ROSES Smell Better than a TULIP

I have never been a connoisseur when it comes to flowers. In fact, on one Valentine’s Day, I sought to be a good husband and bought my wife some flowers. The store where I purchased them had a great deal. So, again thinking that I was being a good husband, I bought what I thought were roses. Unfortunately, it turned out that the flowers were tulips, explaining why the store had such a great deal on the flowers. My wife and I had a good laugh over my blunder. While the tulips were nice, roses would have been much better.

Theologians like acronyms. Calvinists from the time of the Synod of Dort have contrived an acronym explaining the core concepts of Calvinism. The acronym is TULIP. TULIP stands for the following:

Total depravity: Man[1] is incapable of saving himself and is paralyzed by a sin nature.

Unconditional election: God has elected to save some and allows others to be condemned.

Limited atonement: Christ only died for the elect and not for the world.

Irresistible grace: Man does not have the ability to respond to the grace of God by himself. He needs the Holy Spirit to help him respond.

Perseverance of the saints: The elect will persevere in their faith.

The acronym holds problems with many texts of the Bible. For instance, the Bible notes that a person can resist the Spirit of God, even to the point of quenching the Spirit of God (Acts 7:51; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). In addition, there are several passages that indicate that God wishes to save all even though not all will be saved (2 Peter 3:19; Ezekiel 18:23). Also, the Bible presents the idea of a degree of human free will, something that otherwise makes the law of God seem somewhat bizarre.

Molinists, Congruists, Arminians, and even some Calvinists have adopted a better acronym to describe the truths of the Bible. Kenneth Keathley, in his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, provides an acronym first presented by Timothy George.[2] The acronym is ROSES. It is interesting that George is a Calvinist and Keathley a Molinist and they both agree that ROSES is much preferable to TULIP. This brings to mind, what does the acronym ROSES indicate? ROSES represents the following:

Radical depravity: This takes the place of total depravity, the T of TULIP. Radical depravity, as Keathley notes, “more correctly emphasizes that every aspect of our being is affected by the fall and renders us incapable of saving ourselves or even of wanting to be saved.”[3] Radical depravity allows for libertarian viewpoints, especially soft libertarianism as argued by Keathley, as it “contends that interaction between character and free choice is a two-way street, providing for a better model of human responsibility.”[4] The varying ideas of determinism and libertarianism will be discussed in a future article.

Overcoming grace: This doctrine takes the place of irresistible grace, the I of TULIP. Overcoming grace is the idea that God’s continual calling overcomes the wicked nature of a person to allow a free response. Keathley presents an “ambulatory model”[5] which recognizes two fundamental principles: the monergistic grace of God (that is, God is the only worker in salvation); and grace is resistible (that is, God offers grace to all, but the difference is the rebellion of the unbeliever as contrasted with the reception of the believer).[6]

Sovereign election: Sovereign election takes the place of unconditional election, the U of TULIP. This doctrine affirms that God desires the salvation of all, but provides it for a few. This is possible to the three modes of knowledge that God holds: natural knowledge, which indicates God’s knowledge of all necessary truths; God’s free knowledge, which refers to those things which will occur in the future; and God’s middle knowledge, which represents God’s knowledge of what free creatures would do in certain circumstances. Sovereign election upholds both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of mankind.

Eternal life: The doctrine of eternal life replaces the P (perseverance of the saints) of TULIP. Instead of claiming that the elect will be saved and persevere, eternal life emphasizes that believers are transformed by the grace of God and are given a faith that will remain. The former leaves one in a constant state of flux, whereas the latter provides assurance as indicated when fruits of the Spirit and the internal witness of the Spirit are observed.

Singular redemption: The last doctrine, singular redemption, replaces the L (limited atonement) of TULIP. Simply put, singular redemption holds that Christ’s death was sufficient for the salvation of all, but efficient only for the elect, those who would respond to the Spirit’s call.

ROSES is a much better acronym for the truths of Scripture than is TULIP. As noted earlier, Timothy George, the innovator of the acronym, was himself a Calvinist. The acronym provides the ability to naturally accept the two fundamental truths provided in Scripture in that God is sovereign and that people are responsible for their actions. Thus, of the array of flowery acronyms, I much prefer the smell of ROSES to that of a TULIP.

© October 10, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

George, Timothy. Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative—Our Response. Nashville: Lifeway, 2000.

Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.

Notes

[1] The terms “man” and “he” are used in this article to describe individuals of both sexes.

[2] Timothy George, Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative—Our Response (Nashville: Lifeway, 2000), 71-83; referenced by Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 2.

[3] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 3.

[4] Ibid., 64.

[5] Ibid., 104.

[6] Ibid., 105.

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A Review of “God and Time: Four Views”

Ganssle, Gregory E., ed. God & Time: Four Views. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001. $24.00. 247 pages. Contributors: Paul Helm, Alan G. Padgett, William Lane Craig, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Of the issues in theology, God’s relationship to time has become one of the most complex. How does God relate to time? This question is coupled with two theories of time. A-theory (or the process theory) holds that time moves from one point to another in a unidirectional line. The B-theory of time (or the stasis theory) holds that time essentially stands still. B-theorists holds that the process of time is an allusion and time itself is rather static, or unmovable. I readily admit that I have had the book God & Time: Four Views on my shelf for quite some time and have anticipated the time when I could read it as this topic has become interesting to me. Recently, I was able to accomplish that task. Gregory Ganssle edits the book God & Time: Four Views. (Note: it is essential that the reader reads through Ganssle’s introduction. Ganssle provides a necessary background for the complex issues that lie ahead.) The book has four contributors, all holding different perspectives about how God relates to time.

 First, Paul Helm (J. I. Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.) argues for the divine timeless eternity view. That is, God is absolutely timeless and exists beyond the scope of space-time. Helm holds a version of the B-theory of time, although it could be said that there is a combination of A-theory and B-theory in his viewpoint. While Helm offers one of the most traditional views (and perhaps most biblical), Helm seems to one one hand argue that the universe is co-eternal with God, while on the other hand holding that the universe is a special creation of God coming into existence at a particular point. Elements of Helm’s argument were quite persuasive. However, I was left somewhat confused and bewildered at his explanation. It seemed that Helm argued for a beginningless, beginning for all of creation as Helm did not seem to hold to creation ex nihilo, which is quite odd.

Next, Alan G. Padgett (Professor of Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.) argues for the relative timelessness view. Padgett holds the A-theory of time. He argues that God is timeless and remains timeless despite creation. God, thus, operates in a sequence of events in eternity. Yet, God operates in time taking part of the sequential aspect of space-time. Overall, Padgett offered a compelling argument. I was left, however, unsatisfied with his argument of divine foreknowledge. Padgett argues that God knows the future. But since the future has not happened, it seemed that Padgett accepted some limitation in divine foreknowledge. (Note: I may have misunderstood Padgett in this regard.)

William Lane Craig (Research Professor, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, La Mirada, CA) holds what is called timelessness and omnitemporality view. William Lane Craig, one of the greatest Christian philosophers and apologists of our time, holds the view that God was timeless before creation began, but then became temporal (in time) when creation came into being. I was not surprised by Craig’s argument. I previously read Craig’s work Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time. My major qualm with Craig’s view is that the theologian is left accepting divine immanence without transcendence. Christian theologians have accepted for the vast majority of church history the duality of God’s transcendence and immanence. In fact, theism tends to rest upon such understanding. God is not time. God is not creation. God is outside the realm of both. Plus, since God created time, this view seems to limit God by the scope of His creation, something problematic when it comes to divine omniscience and omnipotence. Therefore, while I greatly respect William Lane Craig and his work, I hold reservations with his views pertaining to God and time.

Finally, Nicholas Wolterstorff (Noah Porter Professor of Philosophy, Yale Divinity School, New Haven, CT) argues the unqualified divine temporality view. Wolterstorff holds that God has always been temporal, acting in time. While God is everlasting, God acts in a sequential mode. Creation takes part in that sequence of time. However, many physicists accept that time is a created thing, coming into being when the universe first started. Of all the views presented, I was least satisfied with Wolterstorff’s view.

I had waited for some time to read this book. Unfortunately, I was left largely dissatisfied. Some contributors were far better than others. It’s interesting that Thomas Aquinas was used to prove nearly all of the four viewpoints. From my reading of Aquinas, I feel he would accept Helm and Padgett’s viewpoints more than any other. Nevertheless, this reader was left wondering if there could not be a fifth view. It seems that one could posit a view where God is outside the scope of time and able to see all points of created space-time (like Helm’s argument), but operated in a sequential modus operandi (as found in Padgett’s viewpoint), and related to creation (as found in Craig and Wolterstorff’s cases). While some views seemed more reasonable than others, none seemed to capture the classic theological viewpoint that I had hoped for.

I give this book three out of four stars. I think the book is an important work. One will find, though, that the book is not an easy read. Those who have not had exposure to philosophy and the God and time debate will struggle with this read. I would suggest reading up on the issues of God and time before engaging this work. Be sure to thoroughly read Ganssle’s introduction also as it will help immensely.

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Copyright, September 10, 2016. Brian Chilton.

“People Do Not Come to Faith by Arguments!” 4 Objections to Apologetics

Some time ago, I was in a meeting with pastors and other church leaders from various backgrounds discussing a potential ministry opportunity. I noted the importance that apologetics plays in the realm of collegiate ministries, especially with the mainstream attacks on Christianity from ultra-liberal voices. For instance, the collegiate ministry known as Ratio Christi has held a profound positive influence on the intellectual and spiritual lives of college students across the nation. To my surprise, one particular ministry leader said, “It’s my experience that people are not brought to faith by arguments.” The statement was shocking enough. However, I was even more bewildered by some who seemed to agree with him. I replied, “What do you say of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace who were former atheists and became believers because of the evidence for the Christian faith?” The conversation quickly moved to a different topic.

I do not tell this story to demonize or demoralize anyone. The denominational worker who voiced opposition to apologetics was a good, caring individual who loves the Lord and the people he serves. However, we must engage the question he presented. Do logic and argumentation bring people to faith or are such disciplines useless endeavors? The mission statement of Bellator Christi is that it exists to take up the sword of Christian theology and the shield of classical apologetics in order to take Christian truth into the arena of ideas. But if people are not argued into the faith, this ministry would seem a bit futile, at least in the latter portion of the mission statement. So, are apologetic argumentations necessary? This article will review 4 common objections given to apologetics by the modern church. Each objection will contain an explanation and an appropriate reply.

Objection #1: Arguments do not bring people to faith.

The ministry leader I mentioned posed the first objection against the use of Christian apologetics. This objection claims that arguments do not really bring people into faith. Faith is a matter of the heart, not of the mind.

Reply:

One could provide several replies to the first objection. To keep the post brief, I will present only two. First, objection 1 is in reality a self-defeating statement. How so? Well, the objector is presenting an argument to persuade others that arguments do not persuade. The objection is much like someone claiming to be a married bachelor or saying “I cannot speak a word of English” in English.

Second, the Bible presents several examples where people came to faith or were persuaded to faith by various argumentations. For instance, the miracles and teachings of Jesus provided a case for His claim to be Messiah. The miracles served as a sign. Why were such signs offered? Signs were provided to present an argument for the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus argues that “the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). In addition, Jesus challenged His adversaries to “search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Other examples could be offered such as Paul’s defense of the faith before various groups of people, including the Athenians. Consider Philip’s argumentation to the Ethiopian that Isaiah 53 referred to Jesus of Nazareth. All such arguments were used to bring people to faith.

Objection #2: The Holy Spirit brings people to faith, so argumentation is useless.

Some people have objected to the use of Christian intellectual arguments due to the assumption that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. If the Holy Spirit leads people to faith, then why should one worry about intellectual argumentation.

Reply:

Let me first say, I wholeheartedly agree that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. Jesus noted that when the Holy Spirit comes that He would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because you do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11). While the Holy Spirit convicts, we are told that we have a part to play in the evangelism process. Jesus also told the disciples before His ascension, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). One could argue; If the Holy Spirit brings people to faith, then why evangelize? Christians evangelize because God commanded us to do so. Through the preaching of the Word, people are convicted by the Holy Spirit to come to faith. The Holy Spirit uses our evangelistic efforts to save people. The same is true for apologetics. Intellectual argumentation is often used by the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith. While the majority of Athens did not follow Christ after hearing Paul’s intellectual defense of the faith, the Book of Acts states that “some men joined him and believed, among whom were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:34).

Another problem I have with this statement stems from the spirit of laziness that exists in some Christians today. I heard a person tell a pastor, “You don’t have to study to preach. Just follow the Holy Spirit.” While I wholeheartedly agree that a person should follow the Holy Spirit, I also accept that the Scripture tells us the “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). How does a person test a spirit? One tests a spirit against the Word of God. Testing spirits require study. I truly believe that it is the increased biblical illiteracy and lack of study that has led the modern church into many great heresies.

Objection #3: No one has ever come to faith through argumentation.

Anti-apologetic apologists argue that no one comes to faith through intellectual argumentation. Why bother if no one comes to faith through argumentation?

Reply:

This is an easy objection to answer. The claim is false. Many have come to faith through intellectual argumentation for the faith. Among such converts include: C. S. Lewis (famed English professor and writer), Josh McDowell (author of countless Christian books), Lee Strobel (former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, atheist turned Christian pastor and writer), Fazale Rana (Christian biologist), and J. Warner Wallace (former Los Angeles cold-case homicide detective turned Christian apologist). These individuals only scratch the surface of those who have come to Christ because of the evidence for Christianity.

Objection #4: If someone is argued into faith, then someone could be argued out of faith.

Lastly, objectors to Christian apologetics often claim that if it is by evidential argumentation that one comes to faith, then one could be easily led astray by some other persuasive argumentation.

Reply:

This objection holds two problems in my estimation. 1) The objector does not understand the power of the Holy Spirit. If Christianity is true and a person comes to faith in Christ, then the Scripture states that the Holy Spirit will abide with the repentant person (John 14:15-16). Jesus notes that the Holy Spirit would lead a believer in truth (John 15:26-27). Thus, it would appear that the objector places less value on the power of the Holy Spirit than the advocate of Christian apologetics.

2) In addition, the objector must consider the following point. If Christianity is true, then it will always remain true. The truthfulness of Christianity will never change. Truth is unchangeable. Thus, if a person is truly convicted of the claims of Christianity and truth does not change, then the person (although doubts may come) will not leave the faith due to the truth claims.

Conclusion:

While I respect the objections made and the people who make them, it cannot be said that such objections hold any merit or value. Christianity is true. Period. If Christianity is true, then it is worth defending. If Christianity is true, eternity is at stake. Some people do come to faith when they are met with the evidences for Christianity. It may be true that some people do not require the same level of evidence that other people require. But, refusing apologetics to the one who needs it is like refusing insulin to a diabetic because not everyone needs insulin. It is, to a degree, a categorical mistake. Remember, Peter tells us, as has been noted several times before, that we must “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Check out this video by Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason as he engages this issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cS2xGUj5KQ

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

© August 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.

The Harassment of Humanity in the Harambe Hoopla

Like many of you, I have been inundated by the media buzz surrounding the killing of the gorilla Harambe. Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you know that the gorilla Harambe was killed by the zookeepers at the Cincinnati Zoo due to a 3-year-old child falling into the gorilla’s enclosure. Let me say from the beginning: the whole event was tragic. It was tragic that the gorilla had to be killed. It was a tragedy that the little 3-year-old suffered the horror of falling into the enclosure before being drug around the water while suffering great injury by the 450-pound beast. It is a tragedy! Far more troubling is the feedback that reactionary, controversy-loving, internet moguls have had pertaining to the case. Many people across social media have begun protesting the gorilla’s death. Some naturalist protesters have even issued threats to the mother of the 3-year-old boy. All-in-all, this harassing reaction has brought to mind modern thinking that demonstrate great areas of concern, none of them having to do with the animal’s death, but the devaluation of human life. Let’s look at three areas of concern that stems from harassment from internet activists.

  1. It troubles me that a parenting is being harassed.

I am the proud parent of a hyper-active 7-year-old boy. As any parent will tell you, it is easy for a child to do something ridiculously absurd in a matter of moments. Some protesters have claimed, “The mother should have kept a better eye on the child.” My first reaction to this claim is, “Have you ever had children?!?” If you have, you should know better. I privy myself a very protective parent. Some have even said, too protective. Yet, my son in a moment’s notice has fallen off a chair, run towards the road, reached for a camp fire, nearly fell out of a loft, and knocked down and nearly carried off by the ocean’s waves. All-the-while, I kept a “close eye” on him. Any parent will tell you, things can go crazy in parenting quickly.

Parenting is tough. It does not come with an instruction manual. Kids will be kids. So, to claim that a parent should be held accountable for a necessary action to save her child from certain death is absolutely absurd! Such a notion demonstrates the low societal view placed on the family unit, especially parenting. Kids are undesirable for some. However, the protesters must remember one thing: the protesters were once children. I am certain that they did things that were nearly as ridiculous as falling into a gorilla cage. Their actions may not have caused such a tragic event, but it is possible that they could have. What is the difference? The childhood actions of the protesters did not receive national attention as did this mother and young child. This leads to another area of concern in the realm of expertise.

  1. It troubles me that expertise has been harassed.

The professionals at the Cincinnati Zoo had to make a quick decision. They could either preserve the life of the gorilla while risking the life of the child or they could kill the gorilla and ensure the safety of the child. “Why didn’t the zookeepers use a tranquilizer?” many have asked. Professional zookeepers who deal with large animals on a daily basis have noted that tranquilizers would take too long and, as Jack Hanna noted, would have “aggravated him [the gorilla] further.”[1]

Unfortunately, society has become so self-obsessed that many feel themselves a highly-trained, professional voice on all matters. While the internet has allowed many voices to be heard (which is good), it has also enabled self-aggrandized opinions, which have little ground upon which to stand. The internet has provided a soap-box with a microphone for these uninformed opinions (which is not always good). The uninformed opinions are given the same weight as professionally informed expertise (which is really not good).

In example, I have read posts where the authority of scholars such as Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, and others have been demoted by self-appointed scholars who seek to dismiss the resurrection of Jesus. Why? It had nothing to do with the research of Habermas and Licona but everything to do with the conclusions that Jesus’ resurrection is historically authentic. The self-appointed scholars offered no rebuttal of substance. No evidence to the contrary was given. The antagonists simply desired for their uneducated opinions pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus (and anti-religious sentiments) to hold the same weight as these gentlemen who have spent countless hours and years researching the topic.

Take another example. Say that a medical doctor tells you that you have a particular issue which requires immediate action (e.g. the removal of your gall bladder). Your next door neighbor claims, “Ah, it’s something you ate. No need for surgery.” Whose advice holds greater weight? I hope you say your medical doctor does. So then why must we think that we know more about zookeeping than professional zookeepers?

Note: I am not saying that non-scholarly opinions are not important. However, the facts given by the experts must be given a great deal of weight. Experts can be wrong, and sometimes are. But to demonstrate an expert wrong, the proponent must have substantial evidence proving the contrary. When zoologists and zookeepers tell us that a tranquilizer will not work effectively with a 450-pound gorilla when a child’s life on the line, I will gladly accept professionally informed insight over the layman’s opinion any day.

  1. It troubles me that human life has been harassed.

Most troubling to me is the fact that human life has been demoted lower than that of animal life. The Christian worldview holds that human life holds the highest value. When God created humanity, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).[2] Humanity has been given a great responsibility with the natural world. God said in Genesis, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). Humankind was meant to have dominion over the earth. Instead, modern society has allowed the earth to have dominion over humanity.[3]

In a sense, Christians are called to be humanists and environmentalists. By humanists and environmentalists, I am neither referencing secular humanism nor naturalism. I am, nonetheless, claiming that the believer should hold a high value for human life and should hold a high degree of responsibility for the natural world. Society would do well to place the same value upon human life.

Conclusion

Please note: I am not saying that I take any pleasure in the death of the gorilla Harambe. Like many others, I feel that the entire situation was tragic. I am, rather, claiming that human life holds the greatest value. Make no mistake, the Cincinnati zookeepers had no desire whatsoever to kill this gorilla which they loved so dearly. The zookeepers had to make a quick decision. Would they save the life of the gorilla only to threaten the life of an innocent 3-year-old boy? Or would they kill the gorilla to ensure the young boy’s safety? The zookeepers made the right decision! If it had been my son, I would hope that the staff would have done the same. I am not a malicious person. I despise horror movies because I cannot stand watching someone or something harmed even in a fictional film. I take no pleasure in seeing any of God’s creatures suffer harm. Nevertheless, I would rather that 10 gorillas were shot to ensure that one innocent child was spared. Why? Do I hate gorillas? Absolutely not! I admire the gorilla’s enormous strength and grandeur. Gorillas are part of God’s great creation. Rather, I feel that human life has enormous value, the utmost value. While often straying from the plan of God, humanity bears the image of the Creator. My prayer is that modern society will see human life as God sees it—lives that are worth tremendous value.

 

© June 8, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Note

[1] Jack Hanna, quoted by Chuck Campbell, “Jack Hanna Defends Cincinnati Zoo’s Decision to Kill Gorilla,” USA Today.com (May 31, 2016), retrieved June 8, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/nation-now/2016/05/31/jack-hanna-zookeeper-knoxville-cincinnati-zoo-gorilla-killed/85181272/.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] I am not dismissing environmental efforts. Rather, I am rejecting the notion that human life is of less value than other life forms on earth.

The 5 Views of Morality

I recently read Gregory E. Ganssle’s book Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy. In his book, Ganssle provides 5 particular views pertaining to morality. As one examine these views, it becomes clear that one view of morality stands above and beyond the value of the other moral opinions. Many of these lesser viewpoints have invaded the mindset of many modern individuals. However, it becomes clear that only one is valid. So, what are the five views of morality?

The Error Theory

Ganssle describes the error theory as one that “holds that there are no moral facts. This theory denies them altogether.”[1] This theory holds that it is factually wrong to claim any form of morality. Thus, one could not say whether it is wrong or not to torture an animal or person. The error theory, while held by some philosophers, could be attributed to some Eastern religions which claim that good and evil are just illusions and not real.

From the outset, one should be able to deduce the great problems found in the error theory. For instance, the one who claims that the error theory is correct will dismiss such a theory the moment the advocate claims some form of act (i.e. racial discrimination, the Holocaust, terrorist acts, etcs.) as wrong. Thus, the error theory collapses upon itself as most everyone will acknowledge the existence of good and bad behaviors.

Individual Relativism

Individual relativism is best explained by the classic phrase, “What’s good for you may not be good for me.” That is, individual relativism is the belief that the individual sets forth his or her own morality. Thus, one person cannot tell another person what is right or wrong according to this theory as each person must decide good from bad themselves.

Upon careful examination, anyone can see the great problem with this theory. For example, if person A (we’ll call him Adam) is driving along and person B (we’ll call him Bob) steals Adam’s car, Adam may say, “Hey, that’s not right.” But according to individual relativism Bob would be justified in saying, “Hey man, it’s not right for you but it is for me!” However, we all know that it is morally wrong for anyone to steal another person’s car. A judge in a court of law will let Bob know quickly about the failures of his philosophy when sentencing him to jail time.

Why do so many jump on board with this philosophy? I think Ganssle is correct in saying that “I…think that people do not want other people to tell them what to do and that people do not want to tell others what to do. If morals are individually relative, then no one can tell you that something is wrong.”[2] Passivity, however, do not justify wrong thinking. Neither does a prideful heart. Individual relativism implodes the moment the individual relativist is a victim to an immoral act.

Cultural Relativism

Cultural relativists try to correct the problems of individual relativism while maintaining to the idea of moral relativism. The cultural relativist does so by claiming that morality is set by the cultural mores of an area. That is, “What is right or wrong is determined by one’s culture or society.”[3] While cultural relativism holds more of a base than does individual relativism, the theory still holds a major flaw.

Most people are horrified by the ruthless brutality of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and extremist terror groups. However, if one accepts cultural relativism, then there is no basis for condemning such actions. For Hitler, he felt that he was doing the right thing according to his flawed moral viewpoint. Yet, cultural relativists hold no ground to condemn beheadings, gas chambers, and mass bombings if each culture establishes their own moral code. The cultural relativist begins to think more objectively than relative in such cases, as they should.

The Evolutionary Theory of Morality

The fourth theory is called the evolutionary theory of morality. According to this theory, it is held that treating other people in good ways rather than bad helped the human species to survive. Thus, the theory holds that morality falls in line with Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” philosophy. However, it is apparent that the theory holds some flaws.

Ganssle rightly notes that the evolutionary theory of morality “does not explain morality.”[4] Setting aside one’s acceptance or rejection of the evolutionary theory, this moral theory does nothing to define morality. For the evolutionary theorist, morality coincides with survival of the human species. This brings us to another flaw. Many societies have sought to destroy other groups of human beings. Catastrophic wars do not seem to help the human race survive. Rather than helping the species survive, war often threatens human existence. Wars are fought with both sides thinking they are correct. Therefore this theory tends to find itself in a form of cultural relativism which we have already denounced.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us with the final theory of morality which appears to be the clear choice.

Objective Morality

Thankfully with the failures of the first four models, a fifth option exists. There is the objective morality theory. Norman Geisler defines objective morality as the following:

“Morality deals with what is right, as opposed to wrong. It is an obligation, that for which a person is accountable.

An absolute moral obligation is:

an objective (not subjective) moral duty—a duty for all persons.

an eternal (not temporal) obligation—a duty at all times.

a universal (not local) obligation—a duty for all places.

An absolute duty is one that is binding on all persons at all times in all places.”[5]

Thus, objective moralists view morality as transcendent reality which applies to all individuals and societies. An objective moral is held by all people. This seems to be the case. While different tribes and societies hold different outlooks on peripheral matters of morality, the core morals are the same especially among those of their own tribe. It is wrong to murder. It is wrong to steal. It is wrong to commit adultery. And so on. Even so, we can conclude that objective morality is the correct viewpoint. Furthermore, we can deduce as did Norman Geisler in that

“Moral absolutes are unavoidable. Even those who deny them use them. The reasons for rejecting them are often based on a misunderstanding or misapplication of the moral absolute, not on a real rejection of it. That is, moral values are absolute, even if our understanding of them or the circumstances in which they should be applied are not.”[6]

Objective morals, thus, point towards the necessity of an objective law (or moral) giver. That objective lawgiver is none other than God.

 

© March 7, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 Sources Cited

 Ganssle, Gregory E. Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Notes 

 [1] Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 90.

[2] Ibid., 92.

[3] Ibid., 92.

[4] Ibid., 95.

[5] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 501.

[6] Ibid., 502.

Does Evil Exist?

Recently on ABC, I watched the 20/20 interview conducted by Diane Sawyers as she interviewed Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold—one of the teenage shooters in Columbine High School. The interview was interesting, heart wrenching, and disturbing at the same time. It was interesting as one was able to peer into the life of Dylan Klebold; heart wrenching as one could sense the pain of the mother; and disturbing to witness how a normal teenager’s heart could turn so cold.

Of particular interest was a conversation that Sawyer had with Klebold and Dr. Mary Ellen O’Toole, former FBI profiler. Sawyer asked Klebold, “Do you believe in evil?” Klebold responded, “I don’t think so. I don’t think I do.” The documentary then shifts to O’Toole who states, “Evil is a spiritual term. And it doesn’t have any legal or behavioral meaning. So I stay away from it.” Now earlier Sawyer asked Dr. O’Toole, “Did Dylan know right from wrong?” She replied, “Yes, but it did not preclude him from planning and going through with [the shooting.”[1]

My heart breaks for those involved in this tragedy. Yet I found myself pondering this question: in the face of such evil, how can one deny evil’s existence? Perhaps to accept the presence of evil, Klebold would have to accept that her son had been influenced by evil. Is evil only a spiritual term as O’Toole suggests? What exactly is evil anyway?

The term “evil” defined.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines evil as “1. morally reprehensible, arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct; 2. Causing discomfort or repulsion; 3. Causing harm, marked by misfortune.”[2] Augustine offers a good definition of evil in that “evil is nothing but the removal of good until finally no good remains.”[3] Thomas Aquinas adds that

“since every nature desires its own being and its own perfection, it must be said also that the being and the perfection of any nature is good. Hence it cannot be that evil signifies being, or any form of nature. Therefore it must be said that by the name of evil is signified by the absence of good. And this is what is meant by saying that ‘evil is never a being nor a good.’ For since being, as such, is good, the absence of one implies the absence of the other.”[4]

Thus we find that evil has two constituent parts. First, it is the absence of good. In addition, one progressively finds that the more evil one accepts, the more evil one will become.

Evil is the absence of good.

I think Augustine and Aquinas do well in defining evil as the absence of good. The Bible demonstrates in several places the absolute goodness (or holiness) of God (Isaiah 6:3; Rev. 4:1-8). However, humanity has fallen into sin (or activities that oppose the holiness of God, which actions would inherently would be evil). Thus, human beings find one of two options: salvation in Christ (forgiveness so that one can live righteously) or rebellion (living and relishing in sin). Therefore, individuals have only one of two lifestyle choices that leads to one of two options: living a life of righteousness (choosing the good) or a lifestyle of rebellion (choosing the evil). The psalmist notes that “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).[5] Therefore, good is the absolute rule. Evil is a deviation from the good. Therefore Augustine and Aquinas are correct in asserting that evil is the absence of good.

Evil is progressive in its hold.

Aquinas adds that “Good and evil are not constitutive differences except in morals, which receive their species from the end, which is the object of the will, the source of all morality.”[6] In other words, a person is not born evil. Yes it is true that all of us are born into sin and that “none is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). However, every person stands guilty before God meaning that people are responsible for choosing the evil over the good. Paul notes that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Yet, evil is also progressive in its hold. This is the reason that many in the New Testament use the metaphor of light (representing good) and dark (representing evil). Paul notes that people who continue down the path of evil will become more and more depraved. Paul states that “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). I heard once from a person who stole that the first time a person steals, it is very difficult. But the more times a person steals and gets away with the theft, the easier it becomes. Evil is like a cancer that overtakes a person the more the person walks in darkness.

Conclusion

Sue Klebold, undoubtedly, carries an enormous weight upon her shoulders. However, she must realize that the evil that transpired in Columbine was not her doing. It was not her fault. She did everything in her power to raise her son right. While I am tremendously sympathetic to Sue Klebold and greatly appreciative to the work of Dr. O’Toole, I must respectfully, however, disagree with their take on evil. Good and evil are very much real. While goodness is an attribute of God (since he is the essence of goodness) and evil is the absence of good, it must be understood that good and evil stem from the actions and choices that one makes. If one is genuine in their faith and seeks the sovereignly good God, then a person has started down the path of goodness. But if one forgets the two great commandments (love God and love others) then one may very well traverse down the path of evil. Unfortunately, Dylan Klebold is an example of one who journeyed down the path of evil. The results of such evil speaks for itself.

 

© February 29, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 Sources Cited

 Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica: The Complete Edition. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014. Kindle.

Augustine of Hippo. Confessions. Translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin. New York; London: Penguin, 1961.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Accessed February 29, 2016. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evil.

 

Notes

 [1] Sue Klebold, interview with Diane Sawyers, 20/20, YouTube video (February 12, 2016), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHRcF-pFGYI.

[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evil.

[3] St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions III.7, R. S. Pine-Coffin, trans (New York; London: Penguin, 1961), 63.

[4] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.48-49, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, trans (New York: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014), Kindle.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[6] Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.48-49, Kindle.

Did Aliens Create Life?

Did aliens create life? For some, this question may be bizarre. However, I have recently been approached by more than one person inquiring about the possibility. Much of this inquiry stems from popular shows like Ancient Aliens or even Alien Encounters. Wild-haired personality Giorgio A. Tsoukalos popularized the view that many of the stories in the Bible involved personal encounters not with alien life forms rather than the divine.

im-not-saying-that-it-was-aliens-but-it-was-aliens
Giorgio A. Tsoukalos

It may surprise you to discover that even Richard Dawkins accepts the view of panspermia, that life was planted by alien life forms. In the movie Expelled, Ben Stein asks famed atheist Richard Dawkins the following:

What do you think is the possibility that intelligent design might turn out to be…um…the answer to some of the issues in genetics…”

Dawkins replies, “Well it could come about in the following way: It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved by probably some kind of Darwinian means by a very high level of technology and designed a form of life they seeded on this type of planet. Um…now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry of biology you might find a signature of some form of designer. And that designer could be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe. But that form of intelligence must come from an explicable process.”

 Stein remarked, “Wait a minute! Richard Dawkins thought intelligent design might be a legitimate pursuit!”[1]

stein and dawkins
Dawkins answering Stein on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

 It seems like Dawkins does not have so much an issue with intelligent design as much as he does God. Are aliens the answer for life? Well, to give a complicated answer: no. I submit three reasons for why God’s existence is necessary rather than aliens to account for life.

God’s existence, rather than aliens, is necessary in being.

We must distinguish between necessary beings and contingent beings. This section may be a bit complicated for one who has not had experience in philosophy; for we deal with an ontological concept. Norman Geisler describes necessary beings as “one who cannot not exist (if it exists at all). But what cannot not exist has no potential for nonexistence. And what exists with no potential not to exist is Pure Existence.”[2] Philosophically complex? Yes. But, we can simplify the concept.

The issue comes down to this: something that absolutely is required to exist, exists. Let me explain the concept by the following illustration. You are reading these words on your device. These words are not random. They have meaning. Therefore, these words are contingent (dependent) upon the existence of an author (i.e. me). In this case, then, the words are contingent and my existence is necessary. The words prove my existence. However, when taken further, my existence is contingent upon the necessary existence of two other people (my parents). Because I exist, one can verifiably know that my parents exist. In this case, I am a contingent being and my parents are necessary beings. Push this far enough back to the first humans, then something has to account for all of life. God’s existence (an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, conscious Mind) is necessitated by the existence of anything that exists.

God’s existence, rather than aliens, is necessary in creation.

This second point develops from the first. Whereas the first point engages the idea of ontology (the study of being), the second examines the question cosmologically. Even if aliens do exist, the creatures (sentient or not) would be contingent beings like ourselves as they would require an explanation for their existence as they would be finite creatures. Evidence continues to further prove the case that the universe if finite. Thus, anything that was born into this universe without a prior existent endowment and by sheer natural means is a limited creature.[3] If aliens are biological creatures born into this universe, then aliens are not the ultimate creators of life. They could never be. Therefore, aliens could not account for the creation of life and the universe as the finite universe requires an infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving Mind. Sheer logic dictates as much. Thus, God’s existence is necessitated by creation and not aliens.

God’s existence, rather than aliens, is necessary in purpose.

The final case for God’s necessity over that of aliens deals in the realm of teleology. The book of Genesis notes that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).[4] The universe seems to have a purpose. Wayne Grudem makes the following observation, “If God created the universe to show his glory, then we would expect that the universe would fulfill the purpose for which he created it.”[5] If aliens created life, then life would have no purpose outside of being the result of a high school science experiment. If aliens created life, then there would be no sense of morality as morality requires the existence of a Supreme Good (i.e. God). Most importantly, if aliens created life, then there would be no hope for final restitution of creation. Life has been given purpose. The fact that humans possess a will, desire, and the ability to tell good from evil provides yet another reason to reject the idea of panspermia (i.e. that aliens planted life).

Conclusion

Even if it could be demonstrated that aliens planted life, the existence of God would still be mandatory. Why? Because someone had to develop the method by which life would grow. Someone would be responsible for the creation and development of alien life. Someone would still be responsible for the creation of the universe and all the laws of physics found within. As I noted before, the existence of anything necessitates the existence of an eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, Mind. We know that being to be the God presented in the Bible. While it may be fun to contemplate the existence of aliens (and who knows, aliens could exist), we should note that the potential existence of such life forms do nothing to eliminate the necessity of God’s existence. God is responsible for the creation of life, not ET.

 

© February 21, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Bibliography

 Dawkins, Richard. Interviewed by Ben Stein. “Ben Stein vs. Richard Dawkins Interview.” YouTube. In Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed: No Intelligence Allowed (2008). Accessed February 21, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlZtEjtlirc.

Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Notes

[1] Richard Dawkins, interviewed by Ben Stein, “Ben Stein vs. Richard Dawkins Interview,” YouTube, from Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed: No Intelligence Allowed (2008), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlZtEjtlirc.

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 418.

[3] Notice that the statement is worded as such to exclude Christ was existed before he was born (John 1:1).

[4] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 272.

Where is Your Ultimate Authority Found? The 7 Loci of Authority

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).[1] Jesus’ classic statement is found in his famous sermon named the “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus says that whatever is most central to a person will control that person. That central focus serves as a chain reaction which penetrates every aspect of a person’s life. So what controls your life? At the time that this article was written, I have over 12 years of ministry experience under my belt. That being said, I have found that seven categories normally serve as the central focus for a particular person. The central focus determines how the person views the world around them and how the person processes information. We will call these seven categories the “locus of authority.”

1) The Locus of Authority in the Self.

Many in the secular humanist camp places ultimate authority in what a person can know or do. Ultimately, the authority is found in the self. When one holds the self as one’s locus of authority, everything in the world revolves around the person’s ego. It is a self-obsession. However, can truth be found only in the self? Ultimate truth cannot be determined only by the self. It exists beyond the scope of person’s opinions.[2] 10 times 10 will always equal 100 regardless of a person’s being. Also, the person will find that there are times when he/she must depend on someone outside of oneself. Therefore, the self is a poor avenue to find one’s locus of authority.

2) The Locus of Authority in the Family.

Some place the locus of their authority in their family. Obviously, one should care for the needs of one’s family. A person’s family should hold a high value to them. However, often people will demote truth claims and one’s moral convictions if a person’s family member is involved in some false or immoral behavior. The person who holds the locus of authority in the family will use excuses like, “Well, he couldn’t help that he robbed the bank. Others made him do it. He is really a good boy at heart.” Or, “Well, she has cheated on her husband five times. But, her husband is a lowlife anyhow.” Or even, “That video may show my son attacking that other person. But, I think the video lied.” In such cases, truth and morality are lowered or eliminated to excuse the bad behavior of the member of one’s family. This is why many change their outlook on particular issues if a member of their home is engaged in such an activity. Problematically, such a mentality actually enables further bad behavior from the family member.

3) The Locus of Authority in the Culture.

Some hold the locus of their authority in their culture. This is far more prevalent than one might think. Throughout history, people have left their morality and truth behind just to gain popularity with those nearest to them. Churches have allowed errors and even perhaps heresies in their midst all in the name of tradition. Churches that hold an “us versus them” mentality are especially prone for this mindset. Lynchings, slavery, and other egregious actions have been permitted, sometimes even in the name of God, only due to the person holding their locus of authority in the culture. But what if the culture is engaged in immoral activities? In such a case, culture fails as the ultimate authority.

4) The Locus of Authority in Entertainment–Sports/Hobbies.

For some, the locus of their authority is found in a far baser genre—that of entertainment. Some will shift their entire schedules around in order to participate in a particular sport or hobby. Their authority is found in the governing bodies of particular sports. If everyone in the sport chews gum, the person will chew gum. If everyone chews tobacco, so will they. If everyone free falls off a cliff, they will join the flight. In schools that hold entertainment as the locus of their authority, athletes will be held to a far lower academic and moral standards than the regular student. Entertainment should not serve as the locus of one’s authority as it is flimsy and holds few standards.

5) The Locus of Authority in Academics/Science.

For some, the locus of one’s authority is found in the established acceptance of particular theories and models. However, John Lennox warned in a conference a few years back that one should “remember that at one time academia thought that the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth” (Lennox 2012, NCCA). While discoveries and the like should be accepted and understood, it must be remembered that in the wise words of Frank Turek, “science doesn’t say anything, scientists do. Scientists are the ones who must gather the data and interpret it properly. Science doesn’t do that” (Turek 2014, 146). It is important to note that data must be interpreted and that theories often change. Thus, there must be a more stabilized form of authority for a person’s life.

6) The Locus of Authority in Politics–National/Government.

For many, the locus of one’s authority is found in their political system. Atrocious activities throughout history have been permitted from national and political regimes without as much as a peep of disdain from the faithful. Even now, people allow for the murder of innocent babies and immoral behaviors all in the name of politics. If one allows a political system to hold the locus of authority in one’s life, rest assured that such an authority will not afford ultimate truth and morality.

7) The Locus of Authority in God.

Thus far, one has found bad examples of ultimate authority. Luckily, there is yet another category. This is the authority to which Jesus was directing his hearers, as he does today. The ultimate authority for a person’s life should be found in Almighty God. God is the best basis for one’s locus of authority. First, God is unchangeable. The writer of Hebrews notes that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:9). Malachi speaking for God writes, “For I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6). James notes that good gifts come from God “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Second, God’s morality does not change as he is the ultimate good. The psalmist writes that God’s “steadfast love is good” (Psalm 109:21). On certain occasions someone will acknowledge God in a tripartite “holy” which demonstrates God’s ultimate goodness (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).

Conclusion

When one seeks to find an ultimate source of authority for one’s life, the authority should be unchangeable, eternally true, and morally perfect. God is the only being in heaven or on earth or under the earth that could ever meet such a standard. All other standards fail and falter. Let God be the locus of authority for your life. As Norman Geisler said, “An ultimate commitment to anything less than ultimate will not ultimately satisfy” (Geisler 2015).

Copyright. October 19, 2015. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

Geisler, Norman. “The Idea of God.” National Conference on Christian Apologetics. Lecture (2015). Calvary Church. Charlotte, NC.

Lennox, John. National Conference on Christian Apologetics. Lecture (2012). Central Church of God. Charlotte, NC.

Pascal, Blaise. Pensees and Other Writings. Translated by Honor Levi. Oxford, UK; New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Turek, Frank. Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Blaise Pascal holds a wonderful point on this matter. He writes, “I feel that I might never have existed, since my self consists in my thinking. So I who think would never have existed if my had been killed before my soul had been created. So I am not a necessary being. I am neither eternal nor infinite. But I can certainly see that in nature there is an essential, eternal, and infinite being” (Pascal IX.167, 44).

Football Fights and the Fall

Today, I heard a news report that discussed the growing problems of violence among high school football players towards referees and officials. Those working in the realm of high school athletics said that there needed to be “zero-tolerance” for players who assaulted officials or other players on the field and for coaches who promoted such actions. I whole-heartedly agree. However, as it was noted on the newscast, it seems that such actions indicate a greater, growing problem in our culture. But what is the problem?

There is a growing tendency to dismiss authority which has led towards an attitude of anti-authoritarianism; that is, disrespecting all authority. Individuals seem to promote the mentality that a person needs to fight against what is often called “the man.” “The man” is used to reference authority. “The man” may refer to the leaders of the business that employs the individual. Perhaps “the man” references those who enforce laws. Perhaps “the man” are those who make laws. It could even be that “the man” are those in Christian leadership. It is agreed that corruption can, and in fact does, exist in such agencies. However, are aggressive acts such as those implemented by the high school football players the answer? Certainly not! Shouldn’t one find a way to make a difference while still respecting one’s governing authorities? Certainly!

Attitudes of anti-authoritarianism is a human problem that have its roots in the fall. In Genesis chapter 3, Satan tempted and led humanity into sin by the simple words “Did God actually say” (Genesis 3:1)?[1] Since that time, human beings have questioned the authority of God. Does God really want control over this area of my life? Do I really have to love my neighbor? Anti-authoritarianism finds its root in one’s rebellion against the Supreme Authority–God.

It is true that there are times that the believer must stand opposed to the works of a governing authority. But, those times should only occur when such agencies stand opposed to the principles given by God. For instance, Jesus stood opposed to the Sanhedrin by calling out the sins and discrepancies of the institution, while calling on a higher calling–loving God. But Jesus did not call for hurtful aggressive actions. Rather, he called for one to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Peter, Paul, and the early apostles did not accept the edicts given against them to cease their preaching, yet they did not strike such authorities with the sword. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respectfully stood against the Babylonian commands which contradicted their obedience to God, but they did so while still respecting the authority of the king. All of them paid a price. However, their stand was not rooted in anti-authoritarianism. Their stand came by ultimate authoritarianism as they respected the ultimate authority of God.

Let us take care that we do not promote an anti-authoritarian mindset. The apostle Paul wrote that the Christian should “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7). If we as a society would teach respect and honor to our authorities…and ultimately to the Supreme Authority–God…then it is certain that we would not have a culture where high school football players would think that it is acceptable to assault the authorities over the game.

Copyright September 18, 2015. Brian Chilton

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Does Paul Condemn Philosophy in Colossians 2:8?

Philosophy is defined as the “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence” (Soanes and Stevenson 2004). Advocates of Christian anti-intellectualism will criticize the use of philosophy within Christian circles due to Paul’s supposed admonition against philosophy. Such individuals charge that philosophy is antagonistic to the faith due to Paul’s so-called warning against philosophy in Colossians 2:8. But what exactly does the apostle claim? In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he warns the Colossians that they should “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).[1] According to philosophical antagonists, Paul’s warning against philosophy should dissuade anyone from participating in a philosophical endeavor. However, one should ask, is Paul actually condemning the use of philosophy or is Paul using the term “philosophy” to address another issue?

A closer examination of the Colossians text affords one the opportunity to evaluate Paul’s actual intention. When one examines the text, one will find three reasons why Paul does not discredit philosophy as it is popularly understood in modern times. Rather, one will discover that Paul actually advocates the use of good philosophy.

Paul’s Intention Behind the Word “Philosophia.”

As I was preparing this article, I had the chance to discuss the issue of Colossians 2:8 with Dr. Leo Percer. Dr. Percer is a New Testament scholar who teaches Greek, Hermeneutics, and New Testament studies at Liberty University. Dr. Percer stated, “‘Philosophy’ in Colossians is probably a reference to religious ideas more than what we mean by the word today. If memory serves, Josephus uses the word to describe the various views of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and such” (Percer 2015). Is Dr. Percer correct? It appears so for two particular reasons.

First, Louw and Nida note that “φιλοσοφία (philosophia) may be rendered in some languages as ‘the way in which people are wise’ or ‘the way in which people understand things’ or ‘the manner in which people reason’” (Louw and Nida 1996, 384). Paul’s use of the term philosophia does not indicate that he is speaking of philosophy the way modern individuals understand the term. To understand what a writer is saying, one must not force the writer into one’s time-frame, but must rather examine the writer’s literary style during the period in which the author pens their work. This leads us into another defense for Percer’s claim.

Second, while looking into Percer’s claim pertaining to Josephus’ usage of the term “philosophy,” I discovered an example of what Dr. Percer was saying in Josephus’ writings. Josephus, in the first-century, writes, “The Jews had for a great while three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves; the sect of the Essenes, and the sect of the Sadducees, and the third sort of opinions was that of those called Pharisees; of which sects although I have already spoken in the second book of the Jewish War, yet will I a little touch upon them now” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.11). Note that Josephus uses the term “philosophy” to describe the religious viewpoints of three religious groups: the Essenes, Sadducees, and the Pharisees. This is not the only time Josephus uses the term “philosophia” to describe religious ideas. Josephus also writes, “But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty; and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord” (Josephus, Antiquities to the Jews 18.23). Again, Josephus uses the term “philosophia” to describe a religious viewpoint. If this is the case, could it be that Paul uses the term “philosophia” to describe religious groups and religious ideas rather than philosophical concepts? To answer such a question, one will need to consider the theme of Colossians chapter 2.

Paul’s Theme in Colossians 2.

Paul’s letter to the church of Colossae was written to combat heretical viewpoints in the area. In chapter one, Paul presents what is normally recognized as an early Christian formulation denoting the incarnation of Christ (that the divine God had took on fleshly imbodiment) in writing that Christ is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:15-18).

Paul then in Colossians 1:24-2:5 speaks of his persecutions and how through them God made his presence known to the Gentiles. In that passage, Paul writes that “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Note that Paul indicates the importance of teaching individuals the truth with wisdom. Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom. Paul then turns his attention to the importance of one’s “knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ” (Colossians 2:2). Paul says that he notes this so that “no one may delude you with plausible arguments” (Colossians 2:4). How does one decipher plausible arguments from implausible arguments? It comes from knowing the truth (theology) and knowing how one can know the truth (philosophy).

It is after such a discussion that Paul then writes that the Colossians should “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Instead of warning the Colossians against philosophy, Paul is actually warning the Colossians against well-argued false doctrines. Ben Witherington argues that “In v. 8 Paul characterizes the false teaching not only as “philosophy,” which in itself would not be a problem, but as philosophy built on merely “human tradition” and on what Paul calls “empty deceit.” The verb sylalageō is rare, found only here in biblical Greek, and means “kidnap” or better “carry off as booty” (Witherington III 2007, 154). Douglas Moo would also agree as he notes that “The word ‘philosophy’ was applied to a wide range of belief systems in the ancient world, so it tells us little about the origin or nature of the teaching. It does suggest, however, that the teaching involved a somewhat coherent system” (Moo 2008, 50). Thus, Paul’s warning is not against philosophy. Rather, Paul’s warning is against cleverly argued false doctrines. Instead of negating philosophy, proper philosophy seems to be promoted by Paul due to the incredible way Paul argues in favor of the truth.

Paul’s Use of Philosophical Argumentation.

Paul was not only a master theologian; Paul was a master philosopher, as well. Paul was a master rhetorician. In fact, Douglas Moo writes, concerning Colossians 2:8 and following, that “This key paragraph begins with a warning about the false teachers (v. 8) but is then dominated by a theologically rich explanation of why the Colossians should reject this teaching (vv. 9–15)” (Moo 2008, 184). Witherington explains that

“Paul is speaking into a rhetorically and philosophically saturated environment. When someone puts those two things together and the philosophy is false, there is a grave danger to Christians who are prone to listen to such powerful persuasion and to be influenced by it. Paul therefore is in the awkward position of not being able to speak directly and in person to his audience, thus losing a good portion of the rhetorical arsenal (gestures, tone of voice, etc.). Yet still he must offer an even more powerful and philosophically substantive act of persuasion than is given by those who are beguiling the Colossians” (Witherington 2007, 154).

Thus, Paul is using philosophical methods to argue in favor of the truth despite being at a disadvantage as he is unable to physically deliver his well-argued and well-reasoned defense for the Christian faith. Paul is not dismissing philosophy. For it was Paul who was able to hold his own defending the Christian faith to the intellectuals at Athens. So what can we take from this study?

Conclusion

Does Paul condemn philosophy in Colossians 2:8? The short answer is “no.” Paul does not demerit or condemn philosophy in Colossians 2:8. Rather, Paul eloquently warns the Colossians against false philosophical and false theological concepts. Such false concepts were considered by Paul to be teachings that “have indeed an appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). So what was the false philosophy being presented to the Colossians? It appears that the likely problem for the Colossians was a form of syncretistic doctrine, similar to the modern day New Age movement,that blended Christianity with Jewish mysticism and pagan religions into a systematized form of belief.  Instead of condemning philosophy in general, Paul instead argued that the Colossians needed a stronger Christian theological and philosophical construct to stand against the cleverly devised falsehoods being purported in their town. Such a warning needs to be heeded among modern Christians as well.

Sources Cited

Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987.

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008.

Percer, Leo. Interviewed by Brian Chilton. (Thursday, September 10, 2015). Online Interview. Information used with permission.

Soanes, Catherine, and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Witherington III, Ben. The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

© September 13, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

3 Attributes Critical for Effective Persuasion

Aristotle, the famed ancient Greek philosopher, wrote On Rhetoric in the 4th century BC. Aristotle writes on how one can build a strong case that will be coherent, persuasive, and winsome. In Christian apologetics, it is imperative that one build a strong case for Christianity. Often, apologetic antagonists will claim, “No one was argued into the kingdom.” Yet, it seems that more and more people are being illuminated by the Holy Spirit through the use of arguments stemming from the apologetic renaissance. In fact, the pages of Scripture, one will find Christian case-makers arguing for the truths of Christ.

In On Rhetoric, Aristotle provides three important aspects of persuasion. These three aspects are called the ethos, pathos, and logos. Interestingly enough, Jesus himself demonstrated these attributes as he led people to faith. This article will examine Aristotle’s three attributes of persuasion and will show how Jesus used these attributes to powerfully argue for his identity as Messiah.

Ethos: Having Character Persuasion

The first attribute of persuasion is that of ethos (literally “character”); that is, the moral integrity of the speaker. English contrives its word “ethic” from the term “ethos.” Aristotle writes that the “orator persuades by moral character when his speech is delivered in such a manner as to render him worthy of confidence; for we feel confidence in a greater degree and more readily in persons of worth in regard to everything in general, but where there is no certainty and there is and there is room for doubt, our confidence is absolute” (Aristotle, On Rhetoric I.2.4).

To have value, the speaker must demonstrate authority and character. These two attributes are found in one simple term—integrity. By what authority does the speaker present his/her case? Why should I listen to such a person? Does a person live by what he/she speaks? Many a great communicator has lost value because their ethos does not support their theses. In this regard, a persuasive speaker must have authority to speak on the manner in which they address and they also must have the moral character that supports their speech. Carter and Coleman note Aristotle’s categories of ethos in that of “Phronesis—practical skills and wisdom. Arête—virtue and goodness. Eunoia—goodwill toward the audience” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 67). In this regard, the audience determines the ethos of the teacher.

In this regard, Jesus demonstrated ethos par excellence, although his adversaries chose to disregard this aspect of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus exemplified phronesis as he consistently outsmarted his opponents. Zuck writes that “Jesus knew the minds of three groups: inquirers, his disciples, and his enemies” (Zuck 1995, 51). Jesus was so good at answering his opponents that after a certain point, “no one dared to ask him any more questions” (Mark 12:34).[1] Jesus also demonstrated arête. Jesus did not provide a commandment which he did not himself keep. He told his disciples to “love their enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus exemplified this commandment as he prayed while being crucified “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus also demonstrated great eunoia by the multiple healings provided to the sick and helpless.

If one is to have an impact for God’s kingdom, then such a person will need to demonstrate a strong ethic. A person must have integrity. Without it, nothing that is said will leave an indelible mark on anyone. A great communicator without a strong ethos will fade into the shadows of failure.

Pathos: Having Connected Persuasion

The second attribute is that of pathos (literally “suffering,” “experience”); that is an emotional connection with the audience. English contrives its words “sympathy” and “empathy” from the term “pathos”. Aristotle writes, “The orator persuades by means of his hearers, when they are roused to emotion by his speech; for the judgements we deliver are not the same when we are influenced by joy or sorrow, love or hate; and it is to this alone that, as we have said, the present-day writers of treatises endeavor to devote their attention” (Aristotle, On Rhetoric I.2.5).

While it seems that many have been captivated more by emotionalism rather than intellectualism in modern times, emotionalism is still important. On a side note, let it be known that many a danger has come by speakers who manipulate the emotions without demonstrating the other two components. Hitler, Mousseline, and others have persuaded by appealing to negative emotional aspects (i.e. racism, nationalism, et. al.) without adhering to the other two cornerstones of effective persuasion. That being said, it would behoove the speaker to note the great power found in one’s emotions. If one is to connect with the audience, they must be willing to connect with the listeners emotionally.

Much could be said of Jesus’ use of pathos. However, such a treatment extends beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, Jesus’ use of pathos is demonstrated most clearly through his use of shared artifacts. “Jesus often made use of shared artifacts by utilizing his knowledge of Scripture, geography, and Jewish history” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 26). If the speaker is to connect with the audience, he/she must find a point of contact just as Jesus did through his parables and Paul did through his missionary ventures. If there is no connection, the most throughout intellectual treatment of a topic may fall on deafened ears. Never negate the power of a good illustration.

Logos: Having Coherent Persuasion

For the Christian who knows his or her Bible well, the third term will strike a chord, for it is the “logos” (literally “word,” or “from which a thought is expressed or delivered”). English contrives its word “logic” from “logos”. The third attribute considers the logic of an argument. Aristotle writes, “Now, since proofs are effected by these means, it is evident that, to be able to grasp them, a man must be capable of logical reasoning, of studying characters and the virtues, and thirdly the emotions—the nature and character of each, its origin, and the manner in which it is produced” (Aristotle, On Rhetoric I.2.7).

Here again, a full treatment is not possible in this article. I would suggest one interested in this topic pick up a copy of Carter and Coleman’s book which is referenced in this article. However, it should be noted that those who argue against logic will be surprised at the great use of logic used by Christ. Consider Jesus’ use of the following forms of logic:

Enthymene: an incomplete syllogism made to allow the “audience to ‘connect the dots’ and discover the insight on their own” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 49). Example found in Matthew 10:40, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Matthew 10:40).

Syllogismus: “the use of a remark or an image that calls upon the audience to draw an obvious conclusion” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 52). Example found in John 3:14-18, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the only Son of God” (John 3:14-18).

A fortiori: (Latin: “to the stronger”) the use of a commonly held truth to argue for a stronger truth. Exemplified in Jesus’ defense of his healing on the Sabbath, “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:15-16). Also exemplified in Matthew 18:12-14.

Reductio ad absurdium: “a type of logical argument where one assumes a claim for the sake of argument, derives an absurd or ridiculous outcome, and then concludes that the original assumption must have been wrong, as it led to an absurd result” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 55). Jesus’ rebuttal to his adversaries considering him demon-possessed is an example of reductio ad absurdium. Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand” (Matthew 12:25-26)?

Appeal to Evidence: noting the evidence supporting one’s claims. This is incredibly important for apologetics. Jesus used this type of logic masterfully. Jesus would say, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) then go out and raise the dead to prove his statement (as he did in the case of Lazarus). Jesus appealed to several pieces of evidence in John 5: the evidence from the Father (John 5:30-31); evidence from John the Baptist (John 5:32-35); the miracles performed by Jesus (John 5:36); God the Father’s witness (John 5:37-38); and evidence from Scripture (John 5:39-47).

As I have noted several times on this site, one must hold intellectual reasons for holding to the faith if one is to be effective in communicating the gospel. This comes by knowing WHAT one believes and knowing WHY one believes it.

Conclusion

This somewhat lengthy article has noted three important attributes that should accompany one’s presentation of the truth. One must hold a strong ethos (character), pathos (emotional connection), and logos (coherent argument). It may be possible that one can influence another without all three in place. For the one who holds character without the other two may be a beloved person whose beliefs are held because of the person’s character. Yet, such adherents will not hold a strong connection with the beliefs themselves. They simply inherited the beliefs. One may influence another by strong emotionalism to the detriment of the other two. This is most dangerous as the person may captivate a crowd by one’s charisma. Yet, the adherents will not have a defense for their position and, if the speaker is of low moral virtue, may be captivated by what could quickly escalate to dangerous cultic practices. One may also have high intellectual prowess and may convince others. Yet, without a strong ethos and pathos, the speaker may come across as cold and calloused. A blend of all three attributes is necessary if one is to be both persuasive and winsome in their approach. As noted, Jesus was a master of all three.

Sources Cited:

Aristotle. On Rhetoric. Acheron Press. Kindle.

Carter, Joe; and John Coleman. How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. Wheaton: Crossway, 2009.

Zuck, Roy B. Teaching as Jesus Taught. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1995.

© August 30, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Aware Beings Produce Aware Beings: The Argument from Consciousness

A particularly interesting argument for God’s existence stems from the human consciousness. When a person describes the human consciousness, one is describing not only the awareness of a particular person, but the mind and will also. Placed together, consciousness could refer to the human soul. The existence of the human consciousness dictates the existence of God. The argument from consciousness is teleological in nature as it demonstrates that consciousness must stem from an eternal consciousness, known as God. This article will examine one particular argument from consciousness and will seek to demonstrate that such an argument is valid.

Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli offer the following argument as an example for the argument from consciousness:

“1.       We experience the universe as intelligible. This intelligibility means that the universe is graspable by intelligence.

2.        Either this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence, or both intelligibility and intelligence are the products of blind chance.

3.        Not blind chance.

4.        Therefore this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence” (Kreeft and Tacelli 1994, 66).

Let’s consider each of the premises of Kreeft and Tacelli’s argument.

We experience the universe as intelligible. This intelligibility means that the universe is graspable by intelligence.

In other words, we can know that we are conscious beings because we are aware of our surroundings and have the reason to understand our awareness. While animals have an awareness, the awareness of human beings to rationalize, figure, and discover the universe far exceeds that of the animal kingdom. In addition, the universe is intelligible meaning that it is knowable and is so that discoveries can be made. Thus, this premise notes the existence of intelligible creatures and an intelligible universe.

 Either this intelligible universe and the finite minds…are products of intelligence, or both intelligibility and intelligence are the products of blind chance.

There is an either/or situation at hand. Either the universe and its intelligible beings (i.e. conscious beings) came about by a supreme intelligence or their existence transpired due to blind chance. This brings to mind what I would like to call the “eternal necessity.” The eternal necessity dictates that something eternal exists. Either there is an eternal universe that has the ability to do conscious things (which seemingly is an oxymoron), or there is an eternal conscious God who brought about the materialistic universe into being, or the universe and God are one.[1] Some philosophies and worldviews, such as pantheism and panentheism, would claim that the universe was God. Yet such a notion still designates the existence of God. So, for the benefit of simplicity, we shall only look at the first two options. Either there is an eternal conscious God who brought forth consciousness or the inanimate forces have the ability to bring about consciousness by blind chance.

 Not blind chance.

One of the critical questions pertaining to the argument from consciousness is found in the third premise. Could consciousness have stemmed from non-conscious material? Evidence seems to reject the notion that blind chance could have produced conscious beings. Thomas Nagel, an agnostic philosopher admits as much in his book Mind and Cosmos as he writes pertaining to his skepticism of naturalism that “My skepticism is not based on religious belief, or on a belief in any definite alternative. It is just a belief that the available scientific evidence, in spite of the consensus of scientific opinion, does not in this matter rationally require us to subordinate the incredulity of common sense” (Nagel 2012, 7). J. P. Moreland adds that a strong objection can be made against physicalism—that is, the belief that the material world is all that exists—in that “it is just obvious that mental and physical properties are different from each other, and the physicalists have not met the burden of proof required to overturn these deeply held ingrained intuitions” (Moreland 2014, 100). In addition, there is great incredulity to the notion that sheer nothingness could accidentally exist, could accidentally form physical laws to order itself, could accidentally spring forth galaxies, could accidentally spring forth planets with the proper environment for life, and could accidentally spring forth life itself, and could accidentally spring forth consciousness. Such a notion exists on the level in believing that this article is the byproduct of an explosion of a library with all the letters of all the books falling into place. It is beyond incredulous; it is insanity to believe such a thing. Therefore, the evidence does not support consciousness stemming from mere blind chance.

Therefore this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence.

Perhaps the greatest benefit from the argument from consciousness is the clear understanding that consciousness stems from consciousness. This brings to mind the argument from biological parents. While I have never met most of the readers of this post, I can make one grand assumption. The reader’s existence dictates the necessary existence of the reader’s biological mother and father. The reader did not self-start, but was the byproduct of two conscious beings (i.e. a mother and a father). Consciousness began from consciousness. Conscious beings produce other conscious beings. If such is the case then, if pushed far enough back into the past, human consciousness must stem from an eternal intelligible consciousness known as God. It has been demonstrated that blind chance is incredulous in answering the existence of conscious beings. Yet, it is certainly rational to posit that an eternal Mind gave life to all conscious beings.

Conclusion

In John’s Gospel, one finds the great truth in that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).[2] The existence of all things owes their existence to God. Such is especially true for conscious beings. The argument from consciousness offers the common sensical view that life stems from life. Since life stems from life, then one should naturally see the necessity for God’s existence as God is eternally living and the great imparter of life in this world and in the world to come.

Sources Cited:

Kreeft, Peter, and Robert K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Moreland, J. P. The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.

Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

© August 3, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] This shall be the topic of a future article.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture for this article comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

The Timelessness of God and the Secrets It Unlocks

One of the more complicated issues in theology is not so much theodicy (that is, the problem of evil) as difficult as such a topic can be, rather it is the issue of God’s relationship to time—or, termed in another fashion, the timelessness of God. How does God interact with time? Any book on such a topic, even written for a layperson, can get quite complicated just by the sheer nature of the topic. However, the timelessness of God is an important issue. In fact, the timelessness of God is the key that unlocks other mysteries, or paradoxes, of the faith. First, let us describe what is meant by the timelessness of God and how one can understand God’s relationship to time. Then, we will examine some of the issues that are better understood from a good understanding of this complicated topic.

What is the Timelessness of God?

When we speak of the timelessness of God, we are addressing the issue of God’s interaction with time. Before we engage in the topic, one must understand two terms. Temporal is the term used to describe time since the beginning of the universe. You and I live in temporal time; that is, finite time within this universe. We exist in the present space-time continuum. Atemporal indicates one who exists beyond the scope of time. Thus, when I use the term temporal, I am addressing existence within time and when I use the term atemporal, I am referring to existence beyond this scope of time as it exists in this universe. (You are probably already noting how confusing this topic can become.)

Christian theists believe that God is eternal or atemporal. The psalmist writes of God that “Of old You founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment; like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end” (Psalm 102:25-27).[1] The apostle John addresses the atemporal nature of God, as well as that of Christ (Word), in denoting that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-3).

However, Christian theists also note that God is temporal in the sense that God operates within time. For instance, John continues his thought in chapter 1 of his gospel in noting that “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5). That is to say, the atemporal God acted in a temporal world. Thus, the atemporal God (transcendent) acts within a temporal world (immanent). In Psalm 90:4, Moses denotes that to God “a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.”

Norman Geisler describes the thought process of Thomas Aquinas as it pertains to the matter of time. Geisler denotes, Time is duration characterized by substantial and accidental changes. A substantial change is a change in what something is. Fire changes what a piece of wood is. An accidental change is a change in what something has. Growing knowledge is an accidental change in a being. Aquinas sees three levels of being in relation to time and eternity:

  1. God in eternity is Pure Actuality, without essential or accidental change.
  2. Angels and saints who dwell in the spiritual world of heaven live in aeviternity (or aevum).
  3. Human beings, comprising soul and body, form and matter, live in time” (Geisler 1999, 283).

William Lane Craig in his book Time and Eternity came to the conclusion that “It seems to me, therefore, that it is not only coherent but also plausible that God existing changelessly alone without creation is timeless and that He enters time at the moment of creation in virtue of His real relation to the temporal universe” (Craig 2001, 236). I would agree with Craig. However, I would note that the timelessness of God, or the atemporality of God, does not cease with God’s temporal nature with creation. Thus, God is both atemporal and temporal. God exists beyond the scope of time and also engages in a space-time world.

The Secrets God’s Timelessness Unlocks

As difficult as it is to understand God’s relation with time, one must understand that studying such an endeavor is worth investment.

The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility Paradox

On one particular Sunday, I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with a brilliant Christian man by the name of Caswell “Cas” Booe. Cas and his family owns and operates a popcorn factory near our neighborhood. Cas and I differ on some issues. But of course, we are both Baptists. It is said where there are three Baptists, there are also five opinions. Nevertheless, on the issue of God’s relation to time, we both enjoyed a great deal of unity. Cas demonstrated the mathematics behind God’s timelessness in relation to the temporal world. The results demonstrate something spectacular as it pertains to the issue of God’s sovereignty and human freedom. If God remains atemporal as well as temporal, then it is quite possible that God could see all events (past, present, and future) at the same moment. Thus, God’s foreknowledge is thorough and complete. God not only knows personal decisions made by individuals, God would also know with certainty what individuals would do when placed under certain circumstances. God could see the heart of each person. However, such actions would still require free moral agents to respond accordingly. This would coincide with a Thomistic or even a Molinist compatibilist perspective.[2] When asked about the conundrum between divine sovereignty and human freedom, Cas said, “It’s really an easy solution when you understand God’s relation to time.” Some would claim, “But doesn’t such knowledge take away human freedom?” I would say, “No, as such knowledge requires human response.” I like how the New Living Translation translates Proverbs 16:33. It says, “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT).[3] The Lord determines how they fall, but such determination requires the casting of the dice. Here one may find the perfect harmony of divine sovereignty and human freedom. The person rolls the dice, but God already knows with certainty the outcome of the roll since God can see all events in history. One may claim that such knowledge demerits human freedom. However, I cannot see how such is the case. Meteorologists are able to forecast the weather using computer models. Yet, the forecast is built upon contingent events. God who is outside time has access to know what free creatures would do and how they would do it. Could a person do otherwise? Theoretically, the person could, but God would know of the change. This does not demerit a human’s freedom, but only elevates the glory and grandeur of God.

The Problem of Evil Paradox

The timelessness of God also settles the problem of theodicy. Can a good and powerful God coexist with a world so full of evil? Yes!!! Why? It is because God knows the greater good that will come in the end. One can only imagine the great heartache God possesses in knowing the great evils that have come and will come to the earth. The most heartbreaking of all must have been the knowledge that Jesus would have to suffer and die upon a cross for the sins of humanity. Nevertheless, God permitted such due to the knowledge that something much greater would come in the end—billions and billions of souls saved by God’s grace. The future victory of Christ, while yet to occur in the temporal world, is already a certainty with God in God’s atemporal existence. It is a certainty.

There is a saying that goes, “Something worth having is worth working for.” The same holds true with the complex doctrine of God’s relation to time. Such an endeavor may require great theological, philosophical, and maybe even mathematical knowledge to understand with any great depth. However, the rewards to such knowledge are outstanding.

Bibliography

 Craig, William Lane. Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

© June 1, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] While Molinists accept libertarian free will, they also acknowledge God’s sovereignty. Therefore, Molinists could be said to be compatibilists in this manner.

[3] Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

Could a Big God Care about Small Things?

The movie Men in Black features Will Smith as Agent J and Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K. These agents seek out aliens who have immigrated among various societies on planet Earth. One of the memorable scenes in the movie comes from when Agents J and K interrogate an alien hid in the body of a pug named Frank. When asked about a particular item of interest, Frank the pug retorts, “You humans! When are you going to learn that size doesn’t matter? Just because something is important doesn’t mean it is not very, very small.” Wise words from a tiny pup.

Atheists and skeptics tend to fall in the same category that Frank the pug describes. Many skeptics cannot fathom how a great God could care about humans who, compared among the scope of the universe, are infinitesimally minute. Could such a God care about the little details of one’s life? As I have defended on this website, one can rest comfortably in the revelations—both natural (from the universe) and specific (given by special revelation by God in the Bible)—given for the existence of God. In like manner, one can rest in the knowledge that such a God cares for each person, even if such beings are infinitesimally small.

Two Examples of the Importance of Small Things

If God is concerned over small things, then one would expect that God would place a great emphasis on small things. There are multiple small things in the universe that hold great importance.

DNA

One such example is found in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA for short). DNA is a polymer made from units called nucleotides. The nucleotides are made up of information called nucelobases. These nucleobases include guanine (G), adenine (A), thyminie (T), or cytosine (C) as well as deoxyribose and phosphates. This information is arranged in such a way to create structures called chromosomes. DNA is responsible for the structure of organs, cellular division, and the transfer of information. DNA is critical for life. If the DNA is found to be in disarray, then life either becomes impossible, or one finds damaging mutations which cause great problems for the living thing suffering from such a mutation. All of this is to simply point out one important truth—DNA, although incredibly small, is of vast importance. Thus, the small yet vastly important nature of DNA designates the Creator’s emphasis on small things.

 Universal Structure

Another example of the Creator’s emphasis on small things is found in the particle structure of the universe. Parts of the universe are made up from the atomic structure. Atoms are made from three components—a proton (positive charge), a neutron, and an electron (negative charge). Atoms make up solid, liquids, gases, and plasma. Without the atomic structure, life would be impossible, and in fact, much of the universe would be impossible. Thus, atoms hold great importance, but are also incredibly small. Most atoms are around 1.67 x 10-27 to 4.52 x 10-25 kg. Or, it has also been suggested that atoms are around 100 pm (a ten-billionth of a meter). The universe is also constructed of a substance called dark matter. At the time of this article, not much is known of dark matter outside of the fact that it is an invisible form of matter which its evidence is inferred from its gravitational effects on visible matter, radiation, and the structure of the universe. Dark matter neither absorbs nor emits light. Scientists suggest that dark matter constitutes around 84.5% of the known universe. While dark matter is also infinitesimally minute, it is of vast importance. The point from this section is found in this—the Creator has placed great importance in small microscopic things. Such is even more apparent when one considers quantum mechanics (e.g. quarks and bosons). Therefore, while something may not be large, that thing may be of huge importance.

Evidence of God’s Concern for Small Things

If one is to concede God’s existence and were to concede the truthfulness of Jesus of Nazareth’s message, then one would find the care that God places on all things great and small. Jesus taught the following in his famous message popularly called the Sermon on the Mount: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they” (Matthew 6:26)?[1] Jesus goes on to say, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith” (Matthew 6:28-30)? Jesus’ teaching is clear. God cares for the most minute of things. Compared to humans, birds and grass seem insignificant. However, God cares for them. One could expand upon Jesus’ message to include DNA, the atomic structure, and the sub-atomic structure. All of these things, while small, are important to God. Therefore, human beings, being made in the image of God, hold great importance to God.

So what can we take from this article? The reader can note that everything in life both small and great holds great importance. While we place greater emphasis on the biggest, the strongest, the fastest, and the smartest; God places emphasis on all things—even the smallest, the weakest, the slowest, and the most intellectually challenged. Often, God chooses the small things to demonstrate the greatness of God’s power. The apostle Paul wrote that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). Do small things hold worth with God? Most assuredly they do!!! For this matter, we can learn a lot from Frank the pug from Men in Black.

© May 2015. Brian Chilton

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Responding to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Theodicy Inquisition and the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake

Recently, I watched a video which featured a recorded lecture by noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. A Catholic lady from the crowd asked Tyson if he believed in God. Tyson did not negate belief in God, but demonstrated a problem that he held with the Christian view of God’s goodness. Tyson told the story about the birth of the modern atheist movement. According to Tyson, the modern atheist movement stemmed from 1700’s philosopher Voltaire, who witnessed a massive earthquake on All Saints Day in 1755 in Lisbon, Portugal. The largest number of fatalities came from those worshiping in cathedrals which were, as Tyson noted, “the tallest, biggest buildings” (Tyson 2014, YouTube). Following the earthquake, a tsunami leveled the city, killing 80,000 people. Many theologians of the day purported that such an act was a display of God’s judgment. However, Voltaire and others noted that the sinful red light district of the city was largely untouched while the religious individuals of the town were killed. Responding to Christian philosopher Gottfried Leibniz–who postulated that we live in the best of all possible worlds–Voltaire proclaimed that this was not the best of all possible worlds indicating that either God was not all loving or God was not all good. In like manner, Tyson said that he “could not see the all goodness of God, seeing how everything in the universe wanted to wipe us out.” Tyson went on to say that he could not see how “God was all good…if we define good by being concerned with our health and longevity—which is how I would define good” (Tyson 2014, YouTube). So, how does a Christian respond to Tyson’s, as well as Voltaire’s, accusations? Note–by addressing Tyson, the article also responds to Voltaire’s claims.

1.     Creation is Fallen—it’s Good not Perfect.

First, Tyson assumes that for God to be good, the universe must be perfect. However, the Bible never states that the universe is perfect. The opening chapter of the Bible concludes with the words “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a).[1] One must understand that the universe is not perfect. It has been tainted by rebellion. First, it was tainted by the rebellion of Satan. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). This fall is also accounted in Isaiah as the prophet proclaims, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low” (Isaiah 14:12)! This fall led to the fall of humanity as accounted in the 3rd chapter of Genesis. The Adversary (Satan) must have been already fallen as he led humanity away from the personal presence of God. The apostle Paul denotes that this fall has led to the “whole creation…groaning together the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). The great news is that God is working to create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 22) which will not host the trouble, death, and uncertainty that the present day creation holds. The modern creation is good…it is the best of all possible worlds which allows for freedom of the will. But it is not the best creation, for the best is yet to come.

2.     Eternity trumps Earthly Longevity.

Tyson holds a problem in his definition of “goodness.” If goodness only denotes a person’s present well-being, God’s goodness is shallow at best. As James denotes, life is but a “mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). If the Bible is correct in that Christians have the promise of eternity, then even great tragedies such as the one in Lisbon is somewhat justified in that the people of God will never be separated from the presence of God. The eternity they enjoy now far outweighs the momentary pains suffered in the earthquake. Therefore, if eternity in heaven exists, then God’s goodness is ultimately justified even in the midst of such tragedies. Let’s face it—everyone will have to walk through the passages of death at some point. How good would it be of God to leave us in this fallen world for several millennia? This is not to say that life on earth is not important. It truly is a blessed thing to be alive and well. Nevertheless, one should not lose the focus on the blessed hope that is found in an eternal existence with God in heaven.

3.     Humans Cannot Know All Intricate Details—but God Does.

Third, as one discovers in the book of Job, an individual cannot understand and know all that God does. Could it have been that great sin was found in the Lisbon of 1755? Possibly. Could God have delivered judgment to the city? Potentially. In such cases, an individual does not know the hearts and minds of the people in that day. However, it could have been that the city was a blessed city, filled with good, godly people, as well. If the people did nothing wrong, then why did God allow such a tragedy to occur? Consider Job. Job asked the same questions. Job was a man who was a “blameless and upright man, who fear[ed] God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). Job endured many hardships and wanted to take God to court in order to charge God with unfair dealing. However, God responded and asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). In other words, God demonstrated that he knew all the intricate details and how ultimate good can come from what appears to be great tragedies in life.

 4.     Consider the Alternative.

Lastly, consider the alternative. What if a good God did not exist, what then? Such tragedies would be even worse. What would Tyson say to one who lost a loved one and had no hope of seeing that person again? “Too bad. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.” With the God of the Bible, tragedies have a light at the end of the tunnel; a light which is illuminated by the “Light of the world”—Jesus Christ. Even in the worst of circumstances, Christians have the hope found in the resurrection of Christ.

Therefore, I do not accept Tyson’s, nor Voltaire’s, claim that tragedies demerit the goodness of God. In fact, philosophers such as William Lane Craig have noted that the theodicy problem has been solved. Evil can exist in a world developed by a good and all powerful God if God holds good reasons for allowing the evil to take place, or has an ultimate good stemming from such an allowance.

Tyson, Neil deGrasse. “Neil deGrasse Tyson-‘Do You Believe in God?’ (Must Watch).” Atheist Digest Channel. YouTube (October 13, 2014). Accessed May 18, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocvIeycJrQ0.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Copyright May 2015. Brian Chilton.