Nov 26, 2007
The first, more common, reaction to the notion of hell goes like this: "Ugh! God must be a mean, sadistic ogre!" The basic idea behind this popular reaction is that the doctrine of hell, if it's true, casts negative aspersions on the character of God. That is, hell is seen as inconsistent with the idea that God is good and loving.
Now, those who react to hell in this first way can wind up in one of two positions. (1) they can become atheists or agnostics. These, like Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), believe that the Bible does teach the doctrine of hell and that the God of the Bible must therefore be really bad and unworthy of serious belief. Alternatively, (2) they can convince themselves that the Bible doesn't really teach the doctrine of hell--perhaps the texts that seem to teach this are not to be taken literally or are simply not true--and they continue to believe in a good and loving God. For the latter group, God (as they understand him) simply would never consign anyone to eternal torment.
The second (I think correct and biblical) reaction to the doctrine of hell is: "Whoa! I must really be bad!" The idea here is that the doctrine of hell, if it's true, casts negative aspersions NOT on God, but on us! Hell, on this view, is perfectly consistent with God's goodness and love. In fact, on this view, if hell did not exist, God would be wicked! He would be unconcerned about justice; uncaring toward the victims of our unrighteous deeds. He would be someone who simply winks at sin and never holds people accountable for the evil that they do. Hell, then, is an indictment against us. It points us to the sad truth about our sinful condition. It points us to the biblical teaching (confirmed in our daily experience) that human beings are morally corrupt, depraved, desperately wicked.
Those who react to hell in this second way are not disposed to see an inconsistency between God's goodness and hell. Rather, they are strongly inclined to feel an inconsistency between God's goodness and the gracious and merciful way he treats us deperados. That is, there seems to be a "problem of God's goodness"--why and how can he be so kind and good to us who are so bad? Why is it that we are not all cast into hell from the moment of our first breaths? (This was the question and the theme of Jonathan Edwards' great sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God").
The problem with the first reaction to hell is that it starts with the assumption that human beings are basically good (or, if bad, not all that terribly so). No wonder then that a God who makes a hell is seen as a malicious ogre! But, if we begin with the assumption that human beings are basically wicked (an idea taught on almost every page of Scripture (cf. Rom. 3:10ff., Eph. 2:1-3, etc.)), one will cry out with Paul, "Oh wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?" (Rom 7:24). And one will stand awestruck and eternally grateful when one finds that the God who owes him only His eternal wrath casts his sins into a sea of everlasting forgetfulness. Then one will know just how amazing God's grace truly is.
Oct 10, 2007
Oct 2, 2007
The book and Mohler's commentary lament the cultural phenomenon of near-perpetual adolescence. Many pundits and scientists in our society are telling us that adolescence now extends from puberty to age 34. Age 34! Can you believe it? We live in a society that refuses to grown up. West suggests that it's worse than that--people in our society don't know how to grow up. Moreover, the adult generation seems to work hard to emulate teenagers and 20-somethings. The young people set the cultural agenda and the older folks bend over backwards to accomodate and imitate them. This is, as West points out, a new phenomonon. In earlier times, the young folks looked up to adults and sought to imitate them. What kids wanted to do was to grow up; to become part of the larger (adult) society. But, apparently there is no more adult society. The adult society is collapsing into a perpetual teenager society.
Truth be known, the whole idea of the "teenager" as a distinct demographic entity is a late 20th-century invention. Before the 1950s, there was no such thing as teenagers. There were simply human beings in their teen years working hard in preparation for an adulthood that came very much sooner than age 34. Prior to the 20th-century adulthood usually arrived around age 16 or 17 when the average young man had to go to work an contribute to the family or start one of his own. And the average 16 or 17 year-old woman got married and started having babies. And these young peope were NOT children! The average 16 or 17 year-old a century or more ago was a mature-thinking adult! He/she could handle the reponsibility of adulthood because he/she had spent his/her early teen years learning to do so! But no more. Now we have 34-year-old teenagers who have no desire to grow up and probably couldn't if they wanted to!
Now I'm not saying that we need to return to a culture in which people have to grow up by age 16 or 17. After all, growing up by that age was somewhat a matter of economic necessity. But, there is no virtue in prolonging adolescence (you will only think there is if you think that the purpose of life is "living for the weekend"--which it's not). Requiring our kids to grow up by 20 or 21 isn't asking too much. Maybe even 18 or 19 is reasonable too. Of course, those of us who have "put away childish things" will have to teach them how. Are there enough of us left?
Aug 20, 2007
Also, Broadman-Holman just agreed to publish the introduction to philosophy text that James Spiegel (Taylor U) and I are currently writing. This book should be finished some time next Spring and then released early in 2009. We hope in this book to capture a niche in the market between the extremes of Christian philosophy texts that are broad in their coverage but superficial, and ones that are more indepth, but cover only a few topics. We also intend to aim at accessibility for an undergraduate audience.
Aug 3, 2007
Jul 18, 2007
Jul 17, 2007
There are several reasons for this judgment. For one thing, the special effects and action sequences are top notch. I even liked (contrary to some of the aforementioned friends) the romance aspects of the movie (though the scene in the Jazz Club was silly--and Peter Parker be-boppin down the street in a zoot suit was downright goofy!). But, what I liked the most about the movie were the obvious spiritual metaphors in the plot.
For the observant Christian viewer, there are some clear connections (intended or unintended I'm not sure) with Christian theology. I haven't read many reviews of the movie, so perhaps others have already pointed this out--but the black-suit/red suit contrast echoes the biblical theme of taking off the old man and putting on the new man. Along with that theme is the idea of the Christian's struggle agains indwelling sin and the importance of mortifying it. In the film, Spider-Man's body (or is it his suit?) is infected with an alien substance that amplifies his negative characteristics (e.g., his selfishness, desire for revenge, etc.) and turns him into the black-suited Spider-Man. He is led to do some pretty dastardly things under the suit's influence. Eventually Spider-Man realizes that he is being dominated by an evil force and has to fight with all his might to remove the black suit. Interestingly (and this can't be an accident), the climax of his struggle takes place in a church. The symbolism is striking. With the implied help of divine grace, Spider-Man is able to tear off the black suit (the old man with its carnal lusts) and put on the red suit (the new man renewed in holiness and virtue).
Of course, the movie sounds the Christian "bell" with less than crystal clarity. At one point in the movie, Aunt May reminds Peter that he is a "good man" who will find his way. Christians know that there is no one good but God. But, perhaps this is just Aunt May's distorted sentimentalism. When she says this to Peter, he doesn't look entirely convinced. Maybe he knows better--knows, that is, that he really isn't all that good. At the end of the movie he is able to forgive Marko Flint for killing his uncle mainly because he realizes (and confesses) that he has done some bad things too--reminiscent of the Christian call to forgive others because we are forgiven sinners ourselves. In any case the movie does seem a bit ambiguous about whether evil is something outside us that seeks to dominate otherwise good people, or whether evil come from within us. But, as I see it anyway, the movie tends to lean in the latter (Christian) direction as suggested by the fact that the alien substance amplifies bad tendencies in people rather than creates them.
The first Spider-Man movie gave us the well-worn catch-phase "With great power comes great responsibility." This third installment ends with a new one: "We can always choose to do what is right." From a Christian point of view, this is only true with qualification. The Apostle Paul said that "the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able [to do so], and those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom 8:7-8). However, those who have been given the new birth, who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, can always choose to do what is right. We can indeed take off the old man and put on the new, and "be imitators of God" (Eph. 5:1). Not because we are intrinsically good, but because God is "at work in us to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
May 30, 2007
My personal theory, which is as plausible and unprovable as any other, is that a
religious sense exists as a consequence of the evolutionary process. Over
millions of years hominids with larger brains were favored due to their improved
ability to interact socially, communicate linguistically, and obtain food. As
computational power expanded, these same brains incidentally acquired the
ability to grasp their loneliness in the larger world and to anticipate their own deaths. Those who could not imagine a purpose for living turned to less purposeful lives and were marginally less likely to survive to reproductive age, or even to be interested in reproduction. As people without purpose were weeded out of the gene pool, increasingly large percentages of the surviving population were capable of turning their powerful minds to thoughts of gods, whose “existence” would itself become the purpose of life. Man became an animal that could no longer “live in a world it is unable to understand.”
What is almost ludicrous about this theory is Gabel's implied claim that religion ought to be eliminated from human society. Religion, Gabel apparently thinks, is a bad thing and we would be better off without it. Though religion is "built-in" to our species by evolution, Gabel points to examples of people who resist certain natural impulses (e.g., priests and nuns who make vows of celibacy) to show that, if we value rationality and humanism, we "can overcome a natural religious tendency."
But if religion is really hardwired into us as a survival mechanism, why would or should we wish it to be eradicated any more than we (including Gabel, I suppose) would want to eradicate our sexual desires? If religion contributes to survival, then why not keep it around? Indeed, if most people still "feel the need" for religion, then it probably, on Gabel's theory, is still performing a survival function at least for those people--and on evolutionary grounds that would be a good thing (insofar as athiests can talk coherently about "good" and "bad").
Perhaps Gabel thinks that religion has outlived its usefulness as a survival mechanism; perhaps he might point to religious oppression in the world (Inquisition, Crusades, etc.) to show that religion is now harmful, not benificial. Now rationality and humanism are better suited to our survival. But, why should we believe that? Why can't we see even religious oppression as part of the survival mechanism inherent in religion per se?--people have an innate impulse to defend their religious convictions when they feel them threatened because in their genes is an unconscious "awareness" that religion is necessary for human survival. (I'm not advocating this view, just arguing that there is no reason why Gabel's own theory shouldn't lead to this conclusion rather than the one he would likely draw.)
Would Gabel claim that there is something inherently immoral about religious oppression? It's hard to see how he could say that on his own principles. Neither can he say that rationality and humanism are somehow morally better ways for us to live. His only argument will have to be a pragmatic one, one that shows that religion doesn't contribute to survival as well as some other mechanism. But, I think he would be hard pressed to prove that.
May 2, 2007
Science is powerful because it often provides explanations before
observations are made. As Yogi Berra once remarked, “prediction is hard —
especially about the future.” The nature of scientific theories is to make
surprising predictions — the more surprising, the more confident we can be
in the theory should the prediction be fulfilled.
On occasion religious figures also make predictions, most notably about the
end of the world, but I am unfamiliar with any example where the failure of the
world to end on schedule caused a reassessment of the religious leaders in their
fundamental beliefs. Instead, the holy man and the faithful sometimes make some
recalculations, and come up with a new date for the end of the world, or else
give up trying with their faith unshaken — for that is the nature of faith which
requires no evidence to justify it, yet somehow paradoxically it craves
confirming evidence when it can get it.
In this quote, Ehrlich is refers the idea that scientific theories usually have implications which can formulated into predictions about potential empirical observations. The idea, as Ehrlich envisions it, goes something like this: Imagine a scientific theory T. Scientists think hard about T and figure out that if T were actually true, then we ought to be able to see or observe in the world some other phenomenon O. In other words, theory T predicts observation O. So, the scientists go out into the world to look for O. If they find O, then that observation provides some confirming evidence for T. If they don't find O--or, more seriously, if they discover that not-O (i.e., O is false), then theory T is thereby falsified. And the scientist, being the rational creature that he is, will no longer entertain T as a scientific theory.
Because this is how Ehrlich characterizes science, he thinks that science is eminently more rational and useful than religion and religious people. Religious beliefs, he thinks, tend to be unfalsifiable--primarily, it seems, because religious people won't give up their beliefs when they encounter falsifying evidence. This is Ehrlich's point when he talks about the fundamentalist preachers who predict the end of the world. They predict that Armageddon will occur on a certain date, but when the prediction fails to come true, they find some way to go right on believing, simply making adjustments to their theories to cover up the unpleasant failed prediction.
Now I agree with Ehrlich that some Christians (and cultists) may hold on to implausible beliefs in the face of significant falsifying evidence. What I take issue with is his implicit assumption that scientists are immune from this kind of thing. In fact, Ehrlich (at least as far as this article would suggest) holds a pretty naive view of science and how it works. It is true that scientists make predictions from their theories and seek to test them in the way Ehrlich suggests. But, Ehrlich is mistaken in thinking that falsification works in the simple, straightforward way that he describes. Contemporary philosophers of science will tell you that it is virtually impossible to decisively falsify any but the simplest scientific theories. Why? Because--just like those fundamentalist preachers--a scientific theory can be adjusted and modified almost endlessly in minor and major ways to account for, incorporate, or avoid potentially falsifying evidence. And scientists do this kind of thing all the time!
I point this out not to call the rationality of science into question. I believe that it would be a mistake to let a plausible and promising scientific theory be rejected just because an initial prediction of the theory failed to materialize. If a small adjustment in some peripheral details of a theory can be made that leaves the major aspects of the theory intact, but also has the fortuitous consequence that the failed prediction is no longer a prediction of the theory at all (and thus no longer potentially falsifying), then by all means the scientist should make the adjustment and continue their research program. Such a practice is eminently rational. It is only when "anomalies" increase greatly and the adjustments to the theory become more and more ad hoc that scientists should abandon the theory. But, if this is rational for scientists to do, then one cannot automatically object when religious people do similar things. (I would argue that the problem with the Armageddon predictors is just that their adjustments are ad hoc.)
Let me end, however, with this observation. It seems to me that there is one scientific theory that, if we follow Ehrlich's view of science, ought to be discarded immediately. I speak of Darwinian evolution. Darwin's theory of evolution based on natural selection predicts that there ought to be millions and millions of transitional forms in the fossil record. However, to date, not a single undisputed example of a transitional form has been found--despite many decades of careful searching. On Ehrlich's criteria, the theory of evolution has been falsified. Will Erhlich follow his own advice and now repudiate the theory of evolution?
Apr 20, 2007
But, after a few moments, when I had thought about it some more, I came to realize that my question was misguided. From the perspective of a Christian worldview, a better question has to be: "How come I haven't done this kind of horrible violence?" The Bible teaches that all of us are sinners from birth (Ps. 51:5, Eph. 2:1-3) and that deep down in our hearts, apart from the saving work of Christ, there lies a spirit of rebellion against God, a spirit of perversity and violence no less malevolent than that exhibited by Cho Seung Hui (see Rom 3:10ff.).
I have come to realize, then (and I hope the readers do to), that an appropriate response to the Virginia Tech massacre--after the response of outrage and sympathy--is: "There but for the grace of God go I."
Apr 5, 2007
Pretty wild, eh? And because Romney, as a Mormon, probably believes these anti-Christian doctrines, many Christians are saying that they could never vote for him for President. One caller to the radio program adamantly insisted that he could not vote for a man who advocates what he, as a Christian, considers sin. And Romney's heretical beliefs are sinful. Ergo, he cannot vote for Romney. This attitude I believe to be fairly common among conservative Christians. But, this attitude toward Romney is totally and completely wrong-headed. What's more, it is patently unbiblical. And I say this as someone who agrees that Mormonism is a cult and that Romney's beliefs are sinful.
A few centuries ago, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther said, "I would rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a stupid Christian." His point was that being a Christian did not automatically make one a good ruler. And, on the flipside, being a Muslim (or follower of some other false religion) did not automatically make one a bad ruler. Good rulership falls under the rubric of God's common grace and natural revelation and it falls on the Christian and the non-Christian alike. Luther believed that unbelievers can and do establish just governments and that being a Christian was not a requirement for being a good government leader. Unbelievers can have the wisdom and knowledge required to rule a nation.
Where did Luther get this idea from? He got it from the Bible! The Bible gives us many examples of political leaders who were not followers of the one, true God; who were idol worshippers no less than Mitt Romney, and portrays many of this rulers as just and wise. It portrays their rule and authority as legitimate in the eyes of God and worthy of Christian submission and respect. Examples include Nebuchadnezzar who was served faithfully by Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego; Darius of Persia who Daniel also served; and then there was Cyrus of Persia whom God called, "My annointed one" (Messiah). Think also of Ahaseurus whom Esther married and submitted to along with her uncle Mordecai. And there is Ben-Hadad of Aram who was served by Naaman, the soldier converted to the true faith by Elisha. In the New Testament, think of Felix and Festus who were given respect and obedience by Paul--they were not perfect morally or religiously, but their rule was seen as legtimate and to be submitted to. Consider as well how the apostle Paul commanded all Christians everywhere to submit to the governing authorities whoever they were--because they are ordained by God (Rom 13). Paul said this when Nero was on the throne of Rome.
I point all of this out to argue that there can be no theological reason to refuse to vote for Mitt Romney. Unless one has been deceived into believing the view called theonomy (and its half-baked sister, the Religious Right) which holds that Christians have an obligation to work for the establishment of specifically Christian governments, then there can be no objection per se to electing a Mormon. The only issue that matters is: what does he stand for? What are his values and principles? What policies will he implement? Will he establish and maintain justice? The Bible does not teach that we have to have Christian governments; it only teaches that we should have just governments. And a government can be just whether or not the President and other leaders are Christian.
Mar 21, 2007
When I read that definition my first response was bewilderment. My second response was to chuckle. My third response was to shake my head in a brief exertion of pity for Frazier who is apparently in the grip of a powerful self-delusion. Why would I say that? Because it is patently and obviously false that anyone can live with an unwillingness to take anything on faith. That is, it is impossible not to take at least some things on faith. And if skepticism is defined as an unwillingness to take anything on faith, then no one is (or even can be) a skeptic--least of all Frazier and his skeptical cohorts at the Skeptical Inquirer!
Let me prove my point by listing a few items that I am fairly confident that Frazier believes but that he has no choice but to take on faith:
1. There is a mind-independent external world.
2. There are other minds than his own.
3. He has existed for more than 5 minutes.
4. His cognitive faculties (intellect, senses, etc.) are reliable.
5. Consciousness is a physical/natural phenomenon.
6. Evolution occured.
7. Science is the only (or most authoritative) source of knowledge.
8. He can live without taking anything on faith.
None of the above beliefs can be proven with certainty. Many of them cannot be proven in any sense, but must be assumed or presupposed. In either case, faith is involved.
Mar 5, 2007
The problems with this hypothesis are so numerous that it would take a book to explain them all. Below I will briefly mention a few of the more prominent problems. For those who want more, let me encourage you to take a look at the blogs of NT scholars Ben Witherington and Darrell Bock:
The major problems, as I see it, are these:
1. The statistics. The maker of the documdrama hired a statistician who concluded that there was a 1 in 600 chance that the tomb was NOT that of Jesus of Nazareth. IOW, it is a high probability that this is Jesus' family tomb. But, this conclusion is based on some unwarranted assumptions. First, that the first "Mary" in the tomb was the "Jesus" in the tomb's mother. There is no evidence to indicate that. It could have been a sister, a cousin, a wife, etc. Second, there is no evidence that the second "Mary" (Mariamne Mara) was Jesus' wife--again, even given the DNA testing, it could have been a half-sister or a cousin or an aunt. So, the program is totally bogus when it asks how many Jesus's in Jerusalem would have had a father named Joseph, a mother named Mary, and a wife named Mary, and then concludes that it's 1 in 600 that this wasn't Jesus of Nazareth. What should have been asked instead was how many Jesus's in Jerusalem would have had a father named Joseph and two female relatives named Mary--and the answer is: a whole heck of a lot! Joseph, Jesus, and Mary were very common names in 1st-century Israel (e.g., 1 in 4 women were named Mary!). One statistician on Witherington's blog calculates that the actual odds that this IS Jesus' tomb are (at best) 1 in 400--IOW, highly unlikely! And if you throw in the fact that we have no evidence at all (outside this tomb) that the NT Jesus had a son or a close relative named Matthew, then the odds get even worse.
2. The Names. The program postulates that Mary Magdalene was also known as Mariamne (a dimunitive form of Mary), and they cite a second century Gnostic text, The Acts of Philip, as proof. There are two problems here. First, there is no evidence from the first century to confirm this view (Mary Magdalene is consistently referred to as "Mary" in the NT) and simply taking the Gnostic text's word for it is anachronistic. Second, the Mariamne in the Acts of Philip is described as the the sister of Philip and is nowhere identified as Mary Magdelene. Also, the show says that the term "Mara" on the same ossuary means "master", and thus shows that Mariamne (Mary) was a leader in the Christian Church and this supports the view that it was Mary Magdalene in that tomb. However, "Mara" is a well-known, shortened variant of "Martha." So, the ossuary inscription simply reads "Mary Martha" and indicates either that one woman had two names or that two women were buried in the same ossuary.
Also, it is important to point out that Jesus is nowhere called by his friends and followers in any documents we have "son of Joseph" (cf. Luke 3:21). The fact that this phrase occurs on the ossuary is a huge prima facie reason to deny that this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. And when we add that another name in the tomb (Matthew) is nowhere else associated with Jesus' family, the basis for that denial is even stronger.
Have they found the lost tomb of Jesus? I don't think so.
Jan 31, 2007
However, the more I watch the program, the more I find myself analyzing its underlying philosophy and worldview. There is no doubt that the show is "politically conservative" and that's why a lot of conservatives rave about it, I'm sure. But, all kinds of ethical issues and questions come up if you pay close attention. Questions about the justice of war. Questions about the morality of torture in wartime. Trust and honesty (or the lack thereof). Many of the ethical decisions made by the characters (esp. the main character Jack Bauer) seem based on utilitarian considerations--the idea that what's right is bringing about the most happiness for the most people--though there are times when Jack makes more principled decisions as a deontologist would.
I would be very interested in what any readers out there think about 24 from a Christian and/or ethical viewpoint. Are the themes in the show and the actions of its protagonists consistent or inconsistent with Christian belief? Or sometimes consistent and sometimes not? How and when?