Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Philosophy and Science: Physicist George Ellis' Comments on Krauss, Hawking, and Tyson

Back in July of 2014 John Horgan interviewed George Ellis for Scientific American.  Ellis is a physicist-mathematician-cosmologist who co-authored the 1973 work The Large-Scale Structure of Space-Time with Stephen Hawking.  The full interview is worth reading but here are a few fascinating excerpts with specific reference to the need for philosophy to undergird good science and what happens when bad philosophy enters the scientific enterprise.  NOTE: All bold-face type is added by me.

Horgan: Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. Do you agree?
Ellis: Certainly not.  He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities, including variational principles, quantum field theory, specific symmetry groups, a bubbling vacuum, all the components of the standard model of particle physics, and so on. He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did.  And he gives no experimental or observational process whereby we could test these vivid speculations of the supposed universe-generation mechanism. How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.
Thus what he is presenting is not tested science. It’s a philosophical speculation, which he apparently believes is so compelling he does not have to give any specification of evidence that would confirm it is true. Well, you can’t get any evidence about what existed before space and time came into being.  Above all he believes that these mathematically based speculations solve thousand year old philosophical conundrums, without seriously engaging those philosophical issues. The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. As pointed out so well by Eddington in his Gifford lectures, they are partial and incomplete representations of physical, biological, psychological, and social reality.
And above all Krauss does not address why the laws of physics exist, why they have the form they have, or in what kind of manifestation they existed before the universe existed  (which he must believe if he believes they brought the universe into existence). Who or what dreamt up symmetry principles, Lagrangians, specific symmetry groups, gauge theories, and so on? He does not begin to answer these questions.
It’s very ironic when he says philosophy is bunk and then himself engages in this kind of attempt at philosophy. It seems that science education should include some basic modules on Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, and the other great philosophers, as well as writings of more recent philosophers such as Tim Maudlin and David Albert.

Horgan: Krauss, Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson have been bashing philosophy as a waste of time. Do you agree?
Ellis: If they really believe this they should stop indulging in low-grade philosophy in their own writings. You cannot do physics or cosmology without an assumed philosophical basis. You can choose not to think about that basis: it will still be there as an unexamined foundation of what you do. The fact you are unwilling to examine the philosophical foundations of what you do does not mean those foundations are not there; it just means they are unexamined.
Actually philosophical speculations have led to a great deal of good science. Einstein’s musings on Mach’s principle played a key role in developing general relativity. Einstein’s debate with Bohr and the EPR paper have led to a great of deal of good physics testing the foundations of quantum physics. My own examination of the Copernican principle in cosmology has led to exploration of some great observational tests of spatial homogeneity that have turned an untested philosophical assumption into a testable – and indeed tested – scientific hypothesis. That’ s good science.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Does Biology Need Darwinism...Really?

Philip S. Skell is Emeritus Evan Pugh Professor at Pennsylvania State University, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His research has included work on reactive intermediates in chemistry, free-atom reactions, and reactions of free carbonium ions.

He has written a provocative piece entitled "Why Do We Invoke Darwin?" 

Here are a few excerpts: 

Darwin's theory of evolution offers a sweeping explanation of the history of life, from the earliest microscopic organisms billions of years ago to all the plants and animals around us today. Much of the evidence that might have established the theory on an unshakable empirical foundation, however, remains lost in the distant past. For instance, Darwin hoped we would discover transitional precursors to the animal forms that appear abruptly in the Cambrian strata. Since then we have found many ancient fossils – even exquisitely preserved soft-bodied creatures – but none are credible ancestors to the Cambrian animals.
Despite this and other difficulties, the modern form of Darwin's theory has been raised to its present high status because it's said to be the cornerstone of modern experimental biology. But is that correct? "While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky's dictum that 'nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,' most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas," A.S. Wilkins, editor of the journal BioEssays, wrote in 2000.1 "Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one."
I would tend to agree. Certainly, my own research with antibiotics during World War II received no guidance from insights provided by Darwinian evolution. Nor did Alexander Fleming's discovery of bacterial inhibition by penicillin. I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No.
I also examined the outstanding biodiscoveries of the past century: the discovery of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; the development of new surgeries; and others. I even queried biologists working in areas where one would expect the Darwinian paradigm to have most benefited research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I found that Darwin's theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss.
In the peer-reviewed literature, the word "evolution" often occurs as a sort of coda to academic papers in experimental biology. Is the term integral or superfluous to the substance of these papers? To find out, I substituted for "evolution" some other word – "Buddhism," "Aztec cosmology," or even "creationism." I found that the substitution never touched the paper's core. This did not surprise me. From my conversations with leading researchers it had became clear that modern experimental biology gains its strength from the availability of new instruments and methodologies, not from an immersion in historical biology.
He ends the article with this:
Darwinian evolution – whatever its other virtues – does not provide a fruitful heuristic in experimental biology. This becomes especially clear when we compare it with a heuristic framework such as the atomic model, which opens up structural chemistry and leads to advances in the synthesis of a multitude of new molecules of practical benefit. None of this demonstrates that Darwinism is false. It does, however, mean that the claim that it is the cornerstone of modern experimental biology will be met with quiet skepticism from a growing number of scientists in fields where theories actually do serve as cornerstones for tangible breakthroughs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Problem of Evil Videos by Dr. Greg Ganssle

Below are three short videos put together by Dr. Greg Ganssle (Yale University) on the problem of evil.  The first video outlines the deductive problem of evil.  The second video responds to the deductive problem of evil.  The third video outlines and responds to the evidential problem of evil.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Denying the Historicity of Adam and the Resurrection of Jesus

As evangelicals continue to debate the historicity of Adam it is helpful to see how others have argued.  There are those like Peter Enns who deny the historicity of Adam but still hold to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is argued that there is no necessary connection between the two beliefs.  Yet it is instructive to see how the argumentation used by Enns to argue against Adam has been used by others to argue against the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Here, for example, are a few quotations from Enns arguing that the belief in Adam found in Scripture by Jesus and Paul is to be explained by accommodation to the times.

As a child of Israel’s traditions, Paul uses the theological vocabulary available to him and so names the root cause of that universal dilemma [death] as Adam and his disobedience.
 By saying that Paul’s Adam is not the historical first man, we are leaving behind Paul’s understanding of the cause of the universal plight of sin and death.  But this is the burden of anyone who wishes to bring evolution and Christianity together—the only question is how that will be done.[1]
 …Paul’s culturally assumed explanation for what a primordial man had to do with causing the reign of death and sin in the world.  Paul’s understanding of Adam as the cause reflects his time and place.[2] 
Paul, as a first-century Jew, bore witness to God’s act in Christ in the only way that he could have been expected to do so, through ancient idioms and categories known to him and his religious tradition for century upon century.  One can believe that Paul is correct theologically and historically about the problem of sin and death and the solution that God provides in Christ without also needing to believe that his assumptions about human origins are accurate.  The need for a savior does not require a historical Adam.[3] 
Thesis 7: A proper view of inspiration will embrace the fact that God speaks by means of the cultural idiom of the authors—whether it be the author of Genesis in describing origins or how Paul would later come to understand Genesis.  Both reflect the setting and limitations of the cultural moment.[4]

Using this same type of reasoning others have gone on to deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ--reducing it to a metaphor.  Consider these thoughts from Gerd Ludemann and Roy Hoover:
 Gerd Ludemann
 If Jesus was raised as the Gospels tell us, where did he go afterward?  As all of us know, Acts of the Apostles tells us that he went to heaven.  But I would like to ask my opponent whether he really thinks Jesus went to heaven.  That is to say, what we are dealing with in the New Testament texts are images of people of a specific time that cannot be equated with facts.  And if you take one of the elements out of the sequence—resurrection, ascent to heaven and then heavenly return—the whole thing will collapse.[5] 
I think that if we can’t say where Jesus went after he was on earth and if we have to exclude that he went to heaven, we have to look for the clearest hypothesis to explain all the texts.  Anybody who says that he rose from the dead is faced with another problem that I shall address later—namely, if you say that Jesus rose from the dead biologically, you would have to presuppose that a decaying corpse—which is already cold and without blood in its brain—could be made alive again.  I think that is nonsense.[6] 
In other words, belief in his resurrection, ascension to heaven and immediate return are mythological elements of the faith of the first-century Christians, which we cannot take as simple descriptions of fact.[7]

Roy Hoover 
The first thing one comes to recognize is that the credibility of the idea of resurrection is dependent on two basic concepts that prevailed in Hellenistic Judaism and in early Christianity, two concepts that were assumed to be true by religious Jews and by the first generations of Christians.  One is a certain concept of God.  The idea of the resurrection of the dead is dependent on faith in a God who is believed to be the Creator and Ruler of the whole cosmos and faith that this God created human beings in God’s own image and likeness.  The logic of a resurrection faith, both in first-century Judaism and in first-century Christianity, is that if this God has the power to create the world and human life in the first place, then this God has the power to re-create the world and human life as well.  Further, the God who created the world is also the God who rules the world with goodness and justice.  This sovereign God will raise the dead in order to demonstrate the reality of divine sovereignty.  In the end, goodness and justice must prevail in this world, if this God really is the world’s ruling power.  The idea of the resurrection of the dead is dependent on this understanding of God.  If this God really is God, then the resurrection of the dead is a reasonable hope.  That is the logic of ancient resurrection faith. 
The idea of the resurrection of the dead is also dependent on a certain view of the cosmos, namely that the cosmos has a three-level structure: the earth is the middle part; above the earth is heaven or the heavens, the space occupied by God and the angels; below the earth is Hades, the realm of death and the powers of evil.  Given this map or picture of the cosmos, it seemed plausible to virtually all ancient peoples that divine powers could and did intervene in the affairs of human beings. 
Indeed, such interventions were to be expected.  They were special manifestations of the divine power responsible for the everyday order and life of the world (compare the relationship between Odysseus and Athena in Homer’s Odyssey, as well as the relationship between Aeneas and Jupiter in Virgil’s Aeneid).  Resurrection was understood by both Jews and Christians in the first century C.E. as such divine intervention, one in which God would end the anarchy of human history and inaugurate a new world order in which God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. 
If the idea of resurrection both in Hellenistic Judaism and in early Christianity is dependent on a particular concept of God and a particular picture of the cosmos, it is credible as long as that concept of God and that picture of the world are credible.  If that concept of God and that worldview lose their credibility, ideas and beliefs that are dependent on them lose their credibility as well. 
And that, in fact, is what happened with the coming of modern scientific knowledge about the physical and natural world.  Thanks to Copernicus and Galileo, sunrise and sunset have become merely figures of speech for us rather than literal descriptions of the sun’s movements, as those terms were for all peoples in antiquity.  And thanks to Darwin and his successors, we have come to see ourselves as the offspring of a long, evolutionary process who occupy a particular and highly significant place in the process, namely the point at which the evolutionary process has become conscious of itself, as the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it in The Phenomenon of Man. 
In short, the ancient worldview on which the idea of resurrection is dependent has been replaced by a modern worldview based on the findings of modern science.  And with that profound change in worldview, the literal statements about the resurrection of the dead and the resurrection of Jesus have lost their literal meaning, as Ludemann has said.[8]

Let it be clearly understood, the argument is not that Enns denies the resurrection of Jesus.  He claims otherwise.  The idea presented here--in short form--is that the structure of argumentation used by Enns to deny Adam also has implications for the resurrection of Jesus.  The kinds of arguments used by Enns and others have been extended to cover other ground which does impinge on central matters of the faith.  

[1] Peter Enns. The Evolution of Adam, p. 123.
[2] Ibid., p. 124.
[3] Ibid., p. 143.
[4] Ibid. 
[5] Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? A Debate Between William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann edited by Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli (IVP, 2000), p. 40.

[6] Ibid., p. 45.
[7] Ibid., p. 62.
[8] Ibid., pp. 140-142.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jesus Did Mention Homosexuality!

There is an argument that continues to be used that says that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality.  This is supposed to be of some consequence since many of those making this argument seem to imply that if Jesus had mentioned homosexuality they would change their views to match his.  Even if it be granted that Jesus didn’t specifically mention homosexuality there is still the need to accurately place Jesus in his first century Jewish context.  Consider these words from J. P. Meier:

On sexual matters, Jesus and the Essenes tend in the same direction: stringent standards and prohibitions… In a sense, one could call both Jesus and the Essenes extreme conservatives … apart from the two special cases of divorce and celibacy, where he diverged from mainstream Judaism, his views were those of mainstream Judaism.  Hence there was no pressing need for him to issue or for the earliest Christian Jews to enshrine moral pronouncements about matters on which all Law-abiding Jews agreed.  If almost all Jews agreed that acts of fornication and adultery were wrong, there was no reason for Jesus, who shared these views (see, e.g., Mark 7:21-22; Luke 16:18) to exegete the obvious.[1]

Nevertheless, it may be the case that Jesus did speak directly to the issue of homosexuality in his teaching.  Below are some excerpts from an article by G. Thomas Hobson, “σέλγεια in Mark 7:22,” Filologia Neotestamentaria 21 (2008), 65-74.  (A pdf of this article can be found HERE).

It is commonly claimed that Jesus never speaks one word about homosexuality.  However, one can argue to the contrary that he actually speaks two.  As we look at his list of sins in Mark 7, we find two words that arguably include homosexual behavior within the scope of their meaning.  One is the term πορνεία (sex outside of marriage), a word which has been much studied and commented upon.  The other is the word σέλγεια, on word on which precious little study has been done. (p. 65)

Hobson mentions William Barclay’s comment that σέλγεια may be possibly the “ugliest word” in the list of New Testament sins.  Hobson comments:

It’s a word that Jesus (translated through the tradition that Mark presents) could easily turn to as a synonym for homosexual activity and other similarly shocking behavior forbidden by the Jewish law. (p. 65)

Hobson goes on to engage in a lexical study of the word looking at its usage in classical Greek, pre-New Testament, and post-New Testament contexts. 

Jewish writers almost always use this word in its sexual sense.  It appears that what βδέλυγμα was to idolatry, σέλγεια was to πορνεία: sin taken to its most disgusting degree… The term may have been used to refer to what were regarded as the most shameless violations of the sexuality taught in the Torah. (p. 67)

Hobson notes that σέλγεια is used ten times in the New Testament: Mark 7.22; Romans 13.13; Galatians 5.19; 2 Corinthians 12.21; Ephesians 4.19; 1 Peter 4.3; 2 Peter 2.2, 7, 18; Jude 4.  The references in 2 Peter are especially noteworthy, as Hobson points out:

Second Peter uses σέλγεια more than any other NT document.  It links σέλγεια explicitly with the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, picturing Lot (2 Pet 2,7) as “greatly distressed by the licentiousness (σέλγεια) of the wicked” around him (probably not referring to their failure to show hospitality). (p. 68)

Hobson notes that Jesus’ usage of this term only appears in Mark.  Hobson takes the accepted view of Mark’s audience that it was primarily a Gentile audience.

Only Mark has σέλγεια on his list also.  It would appear that the writer of Mark, writing for a general audience, saw a need to spell out an element of Jesus’ teaching that addressed a sexual lifestyle issue among Gentiles, a matter that was less of an issue for Matthew’s predominately Jewish audience.  Furthermore, for some reason, neither πορνεία nor μοιχεία specifically addressed the sexual sin he had in mind.  It is likely (particularly in light of a text such as Melito, De Pasc. 389-94) that Jesus was speaking of violations of the Torah such as homosexual behavior, incest, or bestiality, rather than comparatively less shocking sins such as adultery and fornication. (p. 70)

Hobson ends his article with these thoughts:

Exactly what did Jesus consider to be “utter shamelessness”?  What did he consider too far “over the line”?  The danger is to impose twenty-first century AD politically correct ideas on Jesus.  It is unlikely that Jesus used the word to describe the scandals of poverty and injustice.  It is unlikely that he was speaking of mere affronts to “common decency” (whatever that means).  In context, it is far more likely that Jesus had in mind what his fellow Jews (like the author of 2 Peter) meant when they used the word: images of Sodom and Gomorrah, images of outrageous violation of the one-flesh union of man and woman.  Jesus would likely have shared Jude’s concern about those who “twist the grace of God into σέλγεια” (Jude 4).

If Jesus had wished to speak of homosexual behavior in his list of sins that defile the human heart, to what other word could Mark have turned in his translation?  Παιδεραστία was too narrow a term.  ρσενοκοίτης had barely been coined by Paul.  And πορνεία is too broad a concept, although it is the only word Matthew chooses to use in his version of Jesus’ sin list.  σέλγεια was an ideal word for identifying both homosexual behavior and other similar sexual sins of which even the Mishnah was reticent to speak any more than was absolutely necessary.  It appears that the situation demanded that the subject be addressed for Mark’s mixed audience of Jews and Gentiles, but not for Matthew’s Jewish-Christian audience.

σέλγεια reveals itself as a shamelessness that knows no boundaries, a shocking brazen disregard for any kind of morality.  Did Jesus use this word as a synonym for homoerotic activity and other similar acts from which Jews (along with many Gentiles) recoiled in horror?  One cannot prove beyond doubt that Jesus had this meaning in mind, but a plausible case can be made that he did.

The appearance of σέλγεια on the lips of Mark’s Jesus must be accounted for somehow, and it will not do to say that a word of such shock value as σέλγεια was a throw-away detail, or was intended as nothing more than a synonym for πορνεία or μοιχεία.  Yes, these three words may overlap in meaning, but in a context where all three are used together as part of a standard trio of sexual vices, and particularly in a first century AD Jewish context, where σέλγεια is virtually always used in a sexual sense, it is likely that all three terms are intended to convey specific meanings: fornication, adultery, and the most shocking sexual offenses named in the Torah.  It is argued here that, as he seeks to faithfully communicate Jesus’ teaching, Mark found it necessary to emphasize to his readers that Jesus did explicitly reaffirm the Torah’s prohibition of the most shocking sexual offenses, of reaffirmation that Matthew did not find it necessary to make to his readers.

Jesus says that both πορνεία and σέλγεια come from the heart, along with murder, theft, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness (Mark 7,21-3).  As the debate about sexuality continues in today’s society, Jesus’ words about shameless disregard for boundaries in the area of sexual behavior deserves further consideration in this debate. (pp. 72-74)

     [1] J. P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, volume 3 (New York, 2001), 502-503 as quoted in G. Thomas Hobson, “σέλγεια in Mark 7:22,” Filologia Neotestamentaria 21 (2008), 73.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Houston Sermons Subpoenaed: Russell Moore on "Why Not Hand Them Over?"

Russell Moore asks and answers the question Why Not Just Hand the Sermons Over? as he discusses the recent events in Houston, Texas.  His answer is short but covers a great deal of ground in answering basic types of objections.  Here are few items from the blog post:
These questions come really in two or three different forms. The first is based on Romans 13, the Apostle Paul’s teaching that the government has God-given authority. We submit to government, the argument goes, even when we don’t agree with specific government policies. So why not just send in the subpoenaed sermons, even if we don’t like it, since we have nothing to hide.
The problem with this view is that Romans 13 is not an unlimited authority. Paul clearly bounds in the power of Caesar’s sword to the punishing of “wrongdoers” (Rom. 13:4). That’s why the Apostle says that taxes are to be paid, along with honor and respect, to those to whom such things are due (Rom. 13:7). On the opposite side of the spectrum from Romans 13 is Revelation 13, which demonstrates what happens when a government oversteps its bounds, as was the case eventually in the Roman Empire’s attempt to regulate worship.
Every authority, under God, is limited. Daniel is obedient to King Nebuchadnezzar, until the king decreed the way prayers should be offered. Peter and John are obedient to the authorities, until they are told how to preach, in which case they defy this authority (Acts 4:19-20).
Moreover, the issue is even clearer when we recognize that the City of Houston, and beyond that the broader American governing system, is, unlike in the case of Caesar, not the rule of one man (or one woman). There were all sorts of governing officials up and down the chain in the Roman Empire, but the ultimate accountability was Caesar himself. In our system of government, the ultimate “king” is the people. As citizens, we bear responsibility for electing officials, for speaking to laws that are made in our name, and for setting precedents by our actions. Shrugging this off is not the equivalent of Jesus standing silently before Pilate. It’s the equivalent of Pilate washing his hands, so as not to bear accountability for our own decisions and precedents set.
When the government acts, legal precedents are set. By complying with this unjust decree, Christians would be binding future people and institutions, including those who are the most powerless to stand against such things. If the government can scrutinize the preaching of Christian churches on sexual matters in Houston, the same government could do the reverse in, say, Amarillo. It would be just as wrong for the mayor to demand to see sermons from the Episcopal Church calling for LGBT anti-discrimination laws as it is to do this. As citizens, we bear responsibility. This is analogous to the tax collectors and soldiers coming to John and to Jesus asking how they are to function as Christians in the world of Caesar. They were not to use their power to defraud people or to go beyond their delegated authority (Lk. 312-14; 19:8).
It sounds spiritual and pious to say that we are just going to “give up our rights” and “surrender our place at the table.” We should indeed do that. When we are stricken on the cheek, we turn the other one. When someone takes our tunic, we give up our cloak as well (Matt. 5:40-41). That’s quite different though from those who have been given police authority ignoring assaults; such is injustice decried by Scripture. And it’s quite different from a soldier forcibly collecting cloaks because “you ought to be giving those up anyway.”
That’s why the Apostle Paul, quite eager to give up his personal rights (1 Cor. 11:7-11), appealed to his Roman citizenship repeatedly in the Book of Acts, litigating for liberty. And that’s why he, like John and Peter, refused to comply with a decree that was unjust (Acts 16:35-39).
Be sure to read the rest of the post and see Moore's answer to the following question:
But, some would ask, aren’t these sermons public anyway? Why would we not want the mayor and the city attorney to hear them?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

God's Covenant Love: He Provides the Blood

Imagine! The Creator of the universe, the holy and righteous God, was willing to leave heaven and come down to a nomad’s tent in the dusty, hot desert of the Negev to express his love for his people. 

“Bring me a heifer, a goat, and a ram…along with a dove and a young pigeon,” God told Abraham. Then, when those animals had been sacrificed and laid out on both sides of their shed blood, God made a covenant. To do that, he walked “barefoot,” in the form of a blazing torch, through the path of blood between the animals. 
Think of it. Almighty God walking barefoot through a pool of blood! The thought of a human being doing that is, to say the least, unpleasant. Yet, God, in all his power and majesty, expressed his love that personally. By participating in that traditional, Near Eastern covenant-making ceremony, he made it unavoidably clear to the people of that time, place, and culture what he intended to do. 

“I love you so much, Abraham,” God was saying, “and I promise that this covenant will come true for you and your children. I will never break my covenant with you. I’m willing to put my own life on the line to make you understand.” 

Picturing God passing through that gory path between the carcasses of animals, imagining the blood splashing as we walked, helps us recognize the faithfulness of God’s commitment. He was willing to express, in terms his chosen people could understand, that he would never fail to do what he promised. And he ultimately fulfilled his promise by giving his own life, his own blood, on the cross. 

Because we look at God’s dealings with Abraham as some remote piece of history in a far-off land, we often fail to realize that we, too, are part of the long line of people with whom God made a covenant on that rocky plain near Hebron. And like those who came before us, we have broken that covenant. 

When he walked in the dust of the desert and through the blood of the animals Abraham had slaughtered, God was making a promise to all the descendants of Abraham--to everyone in the household of faith. When God splashed through the blood, he did it for us
We’re not simply individuals in relationship to God, we’re part of a long line of people marching back through history, from our famous Jewish ancestors David, Hezekiah, and Peter to the millions of unknown believers; from the ancient Israelites and the Jewish people of Jesus’ day to the Christian community dating from the early church. We’re part of a community of people with whom God established relationship in the dust and sand of the Negev. 

But there’s more. When God made covenant with his people, he did something no human being would have even considered doing. In the usual blood covenant, each party was responsible for keeping only his side of the promise. When God made covenant with Abraham, however, he promised to keep both sides of the agreement. 

“If this covenant is broken, Abraham, for whatever reason--for my unfaithfulness or yours--I will repay the price,” said God. “If you or your descendants, for whom you are making this covenant, fail to keep it, I will pay the price in blood.” 

And at that moment, Almighty God pronounced the death sentence on his Son Jesus.
--Ray Vander Laan with Judith Markham, Echoes of His Presence: Stories of the Messiah from the People of His Day (Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family, 1996), 8-9.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Roman Catholic Flow Chart: The Sacramental Treadmill

John Bugay has the following chart in his piece entitled Motivations.  He refers to this as the Roman Catholic "sacramental treadmill."

Click HERE to go to another page with flow chart which can be enlarged.

Next Comes...Incest

It wasn't all that long ago when defenders of traditional marriage would seek to argue against same-sex "marriage" by asking about the logical implications of such a view.  The argument had the structure of a reductio ad absurdum: If you allow same-sex marriage, the same reasoning could be used to justify polygamy and incestuous relationships.  This, of course, was laughed at and mocked as being an over-the-top slippery slope kind of argument.  Well, now a German ethics committee has laid the foundations for incest to be considered a "fundamental right."An article in The Telegraph entitled "Incest a 'Fundamental Right', German Committee Says" begins in this way:
Laws banning incest between brothers and sisters in Germany could be scrapped after a government ethics committee said the they were an unacceptable intrusion into the right to sexual self-determination.
“Criminal law is not the appropriate means to preserve a social taboo,” the German Ethics Council said in a statement. “The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family.”
The article did end with the thought that this "ethics" council reasoning would not be accepted:
But a spokeswoman for Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats indicated the government was unlikely to adopt the Ethics Council’s recommendations.
“The abolition of the offense of incest between siblings would be the wrong signal,” said Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, legal policy spokeswoman for the party’s group in parliament.
“Eliminating the threat of punishment against incestuous acts within families would run counter to the protection of undisturbed development for children.”
The important thing to note, however, is that the German council's ethical reasoning is based on "the fundamental right of sexual self-determination."  If this premise is accepted then it is only a matter of time before the laws of the land come to consistently express this viewpoint.  The premises which have been used to endorse same-sex marriage are the same premises which will invariably lead to greater sexual anarchy.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Silliness of Bultmann

Over at The Jesus Blog they are offering to give away a new book on Rudolf Bultmann.  To enter you have to leave a comment about Bultmann.  Here was my comment:

Favorite comment about reading Bultmann comes from philosopher Dallas Willard:

"Thus Rudolf Bultmann, long regarded as one of the great leaders of twentieth-century thought, had this to say: 'It is impossible to use electric light and wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.'

To anyone who has worked through the relevant arguments, this statement is simply laughable. It only shows that great people are capable of great silliness." The Divine Conspiracy, p. 93

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Prayer for Muslim Lands

The following was over at Kevin DeYoung's blog.  It is a beautiful and theologically rich prayer for those in Muslim lands.  Samuel M. Zwemer (1867-1952) was called "The Apostle to Islam."  This prayer is from 1923.

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who hast made of one blood all nations and hast promised that many shall come from the East and sit down with Abraham in thy kingdom: We pray for thy prodigal children in Muslim lands who are still afar off, that they may be brought nigh by the blood of Christ. Look upon them in pity, because they are ignorant of thy truth.
Take away pride of intellect and blindness of heart, and reveal to them the surpassing beauty and power of thy Son Jesus Christ. Convince them of their sin in rejecting the atonement of the only Savior. Give moral courage to those who love thee, that they may boldly confess thy name.
Hasten the day of religious freedom in Turkey, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa. Send forth reapers where the harvest is ripe, and faithful plowmen to break furrows in lands still neglected. May the tribes of Africa and Malaysia not fall prey to Islam but be won for Christ. Bless the ministry of healing in every hospital, and the ministry of love at every church and mission. May all Muslim children in mission schools be led to Christ and accept him as their personal Savior.
Strengthen converts, restore backsliders, and give all those who labor among Muslims the tenderness of Christ, so that bruised reeds may become pillars of his church, and smoking flaxwicks burning and shining lights. Make bare thine arm, O God, and show thy power. All our expectation is from thee.
Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son in the Muslim world, and fulfill through him the prayer of Abraham thy friend, “O, that Ishmael might live before thee.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Some Recent Posts on Christianity and Sexual Ethics

As the sexual anarchy of our culture continues to march on at increasing speed a number of evangelicals are attempting to provide guidance on how to live in such a time.

Michael Kruger has written One of the Main Ways that the Earliest Christians Distinguished Themselves from the Surrounding Culture.  He cites a number of second century Christian sources that show their view on sexual ethics.  Here is a sampling of Kruger's post:

For instance, Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need.  But, then he says, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why does he say this?  Because, in the Greco-Roman world, it was not unusual for people to share their spouses with each other.
In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author goes out of his way to declare how normal Christians are in regard to what they wear, what they eat, and how they participate in society.  However, he then says, “[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners” (Diogn. 5.7).  Again, this is the trait that makes Christians different.
We see this play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides.  Aristides defends the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union” (15).
A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix.  In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:
Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all (31).
This sampling of texts from the second century demonstrates that one of the main ways that Christians stood out from their surrounding culture was their distinctive sexual behavior.  Of course, this doesn’t mean Christians were perfect in this regard.  No doubt, many Christians committed sexual sins.  But, Christianity as a whole was still committed to striving towards the sexual ethic laid out in Scripture–and the world took notice.
Needless to say, this has tremendous implications for Christians in the modern day.  We are reminded again that what we are experiencing in the present is not new–Christians battled an over-sexed culture as early as the first and second century!
Albert Mohler has written Why the "Concordance Reflex" Fails in Sexuality Debates.  In this post he speaks of the necessity of having a nuanced approach to the text of Scripture in order to address issues not specifically mentioned in Scripture.  Here are few selections:

As the church responds to this revolution, we must remember that current debates on sexuality present to the church a crisis that is irreducibly and inescapably theological. This crisis is tantamount to the type of theological crisis that Gnosticism presented to the early church or that Pelagianism presented to the church in the time of Augustine. In other words, the crisis of sexuality challenges the church’s understanding of the gospel, sin, salvation, and sanctification. Advocates of the new sexuality demand a complete rewriting of Scripture’s metanarrative, a complete reordering of theology, and a fundamental change to how we think about the church’s ministry.

Is 'Transgender' in the Concordance?

Proof-texting is the first reflex of conservative Protestants seeking a strategy of theological retrieval and restatement. This hermeneutical reflex comes naturally to evangelical Christians because we believe the Bible to be the inerrant and infallible Word of God. We understand that, as B. B. Warfield said, “When Scripture speaks, God speaks.” I should make clear that this reflex is not entirely wrong, but it’s not entirely right either. It’s not entirely wrong because certain Scriptures (that is, “proof texts”) speak to specific issues in a direct and identifiable way.
There are, however, obvious limitations to this type of theological method—what I like to call the “concordance reflex.” What happens when you are wrestling with a theological issue for which no corresponding word appears in the concordance? Many of the most important theological issues cannot be reduced to merely finding relevant words and their corresponding verses in a concordance. Try looking up “transgender” in your concordance. How about “lesbian”? Or “in vitro fertilization”? They’re certainly not in the back of my Bible.
It’s not that Scripture is insufficient. The problem is not a failure of Scripture but a failure of our approach to Scripture. The concordance approach to theology produces a flat Bible without context, covenant, or master-narrative—three hermeneutical foundations essential to understand Scripture rightly.

Mohler goes on to discuss the issue of transgenderism in terms of the larger Biblical Theological categories: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation.

Michael Brown's Appeal to Joel and Victoria Osteen

Michael Brown has recently written what is essentially an open letter to Joel and Victoria Osteen calling them to greater faithfulness to the Lord.  This is important in that Dr. Brown is a defender of the charismatic movement against the likes of such staunch critics like John MacArthur.  Dr. Brown shows himself willing to publicly rebuke those elements in the charismatic arena that need attention.  Below is the just a few paragraphs of Dr. Brown's letter.  Be sure to read the full letter HERE.

Dear Joel and Victoria, I hope and pray that you will read this letter and that you take to heart the things I'm sharing. I write as a friend wanting to help, not an enemy wanting to hurt, and everything I write, I write out of love for God, love for you, and love for the church and the world.
I have said many times that I'm glad to see your smiling faces on TV as you speak about Jesus rather than some stern-faced, joyless, angry Christian leader. And I believe you genuinely do care about people and want them to find wholeness in the Lord.
Joel, I appreciate the fact that you end every service by asking people to get right with God, having them pray a prayer where they say to Jesus, "I repent of my sins, come into my heart, I make you Lord and Savior."
The big problem is that you haven't told them what their sins are, and you haven't told them what real repentance is. And since you are speaking to people around the world, you can't possibly assume that all of them understand the meaning of sin and redemption and repentance. (Most American Christians don't even understand these things today.)
In short, you have not shared with them the whole counsel of God, and by telling them only part of the story, you have done what the false prophets of ancient Israel did: "You superficially treat the fracture of My people saying to them, 'All is well, all is well,' when nothing is well" (Jer. 6:14, my translation).
A true physician tells his patients what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. As one preacher of old, Jean Daille, once said, "Ministers are not cooks, but physicians and therefore should not study to delight the palate, but to recover the patient."
Have you been more of a junk-food cook than a physician? Have you been afraid to tell people their true condition? Have you been so concerned with making them feel good about themselves and giving them a sense of hope that you failed to diagnose their terminal sin disease?
Paul said to the elders of Ephesus, "I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27).
Do you really believe in your heart of hearts that you have declared the whole counsel of God to your listening audience?
God has given you one of the largest platforms for the gospel in human history. Can you say before Him that you are "innocent of the blood of all"?
Have you ever taught extensively on the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount? Have you ever worked your way through one of the letters of Paul? If not, why not?
Proverbs tells us that, "Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue" (28:23). Do you believe God's Word, or do you feel you have found a better way to do His work?
I appreciate the fact that you hold up your Bible before you preach, as your father did, and you have people make a confession about God's Word, as you also learned to do from your father. But do you really preach that holy Word?
Shortly before Paul was martyred for his faith, he reminded Timothy that, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16).
He also gave him this solemn commission: "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
Is this your pattern of preaching and ministry? Do you rebuke in love (Prov. 27:5) as well as exhort and encourage?
Perhaps it's time to ask yourself honestly where you fit in this warning from Paul: "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths" (2 Tim. 4:1-4).
Wouldn't it be utterly heartbreaking if, on the day you stand before God, you discovered that you were one of these teachers? Wouldn't it be tragic if your efforts were found to be wood, hay and stubble on that great and glorious Day (1 Cor. 3:11-15)? And may I ask you candidly if you even talk about that holy day of accounting?