object and the whole universe, the basis of existence itself. This position was not new; theologically, it has roots in the Cappadocian Fathers of the East, Pseudo-Dionysius propounded it in the 6th century, and Thomas Aquinas produced probably the most highly developed and sophisticated version of this in church history. His view, from whence Bultmann takes his cue, is basically that God transcends everything, even our ways of thinking, to the point that no statement we make about Him can do Him justice - and because of this we can't really say anything about Him at all, at least not in the same way we could say something about a ball, or a chair, or my cousin Rob.

Bultmann recognized, as did Aquinas, that this view of God is problematic when one is attempting to do theology - that is, speaking of God. Aquinas found his way out by using analogy - in other words, when we say God is a certain thing (e.g., good, powerful, wise, etc.) we are just using analogical language, the best that we have, attempting, as accurately as possible, to describe the indescribable. Bultmann, however, took a different route:

If "speaking of God" is understood as "speaking about God," the such speaking has no meaning whatever, for its subject, God, is lost in the very moment it takes place. Whenever the idea, God, comes to mind, it connotes that God is the Almighty; in other words, God is the reality determining all else...Every "speaking about" presupposes a standpoint external to that which is being talked about. But there cannot be any standpoint which is external to God. Therefore it is not legitimate to speak about God in general statements, in universal truths which are valid without references to the concrete, existential position of the speaker.[2]

Historian Jonathan Hill sums it up this way:

In other words, instead of trying to make objective statements about God, we should speak about our own subjective experience. Because our existence is dependent on God, understanding ourselves will allow us to understand him.[3]

I certainly don't agree with Barth on everything, but I stand behind him in refutation of that point. We do not understand God by understanding ourselves. God has revealed himself to us through the person of Jesus and propositionally through His written Word. The Christianity of the apostles and martyrs is built not off of introspection, but upon revelation.

But even if Hill's isn't an accurate summation of Bultmann's point, a problem still remains. Do you see it? It is so fundamental that it shapes the rest of his errant theology. Every worldview begins with an ultimate reality, and out of that the rest flows. Every religion, every theology begins with a view of God, upon which the rest finds its logical base. It's sort of like using a level when beginning to build a house - mess it up there, and the whole thing will be off.

Let me break Bultmann's argument here down into a syllogism to aid in getting at the problem:

1) God is the reality determining all else.

2) Every "speaking about" presupposes a standpoint external to that which is being talked about.

3) But there cannot be any standpoint which is external to God.

4) Therefore it is not legitimate to speak about God in general statements, in universal truths which are valid without references to the concrete, existential position of the speaker.

The flaw in his reasoning can be seen in premise 2). It is patently and demonstrably false, and without this crucial premise, the thing won't fly. To show it is false, ask yourself these two questions: can you speak about yourself? If so, how could you be external to yourself?

The truth is, I can speak about myself. I can know objective things about myself, yet I am never once operating from a standpoint external to myself. Without this faulty premise, the conclusion is unwarranted. So for at least this consideration, the argument should be rejected. Moreover, one may be able to take issue with premise 3) by making the distinction between how one could be internal to God in one way (ground of existence) and external to him in another (personhood).

I call this (long) post "Bultmann's Fundamental Mistake" for this reason: his mistake here effectively drew the outline of the rest of his theology and seems to me to be the seed from whence his other errors sprung. This can serve as a healthy reminder to us to examine our fundamental worldview commitments - without an accurate level, the whole house becomes crooked and, in fact, dangerous.


[1] This conclusion, that a Wholly Other God is the important message conveyed by Scripture behind the mythology, really is untenable and rather absurd, given his own view. If this is the core of the "mythological" worldview, how is it that one can be left with this utterly and foundationally mythological element (given his definition of such things) after one has stripped away the myth? (In other words, it makes no sense to say that latex is the most important element of the wall next to me if I say that I need to remove the latex paint to get to it.) And how can something fundamentally inconsistent with a "scientific" worldview be stated sensibly in that worldview at all? This is a dead giveaway that his whole system is flawed.

[2] What Does It Mean to Speak of God? I

[3] The History of Christian Thought, pp. 280.