A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Thought of the day

Related to my previous post on Arianism: Orthodoxy is like a fence that develops a barrier for animals. A fence does not exist for itself, nor is the fence the most important thing, but the fence has a purpose in keeping the animals confined to a certain designated area and to keep predators out. Likewise, orthodox teaching is not an ends but a means. It gives the proper restriction for correct practice, orthopraxy. Heresy then, is not just any divergence, but is any teaching that would fence out a different area from that of orthodoxy. Orthodoxy teaches and guides people in the true path to holiness, whereas heresy diverts people from that.

February 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why is Arianism bad?

For an intellectual exercise with a purpose, here is a question for my fellow Nicene Creeders. Why is Arianism such a horrible heresy? Why is it worse than, for instance being wrong on the topic of free will? To take the question a bit deeper, how does Arianism run counter to whole of the Biblical message (minus the passages that speak about Jesus’ divinity)? And when I mean Biblical message, I do not mean atonement theory and other metaphysical ideas that are not ever mentioned within the Bible. So no reference to Anselm’s substitution or things like that.

I have my own answer, but I await to see what other ideas there might be to this one.

February 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

God and Morality

Here is a typical interchange that might occur being an atheist and a theist.

Atheist: I do not believe in God.

Theist: I believe that God exists. If you do not believe God exists, then you cannot believe in morality.

Atheist: I belive in morality. I believe in doing what is best for others.

In this classic (albeit very generalized) conversation, what has occured is that the two people have spoken right past each other. The term morality is being used in slightly different ways here, and the variance in the definitions is not doubt rooted in each person’s beliefs.

Morality, at its most basic sense, is a set of beliefs about what we think should happen or should not happen. We might want to define it even further and say that morality is a system of beliefs about right and wrong that individuals operate under. For the atheist, this is the more accurate definition of their usage of “morality.” They believe that are things they should do and there are things they should not do. Furthermore, they might even obey them out of reverence to the society they live within.

What the theist would see is that there is no “universal law” of morality under the atheistic belief, as if there was some code that was as engrained into the universe as the physical principles the universe operates under. Morality for many atheists is seen at the societal level, whereas for theists is it on the level of the universe. The atheist, then, doesn’t appeal to some untestable laws (the difference between principles of morality and physics), and it is formed at the level that morality is primarily concerned about, people. Many theists want there to be some ethical system that is “above” humanity, not at the level of humanity. In doing so, theists unwittingly make morality foreign to the human plight.

But a way the theist in this conversation can become percieved to be stronger is if he accepts that morality can be believed, irregardless, but the enforcement of morality is not universal. Away with the arguing that atheists doesn’t believe in morality! Many do.  Instead, the divergence should come down to the question of whether a certain morality will win out and be observed in the future or not. In other words, the fundamental question as to whether the universe (and all the things and people in it) is guided by something more than itself or whether it is guided by itself.

For the atheist it is not. Therefore, such a person can not trust that their own view of morality will be enforced, encouraged, and practiced. In order for that person to have hope, it must believe that there is a entity that has the strength to enforce and the knowledge to persuade that shares their own morality. This is part of what a society is, in that it has various restraints, knowledge, and rewards that it uses to maintain acceptance and obedience to a certain morality.

But it is also at this very point where there is no real solution. Societies change their morality, based upon their own actions (individuals and groups will tend to justify ther actions, even if it would be otherwise unjustified) and the situations that they face. And since a society must have the strength to enforce those who would break their ethical codes, there would have to be the increasing of strength in the case their might be people who would disobey the behavioral code, if not try to enforce their own. So as it behooves a society to do this, it also affects their ethical views.

However, first off the morality system has changed. But secondly, the fundamental question is whether a society’s morality will reap power by being exlusive, in which case their ethics are no longer for others, but merely for themselves as a group. To make efforts to be inclusive may bring in more people and increase ones capabilities, but it also divests it in bringing in others and maintaining order within society. But the larger a group gets, the more likely a new person will merely be redundant, whether it be knowledge, skills, etc. As such, there becomes diminishing returns for an inclusive society, to the point that to include more people is actually harmful for the society. So there is an effective limit as to how powerful a particular society can become. So there is little hope for enough strength to be obtained to enforce a morality universally.

The next step might be to encourage and persuade others groups to endorse to same moral view, perhaps by saying that this is more beneficial for both groups that resisting one another. However, as that becomes the case, there is naturally less and less of a need to have enough strength to maintain and enforce behavioral codes. But in that vacuum, another group becomes capable of obtaining enough strength to maintaining their own behavioral code. And for them, it will benefit them more to resist the other groups than to join with them, since the costs are reduced in less resistance. In other words, the inevitable result of peace is war.

So in the end, the atheist can not reasonably hope at all that their behavioral code is to be enforced universally, becuase morality changes, groups can only obtain so much power and knowledge, and peace makes things ripe for an alternative view to come into play.

The theist, on the other hand, can logically hope that it will happen; that the wrongs will be righted, the world will become just, and everyone will become happy. Why? Because they believe in an unchanging, omnipotent, omniscient God, individually capable of doing what society can not.

That leads me to a question which I will address in a future post. Is it probable or not that human thought on its own developing through history could develop such a concept of God that alleviates all those concerns at the same time?

February 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Atheism is anti-intellectualism

If one thinks about it, there are two likely ways for the notion of atheism to develop in a logically “justifiable” way (it is important to understand that I am not referring conscious atheism, but simply a lack of belief, whether it is a conscious rejection or not):

1) That with a total lack of abstraction and with no outside influence, a person would never entertain the idea of god or gods

2) As one becomes increasingly abstract, one would move towards the idea of a singular ‘god’, but it is perhaps better defined a singular unifying force. In our culture and our understanding of the universe, it becomes natural to unite this singular impersonal unifying force with the universe itself (almost an “atheistic pantheism”).

So imagine an infinitely dumb person in this world who is not taught anything by anyone. They would never come to believe in a god or gods. The alternate route of supposed intellectualism, the one that unites the unifying force with the impersonal universe, leads to the same lack of belief. The infinitely dumb person is justified because they can not possibly see the idea of the existance of a god, so it is “justified” not to believe. On the other hand, one can justifiy the atheism of the latter person.

But in the end, “intellectual atheism” comes full circle to what the infinitely dumb person believes. Isn’t all “intellectual atheism” saying then is that the infinitely dumb person is in fact smart enough to never accept the notion of God? But for the smarter person who develops the idea of a personal God or gods (doesn’t take it all the way abstraction wise), isn’t he dumber than the infinitely dumb person?

While one might distinguish the first person as an unconscious atheist and the second person as potentially as a conscious atheist, the second person must rely upon the abstraction of the concept of god to even develop to even begin to develop conscious atheism. In the end, all “intellectual atheism” is doing is in fact arguing that the usage of the intellect to develop the idea of god (since, for the atheist, it could not have occured by revelation or otherwise their atheism is in error) is wrong. While atheists chide people for believing in God for being superstitious and ignorant, atheists in fact are the most anti-intellectual of them all. This does not make them wrong in their atheism, but “intellectual atheism” is simply a critique of a particular usage of the intellect. Many uses of the intellect are in error in fact.

All this is to say that theists (and their variants of deists, pantheists, and panentheists) are in fact the more intellectual in their beliefs. It could be wrong, but their belief requires more actual usage of the intellect than atheism does. “Intellectual atheism” for all is usage of the intellect, is basically saying to use the intellect in regards to belief about God is wrong (or at best, unjustified).

To add, one might argue that atheism could develop from a person who rejects a currently held belief on the lack of evidential grounds. But this is a round about way of doing the same thing as the infinitely dumb person. This person simply rejects any evidential grounds, and so effectively renders themselves like the infinitely dumb person when it comes to the discussion of the concept of god.

February 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 15 Comments

Paul, justification, the Grand Narrative, and word usage

Good ole Chris Tilling wrote a post addressing justification in the context of the NT Wright/John Piper debate, in which he writes:

If words like ‘righteousness’, ‘Law’, ‘justification’, ‘promise’, ‘righteousness of God’ etc. are put in the context of Luther’s question about how to find a gracious God, they will tend to mean one thing. But if these words are placed within a story which is about God’s covenant promises to Israel, her purpose through God’s promise to Abraham to bring blessing to the clans of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3), her exile, the Prophetic promises in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel of return from exile, the vindication of God’s faithfulness and his covenant people, the gift of the Spirit, the universal acknowledgement of YHWH and the renewal of the covenant etc., those words will potentially mean something different, something bigger which includes that beat of God’s gracious and redeeming love, which Luther so poignantly grasped.

Let it be said that I neither agree with Piper or Wright fully on the issue of justification. Let is also be said that I think Wright’s work is brilliant in analyzing the big picture of Second-Temple Judaism and its relationship to Christianity. Matter of fact, he is the one author I have read enough of that I agree with the most (hopefully Wright will believe I am not trying to defame him!). Yes, even more so than John Wesley.

But one of my criticisms of Wright is that while he does a great job of seeing the big picture, he assumes that such a grand narrative is at the conscious forefront in its entirety (or at least the majority of it) in writings such as Paul’s. But that grand narrative is ‘authored’ by God (or for skeptics, the purposeful or accidental authoring of person or persons), whereas Paul and others are writing on a different level. The grand narrative is the belief in the historical past and direction of Gods’ creation as display through the passing of time and witnessed to by the Bible. As such, it is a great organizing schema for understanding the different smaller narratives, letters, exhortations, etc. written by people. Furthermore, it is probable that the persons themselves recognized the grand themes of exile, vindication, covenant, the Spirit, etc., or were at least subconsciously influenced by it.

However, seeing as the grand narrative is a more abstract generalization, it is problematic to state that Paul’s letters as such are direct expressions of that storyline. The problem is that word usage is derived more from the context of the other words and their immediate referents (and all their usages in other contexts), and only secondarily influenced by the larger context. But even then, the usage within the larger context reflects a purposeful usage of the author. To attribute to Paul a certain definition of dikaiow and dikaisunH based upon an abstract idea that is unlikely to be at the conscious level is problematic. The burden falls upon those who think the abstract grand narrative is being expressed consciously to show that within the texts in such a way that it can not be seen as merely a subconscious, or scripted, expression. If it is not a conscious expression, then it is unlikely a direct influence upon word usage.

As a result, I find the story about the grand narrative to be too distant to be helpful in exegeting at the micro-level. I do not think “righteousness of God”, “justification”, etc. should be understood along the lines of the grand narrative and covenant faithfulness as Wright would have it. Nor do I think that Piper’s and classic Protestantism’s emphasis upon the forensic ideas and forgiveness are correct, as I think they fail to fit within the whole of Romans (Luther’s emphasis of grace, while derived from the text, is not the only theme within Romans). Rather, I think it is more ethical in its nature, referring to the behavior (or future behavior in the context of Romans 4:6) of persons who place their trust in God in the manner that Jesus did, culminating in belief in resurrection. This fits within the constant theme of obedience leading to blessing and sin leading to cursing within the Torah, and are expressed on the textual level. It also fits within the ethical emphasis of Hellenic philosophy (Romans takes upon the character of a philosophical treatise). It has its forensic implications, and it fits within the grand narrative by illustrating part of the means of the fulfillment of God’s faithfulness. However, in my opinion it neither suffers from too narrow a focus (Luther and grace) or too abstract and broad a focus (Wright and the grand narrative).

Now if anyone can understand what I just wrote, I will buy you a cookie. 🙂

February 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seminary assignment that may address “so-called gods” of 1 Corinthians 8:5

All citations are from Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson:

I have always personally been a bit perplexed with 1 Corinthians 8:5 for a while. I mean, it seems clear that Paul in many other places felt that there was one God. Why would Paul even make such a hypothetical? My natural reaction, without any historical background, lead me to merely say he is being hypothetical. However, I always felt uneasy with this interpretation as it seemed to be based upon harmonizing my beliefs about what Paul has written than it was grounded in any historical background. With my readings in Hellenism, it confirms my interpretation by grounding Paul’s statement within a religiously inclusive culture. In a world view where religion is exclusive, it would seem pointless for Paul to make a such a statement, but he in fact made it in culture whose world view was inclusive. My previous interpretation was confirmed, but perhaps with a purpose as I will explain in a moment.

Also the whole of 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 makes much more sense to me. Previously it seemed the language about “lords” was out of place in the context of sacrifice to gods, since if the Caesar was regarded as divine it would have been sufficient to refer to them as a god also. However, the Roman ruler cult, wasn’t necessarily an expression of complete divinity. Ferguson notes that “[w]hat Augustus accepted in his lifetime in Rome involved more than human status but not divinity.” (209). While Caligula and Nero encouraged the deity worship more than the other emperors (209), the emperor cult was not primarily concerned with identifying a god, at least in an ontological sense, (although it may have reached that status in Eastern cities, such as Corinth and the rest of Paul’s missionary areas). It was about being more than a mere human, evidenced as such by the pax Romana. In turn, the emperor cult was more about “belief in the unity of the empire” (208-209). Attribution of high status, savior, peace, unity, and country were part of the expressions of the emperor cults.

There is then a natural contrast between the lords, such as the Caesar, and the Lord Jesus Christ. While not denying his divinity (kyrios would have a divine connotations because of its use as a substitute for the divine name YHWH in the Greek Septuagint), it is a call for the same attributions as made for Caesar. Jesus was above human and he was savior. But applicable to the divided Corinth church is that there is to be a peaceful, united church (or kingdom of God). So the attribution of Lordship to Jesus is more than just an affirmation of divinity, or even a contrast to the Roman empire, but it entails a necessary unity and peace of those in the church who follow the Lord. Thus, the “even if there are so-called gods” may be used as an analogue to the divisions within the Corinthian church (although this might be pressing it too far).

February 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians written after 60 AD?

A lot of scholarship assumes that 2 Corinthians is written soon after 1 Corinthians, perhaps approximately a year later (for instance Introducing the New Testament by Achtemeier, Green, and Thompson). However, there are a few problems with that, if we take both Paul and Acts as providing reliable accounts of Paul’s own travels.

First off, Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians that his upcoming visit is going to be his third visit (2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1). However there are only two places that Acts can be seen as  a visit to Corinth: Acts 18:1 and 20:2. Acts 18:1 clearly precedes even the letter of 1 Corinthians, as Apollos is mentioned in 1 Corinthians but he does not come to Corinth himself till Paul had come back to Ephesus (Acts 19:1) from Syria (Acts 18:18). 1 Corinthians itself is delivered from Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8).  Paul also mentions making another visit in the future (1 Corinthians 16:5-7), from which he would head towards Jerusalem with the collection that was to be taken (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).

But in 2 Corinthians we see that Paul had promised to make two visits to church in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 1:16, Paul says the plans were to go to Corinth to Macedonia and then back there back to Corinth to then head back for Judea. This first of those visits would not be the visit he had already made, as Acts doesn’t record a trip to Macedonia occurring on the way to Syria (which incidentally, it isn’t recorded that he goes back to Judea either). Nor would it make sense to go north up the Aegean sea if one was on a trip back to Syria. So the two visits Paul planned and spoke of in 2 Corinthians 1:16 would have been, if they have been made, at least the second and third trips. But it is apparent that things did not go according to plan, hence Paul has to defend himself (2 Corinthians 1:17). If Paul hadn’t made either of these trips, then the upcoming trip spoken of in 13:1 wouldn’t have been the third trip. If Paul had fulfilled the plans, there would have been no mention of it the context that it is. It seems logical then that Paul fulfilled the first half of the plans but did not return to Corinth to set sail for Syria, as Acts 20:1-3 indicates.

In support of this is the fact that Paul records his trip to Troas and then his trip to his present destination of Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). However, Acts doesn’t record a trip to Troas to Macedonia, but rather a only trip in the reverse direction of Phillipi in Macedonia to Troas (Acts 20:5-6).

We are left with three options then: either Acts fails to record a third trip and a trip to Troas to Macedonia, or Paul’s plan for the third trip never occurs, or the third trip occurs at least 2 years after Paul arrives in Rome. Without good reason to accept any of the first two options in my opinion, it leaves us with the most reasonable option that 2 Corinthians was written a couple years after Paul arrives in Rome. In which case, it make sense of Paul’s mention of his numerous sufferings (2 Corinthians 10). And considering Paul saw Festus in 58 AD and was sent to Rome where he lived for two years (Acts 26, 28), 2 Corinthians would be written after 60-61 AD. Assuming the the first trip to Corinth occurs around 50 AD, this gives plenty of time for their to be enough converts in the whole province of Achaia for Paul’s greeting in 2 Corinthians to include the saints of Achaia, wheras 1 Corinthians only makes mention of the church of Corinth. If 1 Corinthians was written around 56 AD, there is at least 4-5 years (and probably more) of seperation between the two letters to Corinth that we have.

February 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment