Monday, November 07, 2016

Science and Faith at War (Part 2) (Repost)

2. What is science? What is not science?

The philosophy of science is a rich field and we have no time to dig into its complexities. Instead we will just scratch the surface. For our purposes what is important is that we understand the distinction between two naturalisms: philosophical and methodological. The former is not science, but both anti-theistic scientists and anti-science theists, in a case of strange bedfellows, will claim it as such. It is the second, methodological naturalism, that is properly called science.

2.1. Philosophical Naturalism: The cosmos is all there is.

Some years ago I started to watch the Truth Project27, a video series put out by Focus on the Family. This project presented a serious distortion, though whether it was by intent or through ignorance I cannot say.

What the Truth Project did was to present as their quintessential bogeyman scientist the late astronomer and television celebrity Carl Sagan. In particular, they took great advantage of Sagan’s famous quip:28
The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.
Additionally they presented another egregious example of philosophical/methodological conflation from Cornell biologist William Provine. This charming man (who also appears in Ben Stein’s Expelled) writes:29
Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.
The Truth Project could have found literally thousands of atheistic scientists, prominent and garden-variety, who—while they may agree that the cosmos is all there is—would have been careful to point out that what they were stating was an opinion, not a scientific fact.

Philosophical naturalism is not science. It is the philosophy that everything, ultimately, has a scientific explanation. It is, quite simply, the denial of the supernatural. But science per se does not and can not deny the supernatural. By definition the supernatural, if it exists, is outside the province of science. If it could be explained and addressed by science, it would be natural, not supernatural. The miracles of the Bible, if they are real, are inexplicable (by science) events—they are not parlor tricks.

Officially what science has to say about the supernatural is that it has nothing to say about the supernatural.

Richard Dawkins, perhaps in his role as this generation’s spokesman for atheism, is also guilty of perpetuating this error, no doubt with malice aforethought. A central theme of Dawkins’s The God Delusion is that the existence of God is a scientific question. His motivation is rather transparent: to declare the question resides in the domain of science, so he can then state that science effectively proves the negative. In fact, the existence of God when he interacts with the world, at certain times and in certain ways, would be scientifically observable. The miracles of Jesus could have been recorded had the technology been available. But in general God is operating in a supernatural realm, and that realm is not in the domain of science. Instead we “settle” for the beauty of the secondary causes—the laws of nature God established to have an ordered universe.

The Truth Project presented scientists like Sagan and Provine as if they were speaking on science rather than on philosophy. This provided them with simple, highly unsympathetic targets. In their way the creators of the Truth Project are guilty of fomenting anti-science attitudes among Christians.

2.2. Methodological Naturalism: Let’s operate as if the cosmos is all there is.

Science and the scientific method does not state that the cosmos is all there is. Instead it operates as if the cosmos is all there is. The qualifier “as if” is small but important. It means that science says nothing about the supernatural—it simply precedes along with no expectation that the supernatural will intrude in an experiment, nor will it’s invocation be required to explain a result.

The overwhelming majority of scientists would agree that science has nothing to say about the existence of God. That is, most scientists, of all stripes, would disagree with Sagan and Dawkins and the Truth Project, and support methodological naturalism.

Examples are easy to find. Even at the National Center for Science Education, which is leading the fight in the United States against Intelligent Design, takes that position, contra Sagan and Dawkins. Eugenie Scott, the NSCE director wrote:30
"Religion may use natural explanations for worldly phenomena, but reserves the right to explain through divine intervention; science has no such option. Whether or not miracles occur, they cannot be part of a scientific explanation."
That is methodological naturalism, and it is quite different from philosophical naturalism, which states “miracles do not occur, period.”

Science is indeed godless—but only in the sense that it is agnostic. And it is agnostic in the same way that theology is agnostic. Scientists can do science whether or not they believe in God. And the same goes for theologians.

2.3. Show me the experiment!

Methodological naturalism is the time-tested approach to do doing science. There is, however, a practical side of science. Science must be testable. It must make unique, positive predictions. By positive, we mean that if theory B is proposed as a superior alternative to theory A, then theory B must do more than say “theory A cannot explain this data or that data.” Theory B must state: if you do this experiment we predict you will get this result—and if you don’t, well, then I guess we’re wrong.

This can be summarized by stating that a scientific theory must be falsifiable. In a definition that we will later use to our advantage, Wikipedia states:31
Falsifiability (or refutability or testability) is the logical possibility that an assertion can be shown false by an observation or a physical experiment. That something is "falsifiable" does not mean it is false; rather, it means that it is capable of being criticized by observational reports. Falsifiability is an important concept in science and the philosophy of science.

Some philosophers and scientists, most notably Karl Popper, have asserted that a hypothesis, proposition or theory is scientific only if it is falsifiable.

Not all statements that are falsifiable in principle are falsifiable in practice. For example, "it will be raining here in one million years" is theoretically falsifiable, but not practically. On the other hand, a statement like "there exist parallel universes which cannot interact with our universe" is not falsifiable even in principle; there is no way to test whether such a universe does or does not exist.
One of the mistakes we will see that the Intelligent Design community makes is to couple their claim that evolution is wrong with an attendant claim that ID is a legitimate science. The latter is, at best, premature: Intelligent Design proposes no experiments that will confirm or refute an ID prediction.

27 See here for details.
28 Carl Sagan, Cosmos, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1985).
29 Google the quote. You'll find many references.
30 Google the quote. You'll find many references.
31 See here for more details.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Parables of Jesus Part 9 (The Rich Man and Lazarus)

Primary Sources:

1. The Parables of Jesus, James Montgomery Boice, Moody Publishers, 1983
2. The Parables of Jesus, R. C. Sproul, video series and Study Guide, Ligonier Ministries, 2013

Parables of Jesus, Part 1
Parables of Jesus, Part 2
Parables of Jesus, Part 3
Parables of Jesus, Part 4
Parables of Jesus, Part 5
Parables of Jesus, Part 6
Parables of Jesus, Part 7
Parables of Jesus, Part 8

The Rich Man (Dives) and Lazarus

“There was a rich man clothed in purple and linen who feasted sumptuously every day. At his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with scraps from the rich man's table. The dogs came and licked his sores. Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me; send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us is a great, and none may cross.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)

Well alrighty then! Let's start by looking at what JC (John Calvin) has to say:
In the person of Lazarus there is held out to us a striking proof that we ought not to pronounce men to be accursed by God, because they drag out, in incessant pain, a life which is full of distresses. In him the grace of God was so entirely hidden, and buried by the deformity and shame of the cross, that to the eye of the flesh nothing presented itself except the curse; and yet we see that in a body which was loathsome and full of rottenness there was lodged a soul unspeakably precious, which is carried by angels to a blessed life. (Calvin Commentaries)

This is a most disturbing parable. 
It’s the only text in the bible that describes the actual thoughts and emotions of someone tormented in hell. It is a contrast of contrasts, between the temporary worldly conditions of the two men and their final, eternal conditions. It is the ultimate irony: the rich man is poor, and the poor man is rich.

It is important to note:  The rich man's riches do not keep him from heaven. And Lazarus’ poverty and pitiful condition do not save him. On the other hand, the rich man’s riches worked to his disadvantage (because they became his treasure) and Lazarus’ fate worked to his spiritual advantage (an indirect blessing) because—possessing nothing, he turned to heaven. Still we must remember: rich men go to heaven, rich men go to hell. Poor men go to heaven, poor men go to hell. 

The Contrast in Life
  • The Rich Man  
    • Dressed in royalty 
    • Feasted sumptuously daily 
    • Rich in material wealth, but spiritually bankrupt (A poor rich man)
  • Lazarus 
    • Was impoverished and a beggar 
    • Had to be carried about 
    • Longed for the rich man’s crumbs 
    • Even the (hated) dogs gave more comfort to Lazarus than the rich man offered 
    • In poverty but with invaluable blessings (A rich poor man)
The Contrast in Death
  • The Rich Man  
    • Received a burial which we can assume was impressive
    • Received no heavenly honors
    • Awoke to torment
  • Lazarus 
    • Nothing is said of his burial
    • There is no indication anyone cared
    • He was escorted to heaven by angels in perhaps the most tender description of what awaits the saved.
The Contrast in Eternity
  • The Rich Man  
    • suffered torment that could not be assuaged 
    • Did not cry out in repentance 
    • Still regarded Lazarus as beneath him 
    • Once he feasted daily, now he begged for a single drop of water. (Oh, if only one sin less!…) 
    • Prayed (to the wrong person)
  • Lazarus
    • Was at Abraham’s side in eternal comfort—the roles have been reversed. (Even in the sense that now Lazarus shows no apparent regard for the rich man.)
What does it teach? 
  • Care for the poor 
  • Now is the time to repent 
  • After death, it is too late 
  • Scripture (referred to as Moses and the Prophets) is sufficient revelation 
As a corollary, those who are lost would not be persuaded by a resurrected loved one (or son of God). How ineffective, then, are our arguments1 apart from the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

Who gained knowledge after death?

Not Lazarus. He awoke (we presume) to more-or-less what he expected. (Not in the details, of course). However the rich man, who must of thought his hell was limited to dying, suddenly gained the knowledge that he was very wrong. For the first time, it would seem, he cast his gaze upon heaven. Even if he could not see Lazarus or heaven, he would have seen with his understanding. The rich man also had a newfound knowledge of prayer, although he had a misguided target. He also learned that his prayer was too late. He did not gain a knowledge of repentance.

Too literal is problematic

For one, we have bodies for the rich man and Lazarus before the general resurrection. At any rate, the rich man and Lazarus are not real historic people, but representative of classes of people. A literal view implies not only visual contact but some sort of oral communication between heaven and hell.

This parable can be misused. More about that later.

Arguments which we absolutely should keep making. Evangelism in light of the sovereignty of God is not puzzling: 1) God may be pleased to use us, 2) It’s about the message, not the response, and 3) We are commanded to do so.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Science and Faith at War? (Part 1) (repost)

1. Introduction

Increasingly, it seems as if science and faith are at war. The bestseller lists have included The God Delusion1 which celebrates atheistic rationalism and science, and denigrates religion as nothing less than child abuse.2 In the movie theaters, we have seen films like Ben Stein’s Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed 3 arguing that atheist scientists control the academy and tolerate no dissent, and that the theory of evolution was a prerequisite for the Eugenics movement and the Holocaust.

Here is just an example of the degree of belligerence in the rhetoric. On the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Ben Stein said in an interview with Paul Crouch, Jr.4
Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch: That’s right.

Stein: Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.
Of course, verbal assaults of this type (and worse) are found on both sides of the aisle.

As Christians we can approach this war, if there is a war, only one way. We must ask: is our participation in this conflict justified? Is science the enemy of our faith? And why stop there—is archeology an enemy? Is history? Are atheists our enemies? Do we have any external enemies at all? Do we not affirm that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world? Is this all really an example of the aphorism: we have met the enemy, and he is us?

These are difficult questions. When we narrow the focus to science, however, we reduce the question to this: does the detailed and systematic study of creation (science) glorify God? If so, then science is a godly activity, and Christians dare not call that which is good, evil.5

This series will attempt to demonstrate that such is indeed the case. The Bible has not only sanctioned science, but has mandated its practice. The world might declare that there is a war between science and faith6, but Christians should show up as peacemakers, not combatants.

We must also ask a deeper, more painful question. The issue is not limited to whether or not we are well-intentioned but misguided combatants. We must also ask: are we the agitators? Was the truce between scientists in the academy and Christianity broken by our side? Did an army of atheist scientists launch a Tet Offensive against Christianity and we are merely responding defensively? Or, under the guise of the culture wars, did we lob the first grenade?

When asking such introspective questions, we will be well advised to consider the words of Augustine:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn...7
Augustine is not telling us that we should accept uncritically all that science teaches. He is stating, as I read it, a) a tacit approval of science and b) a forceful warning that if we (Christians) are to engage debate on scientific matters, we should do so from a position of knowledge rather than ignorance.

We will do our best to support our positions from scripture. The attitudes of Christians toward science and the politicization of science as a front in the larger culture wars should be measured against scripture. Speaking of which, this study will take the position that scripture, in the original autographs, is inspired and inerrant.

We will not, however, take the position that either any individual Christian or even a majority opinion of renowned Christian theologians is infallible.

That especially goes for the author of this study. It is your responsibility as a Christian reader to provide correction.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptural references are from the ESV.8

Finally, during this study if it appears that we are tougher on ourselves (Christians) than on the world, that is purely by intent.

1 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, First Mariners Book Edition, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 2008.
2 For example, Dawkins writes that labeling children by their parent’s believes, e.g., “a Catholic boy,” is a form of abuse: “Isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought out?” The God Delusion, p. 354.
4 As reported by John Derbyshire, National Review Online, The Corner blog, April 30, 2008. A search on youtube for “Stein science killing” should lead you to a video clip.
5 See Is. 5:20. Also, the “Unpardonable Sin” is the ultimate “calling good, evil” violation, when Jesus’ miracles were attributed to Satan.
6 Although we will actually attempt to show that it is only a radical though vocal minority of atheist scientists who declare war. The overwhelming majority are unconcerned about the personal beliefs of their colleagues.
7 Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translation by J. H. Taylor, Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, V41.
8 The English Standard Version Bible, Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Love, Commandment Style

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15)

I never liked this verse. To me, the plain reading either:
  1. Makes Jesus sound like a manipulative significant other: If you love me, If you really love me,  you would buy me the Lexus, or
  2. Is too terrifying to contemplate because I do not obey the commandments which implies I don't love Jesus which has disastrous, eternal consequences.
Maybe those readings, while certainly containing some truth, are both not quite right.

I submit this verse has two meanings. The practical one, which is not the plain reading but we can infer, is that if you love Jesus you will strive (and fail, but nevertheless strive) to keep his commandments. That is not what the verse states--but it would be hard to argue that it is a not good and reasonable inference.

Is there a way to take the verse as it is stated?

I think there is.

Let A = Love Jesus
Let B = Keep His Commandments1

We are tempted to read it as: If A, then B (as in bullet 1, above), or as:  if not B, then not A, as in bullet 2 above.

But maybe it should be read as "A = B". As in A is synonymous with B. As in: Loving Jesus is the same thing as keeping his commandments. As in:

 “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

The greatest commandment is to love God. So if you love Jesus, you are keeping, at the very least, the greatest commandment, from which the rest are corollaries.

1 By the way, it's his commandments, not the 10 commandments.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

No, no, no. It's just not so.

This is just wrong. Satan (well, probably not him personally, given he is not omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, or omni-anything--he's a creature) is prosecuting spiritual warfare to get believers to curse God, but if successful he doesn’t get your soul. What would he do with it?

Christianity is not a dualism. It is not a battle between good and evil. The overwhelming power in the universe, the only power that matters, ultimately, is good. Any battle, such as it was, is over, and the good side won.

Parables of Jesus Part 8 (The Rich Fool PART II)

Primary Sources:

1. The Parables of Jesus, James Montgomery Boice, Moody Publishers, 1983
2. The Parables of Jesus, R. C. Sproul, video series and Study Guide, Ligonier Ministries, 2013

Parables of Jesus, Part 1
Parables of Jesus, Part 2
Parables of Jesus, Part 3
Parables of Jesus, Part 4
Parables of Jesus, Part 5
Parables of Jesus, Part 6
Parables of Jesus, Part 7

The Rich Fool (PART II)

In Part 7 of this series, which was PART I of a discussion on the Parable of the Rich Fool, (ain't that confusing?) we discussed how Jesus took an impertinent question from the crowd as an occasion to teach on covetousness. Here in Part 8, which is also Part II (got that?) we get to the actual parable

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” ( Luke 12:16-21)

Once again, unlike most wisdom parables that contrast wisdom and foolishness, this parable is all about the latter.
The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?
The first wave of problems we see with this man is: He had no spirit of thanksgiving. The land produced plentifully—i.e., it was by God’s providence (James 1:17). This man expressed no desire to give of the first fruit to his neighbors, the poor, his church, etc. He never even considered giving the excess to the poor. His first consideration: more storage needed.

you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there.
(Deut 26:2)
And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
The error here is not in planning for the future. The error is assuming that your riches alone guarantee a happy future, and for anticipating a pagan lifestyle. Here we see the wrongful part of his desire. He ably demonstrates Paul’s point (in more ways than one):

If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
(1 Cor 15:32)

And we are immediately reminded of:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(Matt 6:19-21)

Back to the parable:

But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Fool, as used here (and elsewhere), is not a comment on IQ. It is a moral judgment.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. (Ps 14:1)

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)

On This Night

On the pinnacle of his success—a rich man who will be even richer—on this very night his soul shall be required of him. The rich man could not buy his way out. God didn’t want his riches. He wanted his soul. The man had never been rich toward God. He did not acknowledge God as the source of his wealth. He had no intention of sharing his wealth. His wealth was used only for his creature comfort.


Though the man died that very night, the primary lesson of the parable is not: be ready for we know not the length of our days. The primary message is: 
  • Give thanks for God’s providence
  • Give of the first fruit
  • And especially: Beware of covetousness


Jump to Part 9

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"Why did you?" or "Why didn't you?"

When I was an elder in a church I naturally dealt with questions of baptism, membership, and communion.

Consider baptism, although the same discussion applies to membership and communion.

You know how there are two types of people in the world, those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't? Well there are also two types when it comes to these sorts of questions:

Type 1: Those who act as if, when they meet God, they fear the question: Why did you baptize X? more than the question Why didn't you baptize X?

Type 2: Those who act as if, when they meet God, they fear the question: Why didn't you baptize X? more than the question Why did you baptize X?

I don't know what's right here, but I was definitely Type 2. I would rather have erred on the side of baptizing by mistake rather than, though my very fallible discernment, refusing to baptize a believer.

I would base that on the following:

  1. Baptisms in the New Testament appear to be almost immediate. There was no time allotted to probe the authenticity of a testimony or question the person on any finer points of theology. It was believe and be baptized. As in, right now, or maybe, at most, we wait to the morning.
  2. When it was a mistake, as in Simon the magician, there was no weeping and gnashing of teeth. That was a perfect teachable moment to explain why we need to be very careful whom we baptize. Instead it was like, "meh--toss the bum out and let's move on."
  3. My reading of scriptures pertaining to the sacraments and membership leads me to believe the onus is on the person, not the or pastor, to partake in a worthy manner. Except for case where I know the person to be in unrepentant sin, I am not concerned about giving communion to someone who shouldn't have it--they should be concerned about that.

Having said all that I am sympathetic to those Type 1 folk who take a more cautious approach. I don't agree, but it's entirely possibly that they are right and I am wrong.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Parables of Jesus Part 7 (The Rich Fool PART I)

Primary Sources:

1. The Parables of Jesus, James Montgomery Boice, Moody Publishers, 1983
2. The Parables of Jesus, R. C. Sproul, video series and Study Guide, Ligonier Ministries, 2013

Parables of Jesus, Part 1
Parables of Jesus, Part 2
Parables of Jesus, Part 3
Parables of Jesus, Part 4
Parables of Jesus, Part 5
Parables of Jesus, Part 6

I don't covet; there are just things I want desperately that I can't have.
Therefore, you preachers, out with your swords and strike at the root. Speak against covetousness, and cry out upon it. Stand not ticking and toying at the branches nor at the boughs, for then there will new boughs and branches spring again of them; but strike at the root, and fear not these giants of England, these great men and men of power, these men that are oppressors of the poor; fear them not, but strike at the root of all evil, which is mischievous covetousness – Hugh Latimer  (c. 1487 –1555)

The Rich Fool (PART I)

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” ( Luke 12:13-21)

Unlike most wisdom parables that contrast wisdom and foolishness, this parable is all about the latter.

The Introduction

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge over you?”
Was this man wronged by his brother (and appealing to the law in Deuteronomy that allowed for a rabbi to serve as judge/attorney in a dispute) or was he trying to get Jesus to rewrite the law (judicial activism)—perhaps objecting to the older brother obtaining two portions of the inheritance?

The text doesn’t say, but the subsequent teaching favors the latter (or something like it) interpretation. For it is not wrong to ask for what is yours—but it is sinful to ask for more.

The dude's cluelessness

Jesus was put off by this request. He had just finished teaching amazing truths including (just three verses prior), this juicy nugget:

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
(Luke 12:10)

and it was if this man had not heard. He just wants to retain Jesus as his attorney. Jesus refused.

Why did Jesus refuse?

Calvin (Commentaries) gives three reasons why Jesus refused.
  1. The Jews imagined that Jesus would establish an Earthly kingdom. He did not want to do anything to perpetuate this error. His kingdom is not carnal (of this world), but spiritual.
  2. Jesus was drawing a distinction that he was to work for the “division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12). Secular jurisdiction and asset division is not his mission.
  3. Jesus saw that the man was selfishly attempting to use him as a judge for purely monetary reasons
Before getting to the actual parable, Jesus seizes the opportunity to teach about covetousness. The man sort of riled Jesus up.  So Jesus gives a weighty warning before the parable: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Coveting is the “wink and nod” sin of Christianity. It is a sin that we all can readily (and gravely) admit to without much guilt involved. However the narrative reminds us how seriously Jesus views covetousness. Not to mention that it is the 10th Commandment.

Coveting is no laughing matter

And [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)

Coveting is placed on a par with sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, etc. It is entirely possible that we take this sin way too lightly.

Et tu Paul?

Paul agrees.

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. (Rom 1:29)

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. (Rom 7:7-8)

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints
. (Eph 5:3)

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)

For you may
be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Eph 5:5)

OK, OK, OK, I grasp the concept!

(To be continued)


Thursday, October 20, 2016

What did Jesus know, and when did he know it? (REPOST)

This was posted back in 2005. It is linked by theopedia under kenosis, which is kind of cool.

One of the more interesting sayings of Jesus is found at the end of the Olivet discourse. In Mark’s account, we read, in chapter 13:
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. (Mark 13: 24-33)
This passage concerns what many describe as the great tribulation, and it parallels the account in Matthew 24. Some might say that this passage contains two difficult phrases. The first is found in verse 30. Here Jesus says “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Since many view the tribulation described here as a future event, this passage, it is fair to say, presents a problem for that viewpoint. You have to figure out how to deal with the two words “this generation.” However, since my own view is that the events described in the verses leading up to verse 30 have already happened, within forty years of Jesus’ prophesy, I don’t view verse 30 as a problem at all.

However, verse 32 presents a whopper of a problem regardless of your position on the end-times. For we all must deal with the fact that concerning this “coming of the Son of Man in the clouds,” regardless of what it refers to, we read that Jesus does not know the hour. This is a serious problem indeed, although we tend to smile at this verse and say things like “even Jesus doesn’t know” which, while apparently true, glosses over a very profound theological issue.

The fact that Jesus lacked this knowledge has not prevented the emergence of a cottage industry devoted to using the newspapers to predict the Second Coming. (And that would be among those who believe that this passage does in fact refer to the Second Coming.) After many embarrassments where predictions made to the very day and hour were proved false, the modern form for those who claim to know something Jesus didn’t know is more subtle. It’ll be soon, I’m sure—probably in my lifetime or at least in the lifetime of my children.

As an aside, if you (quite reasonably) view generation in verse 30 as referring to a period of approximately 40 years, then Jesus is not contradicting himself by on the one hand limiting these events to occur in that time span but on the other hand saying he does not know precisely when the terminus of his prophecy, his coming in the clouds with great power and glory, will occur in this generation-length interval. (And of course, in this view this event, Jesus’ coming in the clouds with great power and glory, does not mean The Second Coming that will mark the end of history, but the destruction of temple worship and the wholesale slaughter of Jews in AD 70.) Jesus’ time frame references can be paraphrased as saying “this will happen in the next 40 years, exactly when, I don’t know.”

But as I said, it’s verse 32 that is the problem, regardless of the details of the prophecy. Futurist or preterist, you still have to deal with the fact that Jesus didn’t know. For Jesus, we all believe, is God, and one of the attributes of God is omniscience. So how do we deal with the fact that Jesus is omniscient and yet there is something that He doesn’t know?

In solving this conundrum we have to avoid the heresy known as Nestorianism, named after Nestorius, who became bishop of Constantinople in 428.

As with many heresies, we find Nestorianism was rooted in good intentions “run amok.” Others before Nestorius erred by denying Christ’s human nature. Nestorius went to the opposite extreme, stressing Christ’s humanity to the extent that there were two distinct personalities—one divine and one human—within the same living consciousness. In arguing his position that the divine and human natures of Christ were separate, he stated that “God was never a two month old baby.” The litmus test of Nestorianism was an interesting one: whether or not you were willing to grant Mary the title theotokos, or “she who gave birth to the child who is God,” or more informally, “Mary, Mother of God.” Nestorius and his followers were unwilling to grant Mary that title, arguing that she bore only the human half of the duality. They would only refer to her as “Mary, mother of Jesus.” Now of course (and for no real good reason) many Protestants are loath to use the phrase “Mary mother of God,” because of its association with Roman Catholicism. We Protestants should fear not, the honorific “Mary mother of God” is self evident.

So an (unacceptable) solution to the problem of Jesus not knowing something is to resort to Nestorianism. That would entail arguing that Jesus the man is completely separate from Jesus the God; that Jesus the man is merely a human who is more or less possessed by the second person of the trinity, and Jesus the man and only the man is speaking in Mark 13:32.

We will find the solution to this puzzle in that direction—but without going so far as totally separating Jesus’ divine and human natures.

The problem before us is a weighty one indeed: it really amounts to seeking an understanding of the mystery of the incarnation. Here it is useful to turn to the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. There we find this teaching regarding the incarnation:
So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.
What this teaches is summarized by four negatives. The incarnation is without confusion, without change (or mixture), without division, and without separation.

Nestorianism, be contrast, would teach: with total separation.

The orthodox view is that Jesus the person is omniscient. Jesus the person has two natures, not separate, but distinct. Jesus the person has divine nature that is spiritual, immutable, preexistent, etc. And he has a human nature that is physical, mutable, and was born of a woman. The divine nature retains the attributes of deity including omniscience. The human nature retains the attributes of humanity, including limited knowledge, pain and suffering, fatigue, sickness (probably) and aging. With one important exception: sinfulness.

The divine nature can communicate to the human. Jesus can prophesy. Jesus can read minds and hearts. For example, he knew Nathanael before he met him:
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:43-49)
But all these amazing powers were also performed by “purely” human prophets. The divine can communicate knowledge to any human—that’s the very definition of a prophet. What distinguishes Jesus from your garden variety prophet is that he was without sin and that his person included rather than just communicated with the divine. Jesus was not just an instrument of the divine, he was (is) divine.

This view of the incarnation allows us to take Jesus at his word. When He said “I don’t know”, He really didn’t know. His divine nature was not pleased at that moment to communicate that information to his human nature. And yet, throughout Jesus’ ministry there are many examples where his divinity was manifested by his humanity. He performed miracles. He forgave sins.

It is possible that hints of the limited knowledge of Jesus’ human nature may appear elsewhere in scripture. In fact, it could very well be that much of Jesus’ prayers reflect his human nature praying to the Father in much the same manner we pray—or at least are supposed to pray. Was it Jesus’ human nature, with incomplete knowledge, who prayed for his murderers to be forgiven? Wouldn’t his divine nature already know whether they would be forgiven? I don’t know—but it is an intriguing possibility that for me helps to explain some of the mystery of our Lord’s praying as recording in sacred scripture.

There is still a problem, though. Jesus didn’t just say “I don’t know.” He said “only the Father [knows].” This leaves us with the nagging question of the Holy Spirit—who has all attributes of deity but without Jesus’ complication of a dual nature. Was Jesus saying that the Spirit is not omniscient? I don’t know. It’s a puzzle.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I sorta know what that means, but not really!

I’ve started reading F.F. Bruce’s commentary on John. It is awesome. I already appreciated and benefited from Bruce’s amazing clarity and breadth of knowledge on matters of church history. He brings that same, oh so rare, simplicity-powered-by-intellect to his analysis of John. (And presumably his other commentaries as well.)

I thought I would try to paraphrase his discussion of the word logos. I won’t do it justice, but keep in my any benefit you may derive from this discussion is entirely credited to F. F. Bruce.

We are talking about a single verse, John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

As I’m sure everyone knows, the Greek word logos is translated as Word. This has always troubled me, because the "Word" is also scripture—so I would get this weird juxtaposition in my head of Jesus and the bible morphed together. It's unsettling. Bruce clarifies this.

He starts by pointing out  that John starts out exactly the same as Genesis. In the beginning. In Genesis it refers to the old creation, and in John the new—and in both cases the creative agent is the Word of God. Then he goes into a discussion of the word logos, with the helpful admission:

No doubt the English term ‘Word’ is an inadequate rendering of the Greek logos, but it would be difficult to find one less inadequate. (Bruce, p. 29)

Helpful because I no longer feel bad that I can't wrap my head around that word (Word). Logos has a meaning that conveys more that words (a message) but also the personal aspect of a messenger. He relates but does not endorse how another scholar translated the verse as "At the beginning, God expressed himself." And he tells us what I forgot or missed in the Cliff Notes, that in Goethe's Faust, Faust himself attempts a translation and comes up with a decent one: "In the beginning was the deed, the action."

Then he says something to me the made me think of the providence of God. He writes that some philosophical schools in Greece were familiar with the term logos, where it meant ""the principle of reason or order in the universe." This is not the meaning that John intended, but Bruce writes:

Because of [the usage in Greek philosophy] logos constituted a bridge-word by which people brought up in Greek philosophy, like Justin Martyr in the second century, found their way into Johannine Christianity. (Bruce p. 29)

Providence of God.

Bruce argues, more than convincingly, that it is not to Greek Philosophy we turn to grasp logos, but to the Old Testament, where "word" is used to denote a personal creation, revelation and deliverance.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, (Ps. 33:6)

Here is a perfect example of word not meaning letters strung together, but a personal agent or messenger. Thus in Isaiah we read "The Lord said to Isaiah" (Isa. 7:3)  and also "The word of the Lord came to Isiah" (Isa 38:4). They mean the same, but the latter conveys the personal action of a messenger.

Another Old Testament example (there are many):

He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
(Ps. 107:20)

Indeed. So back to John 1:1.

So in the beginning when the universe was created, the Word , the creative and personal agent, was already present.

An notice, that the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

How beautifully this divine agent is expressed as being with God (and therefore distinct) and also was God (of the same essence). Less careful wording would have either left us with the Word and God being identical (bad), or the Word not possessing deity (also bad).

This one verse captures the eternity, the distinctiveness, and also the sameness of the Word.