Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Most Calvinistic Passage in the New Testament

is found in the book of John 1 Peter.

Well, in sooth the whole bible is, to use an unfortunate term but one with a clear meaning, Calvinistic. In the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism, if judging is to occur by the use of a balance scale, Calvinism wins hands down. And that’s if you weigh either the scriptural support for one against the other or, historically speaking, the sheer intellect of the theologians in the Calvinistic camp against those arrayed for the Arminian side. In either case it’s neutron star vs. a tennis ball.

But the point I am making is that the rock-solid proof texts for Calvinism are usually taken from the Gospel of John. With some heavy duty support from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter the ninth, especially.

But the great fisherman Peter has something to offer. Speaking to believers, Peter wrote:
They [unbelievers] stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Pet. 2 8:-10)
It’s hard to get more Calvinistic than that. Unbelievers are destined to disobey and stumble. Believers are a chosen race. Is it strange that we were chosen rather than advancing by personal achievement in a divine meritocracy? No—because our purpose is not our salvation, but to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [that’s called, as in compelled, not wooed] you out of darkness”.

I'm possessed

I’ve decided (for today, at least) that the toughest verse in the Bible is Luke 12:33. In particular, the first sentence thereof.
32 "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:32-34)
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Now, how do I avoid the plain meaning? Let's fire up a couple of tried-and-true escape mechanisms:

1) Is this in a parable? No.

2) Can this be cast as figurative? Does it really mean: "Do not hold on to your possessions. Be willing to give them up at a moment’s notice, should they be of use to God or the church. Do not make idols of your possessions. Do not value your self-made kingdom more then the kingdom of God." Can it be taken that way? No.

I would like it to mean that. I could convince myself that I was commendable in that regard. But does it actually say that? No it doesn’t. It states: Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.

I am so out of compliance. It is not because I am materialistic, because I’m not. Many sins I suffer from, but materialism is not among them, at least not in a big way. Your private gossip about brother Heddle when you know you shouldn’t be gossiping would not be: “Boy, is he is materialistic.” Or if it is, I'd honestly be surprised.

My discomfort is all about what I would call, in my spin room, responsibility while others might call it a lack of trust. I am building a bigger barn (which has gotten considerably smaller in recent days) called "retirement" and "trust fund" because I have responsibilities. I have to think about my autistic son. I have to provide for him for when I am room temperature. I am anxious for him. You can say: God will take care of him to which I say: And how do you know that what I am doing is not God’s way of taking care of him?

But I am not selling my possessions and giving to the needy. Nor am I likely to live up to that standard. Ever. And that’s a real downer.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Science and Faith at War?  4.3. Rabbit Trail: the Tree of Life

Notes from a Sunday School that began on May 25.

Another Note: This argument has been posted before on this blog, but I post it here as part of the Sunday School notes.

Comments, corrections, and routine editing: absolutely welcomed!

4.3. Rabbit Trail: the Tree of Life.

Many of you already know that as part of my Old Earth Creationist View, I not only believe there was death before the fall, I also believe that Adam and Eve would have eventually died—even had they never sinned.

I don't believe scripture proves this as much as it is more consistent with the viewpoint that, when they died on the day they sinned, as scripture tells us they surely would, it was spiritual death. That is, the choices are:
  1. They surely died, as God warned in Genesis 2:17. Clearly this means they died spiritually, since they continued breathing for hundreds of years.

  2. They “died,” but what it means was they started the process of dying.

  3. God changed His mind.
Had there been no sin, I believe Adam and Eve would have grown old and died peacefully. Or possibly by an accident, especially as the population grew. They would not have been murdered39, 40 or contracted HIV, but they would have died—and been none the worse for it for they would have gone to a place even better than Eden.

Francis Schaeffer, who thought an OEC view was not incompatible with the bible, speculated that pre-fall death, if it existed, was like an old dog peacefully falling asleep, and then into death, in front of cozy fire.

There are, of course, practical problems with people living forever. One would be overpopulation. About 10% of the people who ever lived are alive today. That means if nobody died the population would be at least ten times bigger—possibly much more because a huge percentage of the dead didn't make it to child bearing age.

The other is that if Adam and Eve were to live forever, they would have to live a sinless life forever. And in a twist of what I described in footnote 2, what would happen to all living, sinless descendents of Adam if he had waited, say, a few millennia before sinning? Would they be retrofitted with a sinful nature?

Anyway, this speculation proves nothing. I simply think that (a) there is overwhelming evidence of death before the fall and (b) scripture is more consistent with their promised death being spiritual rather than physical.

In this view the promise of eternal life for Adam and Eve was the same as for us: a promise of eternal life in which the present life is just a vaporous stage one. The difference was that Adam and Eve, at first, were not spiritually dead. On their own they could make choices pleasing to God. However once they, and by inheritance we, became spiritually dead we could not, prior to a second birth, please God. At that point a savior was needed.

All this is fine and dandy. I can get all my ducks in a row. There is just one problem. That mysterious old tree of life standing in the center of the garden. For when Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, we read:
Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gen. 3:22)
How are we to interpret this? Superficially it sure looks like a good argument that Adam and Eve would have indeed lived forever, and so they must be denied access to the tree of life.

But I cannot see this argument as satisfactory even to those who believe Adam and Eve would have lived forever. Surely the tree isn't magic—eternal life comes from God, not from the fruit of a tree. It cannot be that the fruit was "magic" although many commentators and bible notes treat this verse as such. My bible has a footnote that argues that man was (paraphrasing) graciously preserved from the pain of living eternally in a fallen world. That doesn't smell right to me, I think the explanation is elsewhere.

Although this verse always troubled me, I have learned a simple explanation that is not inconsistent with the belief that Adam and Even would have eventually died. And even for those who believe they'd have lived forever, I think it is better than the "magic fruit" view.

We begin by pointing out that when we partake of the Lord's Supper, we use the same language as used for the tree of life. We talk of eternal life being found in the meal that we share. I believe the explanation for the tree of life in the garden is that it was a sacramental tree. It was a seal that signified eternal life—just like the bread we partake of. The tree of life was the seal—and for Adam and Eve to eat of it, after they became covenant breakers, would have been profane. Likewise, eating the bread in an unworthy manner is profane. God did not prevent them from eating of the tree of life after the fall because they would have literally lived forever. He prevented it because for them, in their fallen state, to partake of the sacrament signifying eternal life would have been obscene.

39 An interesting prob/stat problem I used to assign is to estimate our life span if all disease, including old age, was cured. It turns out to be about 500 years. In other words, given our present lifestyles, in ~500 years you have a 50/50 chance to die from some sort of random event. That makes it just like a radioactive half-life—whether you are just born or a million years old, you'd expect to live about 500 more years. Death would be similar to radioactive decay.

40 Or could they have been? One intriguing possibility that I have never seen discussed, but is very real if Adam and Eve would live forever if they didn’t sin, is what if one of their descendants sinned? The sin nature is inherited, we are told. Adam and Eve would then be living amongst a race of fallen creatures. How would these immortals be treated by a world of mortal sinners? Sounds like a good plot.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Dog Days

Hmmm-- there are a lot of these going around:

But I can play that game too!

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Veep Debate

Ah---decide for yourself who won.

There is a Sarah Palin debate flowchart getting a lot of links. So I created a Joe Biden debate flow chart:

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Science and Faith at War?  4.2 Can we literally take this literally?

Notes from a Sunday School that began on May 25.

Comments, corrections, and routine editing: absolutely welcomed!

4.2 Can we literally take this literally?

One of the exegetically weakest points held by fundamentalists is that there was no death of animals prior to the fall. OECs, some of whom believe God used dead animals to prepare the bio-deposits essential for human life are, according to fundamentalism, disparaging God’s creation, which He called very good, imbuing it with evil and cruelty prior to the fall.

There are many things that are weak about this argument, not the least of which it is not taught in scripture.

It also assumes animal death is necessarily evil and cruel, which is not taught anywhere in scripture (and of which there are many counter-examples).

It also assumes there was no evil or sin present before the fall, which is contrary to scripture. Satan was already on earth prior to the fall, so sin and evil were already present (obviously) when the woman was deceived.

It means that if Adam, prior to the fall, stepped on an ant, the ant survived. Did the ant receive all the attendant injury associated with being crushed, but survived and recovered? Or were ants, prior to the fall, indestructible?

It is unrelated to this argument, but one can easily argue that Adam and Eve would have suffered physical death even without the fall. After all, they were to die the day they partook of the forbidden fruit, yet they lived (physically) far beyond that day. So the death they died, and the death that entered the world through Adam, was not physical but spiritual. No where does the Bible teach that Adam would have lived (physically) forever, let alone the animals. Scripture is silent on the matter.

Finally, while God called His creation very good, He does not call it “perfect as you, my creation, are free to define as perfect.” In one sense, it is, of course, perfect—in that it is exactly as God intended. But certainly it is not perfect in the sense that, even before the fall, the earth was corrupted by the sin and presence of Satan. And it probably was not perfect in the sense that, although it was paradise, it was not as wonderful as God could possibly have made it, for we are told of a better creation at the end of the age (Rev 21-22).

Spiritual Arrogance, The Garden of Eden, and How I Learned Not To Worry That A Dead Mouse Could Render Jesus Inconsequential

As the title suggests, this is a rather rambling section. Let’s begin with a quiz. Consider this description

It was a paradise. There was no death, no disease, no predators, and no weeds. Nature was in perfect harmony. The lamb feared not the lion, nor the mouse the thunderous footsteps of the elephant.

Is this (more-or-less) a description of:

(a) The Garden of Eden
(b) The entire pre-fall Earth?

I think that if you are a Young Earth Creationist (YEC), you have to pick (b).

If there was no death--no predator activity anywhere on earth before the fall--if the entire earth was a paradise, then what was so special about Eden? How could you tell Eden from what was over the wall? Yet the YEC view, in my opinion, forces you into this position, for it allows for no death anywhere on earth prior to Adam's sin. In this view, the whole earth is like a manicured golf course. Adam and Eve have their designated property lines, called Eden, but just outside are numerous, virtually identical lots awaiting future homeowners born of the first couple.

It makes more sense to me that Eden was like an enclave. Sin was already in the world, and outside of Eden the lamb feared the lion. But God supernaturally preserved a niche from the world's travails. In Eden, and only in Eden, God removed (almost) everything that would tempt man to curse him. No death at the mouths of predators. No childhood leukemia. No leprosy, yellow fever, ALS, or autism. It was God's biosphere—a laboratory in a certain sense, where the only evil present to tempt man to curse God as unfair was kept as minor as possible--and yet man failed. In this view, the earth didn't so much change as a result of the fall (although it may have) but rather man was exiled into the cruel, waiting, world beyond the gates. That is not to say that man wasn't changed—he most certainly changed radically and for the worse--in fact he died on the spot--and his need for a redeemer was absolute at that instant--independent of whether or not carnivorous activity was already occurring outside of Eden.