Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Drama of Redemption Part 7 (modified)

This series is largely based on R. C. Sproul’s audio series The Drama of Redemption, available from his website.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

The Intrusion of Sin

At the turn of the fourth century, one of the most important controversies in the history of the church erupted. It was a debate between St. Augustine (354-430) and a British monk by the name of Pelagius (ca. 354 - ca. 420/440). Such a big controversy—such an innocent catalyst. The event that launched the brouhaha was a modest sounding prayer penned from Augustine:
God, Command what you desire, and grant what you command.
This prayer encapsulates what we now call the doctrine of Original Sin. We believe it to be biblical, but in human terms it is said to have been first formulated by Augustine.

Augustine’s prayer acknowledges that man does not have the power, without God’s help, to obey God’s commands. Augustine’s prayer is this: God, I recognize that you are sovereign and can command of me whatever you want. I also recognize that I am unable to do what you command, apart from divine assistance—i.e., apart from grace. Help me.

It is important to recognize what original sin means and what it doesn't mean. Original sin means, quite simply, that we are born to sin. We sin because we are sinners; we are not sinners because we sin.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Ps. 51:5, NIV)
Original sin does not mean we stand charged with Adam's sin. Lead a sinless life and God will not keep you out of heaven on a technicality: True you committed no sin, but you forgot that Adam's sin was in your debit column. Gotcha! Such a concept impugns God's justice. No, original sin means something much worse, something that Augustine recognized. It means that we are such a corrupted race that in our natural state we have no choice but to sin. That is the dire consequence of the fall. Whatever we do as natural men, no matter what its outward appearance, is but filthy rags in God's eyes. Adam, as we will see, was our representative. He sinned, and the race suffered for it.

Augustine (and Reformed theology) teaches this: you have moral responsibility but, in your natural state, you lack the moral ability. In other words, apart from grace, you cannot choose not to sin. The fall did not change the requirement of obedience, but it changed us radically. So, apart from grace, we are doomed.

Jonathan Edwards wrote a treatise on Original Sin. At one point he argued that even if the bible never taught the doctrine of original sin, human experience common sense would demand it. Why? Because if we are born innocent, then occasionally we would expect to find someone, be it one in a thousand or one in a million, who remained pure—but we never encounter such a person.

Pelagius denied the doctrine of original sin, arguing that Adam’s sin affected Adam alone. He believed that, at birth, infants are in a state identical to Adam and Eve’s before the fall. Consistent with this view, he looked at baptism of infants as not in a cleansing them from sin but in imparting a higher sanctification through union with Christ. He didn’t really have a developed theology of baptism—it was a simple matter that it did not cleanse you of original sin because original sin did not exist. Augustine, in contrast, taught that infants are baptized to purge them of the sinful nature inherited from Adam.

According to Pelagius, there was no imputation of Adam’s sin onto his descendants. But scripture makes the symmetry plain: We are made righteous through imputation: Christ, as our representative, has abounding righteousness which is credited to us through imputation. It is not a fiction, and it is not a meaningless legal technicality: we are changed as a result. Likewise Adam’s sin, as he was our representative, is imputed to us. (Only later to be imputed from us to Christ on the cross.) It is not that we are charged with Adam’s sin, but that we are deeply affected by it. The physical result of the imputation is that we incapable of seeking or desiring or obeying God. We are dead in out trespasses.

So Pelagius argued that it is unnecessary for God to “grant” what he commands of us. Instead, according to Pelagius, it is possible for man, on his own, to fulfill God’s commandments. Pelagius believed that moral responsibility implied moral ability; it would be unjust for God to demand that we obey and yet arrange it so that we are born with the inability to do so. He argued that we must be born morally neutral—or innocent.

Pelagius had a role for grace: it facilitates our quest for moral perfection, but it is not required. In principle, at least, we can make do without grace. And, in fact, Pelagius argued that some people do, in fact, live a perfect life. Augustine, on the other hand, argued that grace is not only helpful but required.

Attacking Augustine and his doctrine on original sin, Pelagius argued that human nature was created good. In fact, we stay good. Sin does not change our essential human nature—we always will be “basically good.”

At the heart of the debate between Pelagius and Augustine is the thorny issue of free-will. Pelagius argued that Adam was given a free will, and his free will was not corrupted by the fall, nor was man’s moral character affected by the fall. Everyone, according to Pelagius, is born free of a predisposition to sin. Augustine agreed than man had a free will, but that man, on his own, was unable to use his will to choose God. Augustine believed that sin is universal and that man is a “mass of sin.” Man cannot, according to Augustine, elevate himself to doing good without benefiting from God’s grace.

Harnack (German theologian, 1851-1930) summarizes Pelagian taught:
Nature, free-will, virtue and law, these strictly defined and made independent of the notion of God - were the catch-words of Pelagianism: self-acquired virtue is the supreme good which is followed by reward. Religion and morality lie in the sphere of the free spirit; they are at any moment by man's own effort.
R.C. Sproul writes:
Augustine did not deny that fallen man still has a will and that the will is capable of making choices. He argued that fallen man still has a free will (liberium arbitrium) but has lost his moral liberty (libertas). The state of original sin leaves us in the wretched condition of being unable to refrain from sinning. We still are able to choose what we desire, but our desires remain chained by our evil impulses. He argued that the freedom that remains in the will always leads to sin. Thus in the flesh we are free only to sin, a hollow freedom indeed. It is freedom without liberty, a real moral bondage. True liberty can only come from without, from the work of God on the soul. Therefore we are not only partly dependent upon grace for our conversion but totally dependent upon grace.
Pelagius was condemned at the synod of Carthage in 418. Subsequent councils affirmed the condemnation of the Pelagian heresy and reaffirmed the doctrine of original sin.
So Augustine won the battle, but Pelagius won the war. Because we are a race of beings that doesn’t like grace, but with a religion that is only grace with no way to work your way to heaven. Strangely we have a natural affinity for the idea of salvation by works, so we try to sneak it in at every opportunity. And so the church, from the time the battle was won by Augustine, has faced a constant assault of Pelagian thought.

Sproul writes:
Humanism, in all its subtle forms, recapitulates the unvarnished Pelagianism against which Augustine struggled. Though Pelagius was condemned as a heretic by Rome, and its modified form, Semi-Pelagianism was likewise condemned by the Council of Orange in 529, the basic assumptions of this view persisted throughout church history to reappear in Medieval Catholicism, Renaissance Humanism, Arminianism, and modern Liberalism. The seminal thought of Pelagius survives today not as a trace or tangential influence but is pervasive in the modern church. Indeed, the modern church is held captive by it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Well he is bald!

Now this is somewhat troubling:

Jim Bakker (yes that Jim Bakker) threatens the wrath of God upon those who mock him. I'm going to watch out for bears on the way home.

Maybe if I buy some tasty survival food buckets from his store, I'll be forgiven?

I seem to recall something in the bible related to false prophets...

Good Work, Professor Coyne

Jerry Coyne, as most of you know, is a retired (and respected) atheist evolutionary biologist from the prestigious (and IMHO best comprehensive research university in America) University of Chicago.

Coyne sometimes posts on Christianity, and on that subject he is almost always wrong 1.

Coyne sometimes posts on an alleged incompatibility between science and religion, and on that subject he is almost always wrong 2.

Professor Coyne, however, deserves enormous praise for his comprehensive and diligent posting on the Regressive Left Mob's (among other sins) campaign to curtail free speech --which they often do under the guise of an Orwellian claim to be doing the exact opposite.

Here are some recent examples:

American University cancels “Unsafe Space” Title IX discussion on dubious grounds

How Kirkus changed its review of American Heart after mob pressure

An apologist says that Islam is the best way to prevent sexual abuse

Biloxi pulls “To Kill A Mockingbird” from eighth-grade readings

Bisexual student threatened by a University of Texas official after saying he said he didn’t have a “high opinion of Islam” because he’d be killed in some Muslim countries

Wellesley student paper argues for “hate speech” limitations on free speech

Well played, Dr. Coyne.

1 By which I mean I disagree with him.
2 See footnote 1.

A Born Again Star

Perhaps the brightest nova ever seen.

This is a not a supernova, but a nova. A supernova is the death of a single massive star after it runs out of fuel. Our sun is not massive enough to end its productive life as a supernova 1. Instead its out-of-fuel fate is to simmer on (with a inoperative fusion engine) as a white dwarf-- which is more or less a dead medium sized star. However, if there is a nearby star (a so-called binary system) then the white dwarf can steal material from its companion and its fusion engine can reignite.

In other words a nova is a redeemed star that has been born again. You don't have to be Fellini to see the metaphor.

Of course if you are a Young Earth Creationist you could argue that this is but a false memory, kind of like if Adam had false memories of getting a Thomas the Tank Engine on his fourth birthday. That God placed the light, in transit, as if two stars collided 200,000 years, ago although they never did--they never even existed. God did that. Because reasons.

1 This is set to occur in about five billion years. The inner Hal Lindsey in me predicts that Jesus will return before then. What the astronomical and cosmological ramifications of the Parousia are--about those I cannot speculate.

Homeopathic Holiness (modified)

Consider this verse:

The wicked flee when no one pursues (Proverbs 28:1)

Matthew Henry gives this commentary:
What continual frights those are subject to that go on in wicked ways. Guilt in the conscience makes men a terror to themselves, so that they are ready to flee when none pursues; like one that absconds for debt, who thinks every one he meets a bailiff. Though they pretend to be easy, there are secret fears which haunt them wherever they go, so that they fear where no present or imminent danger is, Ps. 53:5 . Those that have made God their enemy, and know it, cannot but see the whole creation at war with them, and therefore can have no true enjoyment of themselves, no confidence, no courage, but a fearful looking for of judgment. 
R. C. Sproul, in his book The Holiness of God, has a different take. He views it as a repulsion when unbelievers encounter the holy, even the tiniest holiness of God reflected in virtually homeopathic (my word, not his) quantities among believers. He relates an anecdote of a professional golfer who was part of a foursome with Billy Graham. After the round the pro returned to the clubhouse in a foul mood complaining to a friend that he didn't appreciate Billy Graham shoving his religion down his throat. But upon further questioning, it turned out the Graham had not mentioned his religion, not even once.

From my recollection as an unbeliever, I think Sproul is closer than Henry. The slight uneasiness I felt around believers (that is, around those who were not proselytizing. Around that type there was a profound uneasiness) was not that of a criminal fearing that an arrest warrant was about to be produced, but a slight revulsion telling me that I should not stand too close to this person. He has cooties.

At any rate Henry and Sproul (and I) agree that the irony here is that there is, in fact, no persuit.

Sproul also discusses how people fear God much more after they come to know Him. This is very true--and interesting, given that atheists will often say that we come to God out of fear. Whether or not that is ever true (it was not in my case) it is certainly true that we come to know fear. Sproul gives the perfect example from scripture:
3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 6 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5: 3-8)
Peter was just getting to know Jesus. He was not afraid. He was even (possibly) a little condescending in an eye-rolling manner with Jesus. Ahem. Just who is the fisherman here? But OK I'll humor you, teacher. But when he saw God revealed he was so afraid that he had his personal Isaiah-6 moment, recognized his own unclean lips, and asked Jesus: please, just go away.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Clergy Housing Tax Break: Good Riddance

Well, this opinion may not be shared by many of my friends. Nevertheless, here goes:

The housing deduction enjoyed for the past 60 years by clergy is the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).  The FFRF has prevailed in the latest round of appeals. As reported by Christianity Today:
Once again, a federal judge has declared that the longstanding clergy housing allowance violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. 
Offered only to “ministers of the gospel,” the 60-year-old tax break excludes the rental value of a home from the taxable income of US clergy. It’s the “most important tax benefit available to ministers,” according to GuideStone Financial Resources. 
It’s also the biggest: American ministers currently avail themselves of the tax break to the tune of $800 million a year, according to the latest estimate by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
This is a blatant special privilege for clergy. There is no reason why a pastor should get a housing tax break as opposed to, say, a carpenter, or a lawyer, or a staffer at Planned Parenthood.

This was an indefensible benefit created primarily for Christian clergy. We shouldn't take advantage of government support, beyond what is given to all non-profits.

Those of us who can give more to make up the loss should do so. We should be supporting our pastor--his housing should not be subsidized by the government.

What. Does. That. Mean? (modified)

A question to any readers out there:

If you could have just one biblical passage explained to you, perfectly, with no possibility of error, which one would it be? I don't necessarily mean in importance--just one that bugs you because you have no clue what it is about. One that leaves you scratching your head.

For me it would be this:
16If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. (1 John 5:16-17
It doesn't matter how many commentaries I read. None give satisfaction on this passage. I don't get it. I don't get it at all. I do not buy the fairly common explanation that this is about sin that leads to immediate death, such as in the case of Ananias and his wife Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). That explanation has the slimmest of purchase. Apart from somebody sinning and dying, it doesn't fit nor offer any help in understanding the passage as a whole. Not to mention that since Ananias and Sapphira were summarily terminated there has been an obvious paucity of people sinning and dropping dead on the spot. With nothing new under the sun, if there are sins leading to immediate departure, you would think it would not be a rare phenomenon.

No, I don't think that's it. It is not about Ananias and Sapphira.

Sigh. It's one of those instance were I am reminded of the aphorism that it is not what you don't understand about the bible that should keep you awake, but what you do understand.  I get that. But it's not helping. This passage has always been stuck in my craw.

Do you have a passage that drives you nuts?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

You! Come up out of that water this instant! (modified)

As you read this, keep in mind I'm a Baptist. I just don't think you can prove that immersion, as a mode of baptism, is prescribed biblically. I look at it more or less as a perfectly sensible tradition tat if you don't like it--well don't join a Baptist church!

The Baptist insistence on immersion as the only acceptable mode for baptism is based on three arguments.
  1. One is the meaning of the Greek word babtizo, for which the claim is made that it absolutely implies immersion. (It doesn't. It can refer to a cleansing that doesn't demand immersion.) 

  2. The second argument is that Paul's writing identifies baptism as the symbolism for Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, and only immersion gives justice to that symbolism. This is an attractive and compelling argument (and the basis for immersion being such an acceptable tradition) but ultimately is a subjective appeal.

  3. And the third is that the baptisms described in scripture clearly indicate immersion.
The last point is the weakest of the three, and is the only one I'll discuss here.

The basis for the argument is the Greek preposition eis which, in the relevant passages we'll examine, is translated as out of and into. However, it can also be translated as to, upon, unto, towards, for, and among.

The most quoted passage is that of Jesus' baptism, another famous 3:16 verse:
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: (Matt 3:16, KJV)
Here the argument goes that if Jesus came "out of" the water, then he must have been immersed. Obviously that is not the case: if one is waist deep with a dry head one can still come up out of the water by walking to the shore. This passage is, at most, suggestive of immersion. It does not require it.

However, the death blow to this argument (not the death blow to the case for immersion, just the death blow for using such passages to prove that it is the only legitimate mode) comes from the case of the Ethiopian eunuch. There we read:
36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36-39)
The problem here for we Baptists is that whatever was described for the Ethiopian in relation to the water must also apply to Philip. They both went "into" the water. They both came "up out of" the water. If such language, the same as used in describing Jesus' baptism, demands immersion—then we must conclude that the baptizer (Philip) was also immersed. I know of no Baptist church that requires the pastor to be immersed when administering the ordinance.

 The observant will note there is no verse 37. It was not left out.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Four Bad Proofs for Biblical Inerrancy

(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. ) 

Four Bad Proofs

As important as biblical inerrancy is, we need to avoid bad arguments supporting it. In the book Primitive Theology, Gerstner outlines four bad proofs. These are four ways that are sometimes used but which in fact are fallacious and should be avoided. These four “bad arguments” are lifted, nearly verbatim, from Gerstner’s treatment of their error in Primitive Theology.

1. The Bible’s own Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

We cannot use passages such as 2 Tim. 3:16 to prove the bible is inspired or inerrant. Probably everyone senses the circularity of such an approach, or the logical fallacy of begging the question, in which the conclusion is demonstrated by first assuming it to be true. And of course, if a claim of inerrancy is all that is required then we must allow that the Koran and the Book of Mormon are also inerrant.

Here is the important distinction: The bible is not the word of God because it says so, it says so because it is.

Some will argue that the bible is different. In general, they agree that something is not true merely because it says it is true. However the bible, being the word of God, is subject to different rules. It is God’s word, and God’s word cannot be challenged. This, of course, is true. But it misses the point. The question is not whether we should instantly obey the word of God. We agree with the prophet Samuel who said "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1 Sam 3:10) but like Samuel we must first know that the voice we hear is really God’s. The question is whether we can accept the bible as the word of God merely because it says that it is. The answer is we can not.

Some will argue it is simply too presumptuous and impious to put the bible to the test. On the contrary, it is an act of humility. For we are using the only means at our disposal that God has given us, our reason, to distinguish between the true word of God and the word of men falsely claiming to speak the word of God. We are again reminded that Jesus’ miracles are offered as proof of his claims of deity.

No we cannot use the bible’s own claim as proof of its inspiration. However, if we can successfully make a case for inerrancy (not in this post) then the bible’s lofty claims about itself will carry great weight. It’s claim of inspiration will be of comfort, and its refrain of “Thus sayeth the Lord” and its proclamation of the gospel will be sources of great joy.

2. The Holy Spirit’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

Another bad proof of inerrancy attempts to ride the coattails of a sound doctrine: the “Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit.” This internal testimony is necessary for us to understand God’s word, for without it His truth would appear as foolishness to our ears (1 Cor. 1:18).  1  It is tempting, then, to make this type of argument:

Just as the bible certifies itself by the letter of scripture, so by the living voice of God the Spirit convinces the hearts of men.

Many even assume the bible is “dead text” until the Spirit speaks to a heart at which time the beneficiary has an experiential basis for accepting inerrancy. What more, could one demand as proof than the voice of God speaking directly into one’s soul?

Nothing more, is the obvious response. Nobody would be foolish enough to reject as inconclusive the very voice of God inwardly announcing to us that the bible His word. At such a point, searching for proof would be superfluous.

Of course, when pressed for details, the proponents of this view will concede that they never actually heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say to them “the Bible is my Word.” Many would even complain that it is impertinent to ask them if they actually heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, even as they continue to claim that the Sprit is talking to them. We politely remind them that we affirm the doctrine of the inward testimony of the spirit as it applies to understanding scripture, just not as it applies to the bible’s inerrancy.

If the Spirit does not testify audibly, the question becomes, how does the Spirit, through inaudible testimony, convey to someone that the bible is inerrant? The answer given is that the Holy Spirit confirms our convictions when we read the bible and intensifies our experience as we meditate on scripture. Once again we agree that such a thing happens, but counter that it still doesn’t prove inerrancy or inspiration. All it means is that a person reads the bible and he is stirred by parts of what he reads. He feels or thinks he feels a spirit other than his own working in his heart. Even if he is sure there is another spirit, he cannot be sure what that spirit is. Furthermore, if it is the Holy Spirit he cannot be sure it isn’t the Spirit telling him that this part of the book he is reading is good, but other parts—well—if you don’t feel the same way don’t you have to believe them.

To summarize we must reject the testimony of the Spirit as a basis for inerrancy. (At the same time, we loudly affirm our belief in the testimony of the Spirit.) The Spirit’s testimony is not audible, it is an intensifying of feelings and enlightening of understanding as we contemplate, but it does prove inerrancy.

3. The Believer’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

It may not be obvious that the first two “bad” proofs—using the bible itself or the testimony of the Spirit as the basis of inerrancy—are rooted in the same error: elevation of the creature above the creator. Indeed, they seem to have a level of piety implying just the opposite. However, accepting, for example, the bible as the word of God just because of its own claim is sheer arbitrariness, regardless of how lofty the intention. By dismissing (often derisively) God’s gift of reason, we become a law unto ourselves, appealing to our own “feelings.”

In our third version of bad arguments for inerrancy, we find an augment that is transparently man centered. The argument is this:

The bible is inspired because it inspires me.

Here we have a “proof” that is purely based on experience. But a proof based on experience can never prove anything to anyone else. In addition, the book that you claim inerrant on the basis of the experience never states that you are justified in your reasoning—it never states that “see, you have come to believe me just like I said you would, by feeling it in your bones.”

No rational person would deny that a Christian will have experiences when reading scripture that are different from when he reads something else, but this is not a basis for inerrancy, it is only a basis for stating that the bible is “moving.” One sign of the unreliability of this proof is that Christians often have similar feelings when reading a biblical commentary, watching a move such as The Passion of the Christ, receiving a well crafted sermon, or listing to a poignant testimony. Yet the same feeling would never be used to claim the inerrancy of those sources.

4. The Church’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

Some, sensing the error in the previous approaches, yield to the temptation of the bosom of the mother church. The (erroneous) idea is that God has promised guidance to the body as a whole that He has not promised to individual believers. In effect, God is entrusting, by means unspecified, the church with the certainty of the inspiration and inerrancy of the bible, and then saying: now you go teach the flock who should require no proof other than your word.

This relies on the authority of the church. And the church does have authority. And from where does the church derive its authority? From the bible! We are back to circular reasoning, although this circle has a larger diameter. The bible is inerrant because the church teaches that it is. To accept this, we must bow to the authority of the church. But the church enjoys this authority because it is granted in the bible, which is inerrant.

We must be straight on this: The church is not the basis of the bible’s authority. The bible is the basis of the church’s authority. Our friends in the Catholic Church, for example, claim papal authority from And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matt. 16:18) But to make this claim Rome must first prove the trustworthiness of Matt. 16:18. Only after that is established can the Catholic Church then attempt to use the passage to make her case for papal authority.

1 This is me (not Gerstner) speaking. As an aside, I always found: For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18) to be an underused verse that speaks to assurance. For no matter how much doubt I might be dealing with, I am comforted that I never find scripture to be foolishness.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Outrage Du Jour

Another sign that western civilization is doomed. (If, unlike me, you think that's a good thing, this story will warm the cockles of your heart. )

Berkeley students' "well being" being placed in jeopardy by *gasp* midterm exams.

You can't make this crap up--nobody would believe you.

Same Joke; Always Satisfying

I'm giving a test (right now!) on fluids and waves. As I passed out the test a student asked (it's really inevitable) "Is it hard?" To which I give my canned response: "Well, I'm glad I don't have to take it!" Their reaction is always so gratifying!

I must live up to my teaching motto: Cruel, but fair.

Is Aaron Real?

Not Aaron the High Priest. Did you think I was talking about him? Nah. I'm talking of a fictional Aaron. A character in a movie. (And not even another fictional Aaron, the protagonist of this worst seller.) Which means of course that he wasn't real... but I mean even in the context of the movie was Aaron real?... (no wonder  I can't sell books. I can't write--let me start over.)

Primal Fear was a 1996 courtroom drama staring Richard Gere and Edward Norton. The former is one of my least favorite actors. (His repertoire consists of two expressions. One: a deer in the headlights. Two: a deer in the headlights with a quizzical smirk.) The latter, Norton, is one of my favorites. In this film Norton kills a priest and is defended by Martin Vail, a defense attorney played with his characteristic dynamic range by Gere. Norton’s character is named Aaron. Aaron, of poor white-trash origin, is mild, weak, obsequious, stuttering, helpless, learning disabled, harmless, abused, and out of place in gritty Chicago

There is no doubt Aaron is guilty of killing the perverted (of course) priest. His defense is schizophrenia. It turns out that 99% of the time Aaron is milquetoast Aaron. But 1% of the time he is Roy, a self-assured crafty and violent predator who despises the personality with whom he shares a body.

With a timely and dramatic Aaron-to-Roy personality switch in court he convinces everyone of his mental illness. He is found innocent by reason of insanity. Victory for Aaron, and victory for his lawyer, Martin Vail.

Short lived as it was. After the verdict, back in the holding cell, Aaron makes a slip when talking to the credulous Vail who then realizes, too late, the schizo was all a sham. Aghast but helpless, Vail looks at his client and says: "So there never was a Roy." To which Aaron responds, after slipping at will out of his Aaron skin and into his Roy persona and donning a smirk of his own: "You still don't get it. There never was an Aaron, Counselor."

Ouch. You gotta hate it when that happens.

This is a lead in to a question addressed to liberal Christians. You know the type: My God would not have commanded Joshua to ethnically cleanse the Canaanites. Never happened. My God is all about love your neighbor, including all ‘ites. The beatitudes. All that nice stuff. I don’t believe those Old Testament horror stories.

To liberal Christians, we have this SAT analogy, for anyone old enough to remember when the SAT was a real, gritty test and still used analogy questions (which have been dropped--they must be some form of micro-aggression):

Old Testament God:New Testament God :: Roy:Aaron

So my question is to you Christian liberals is: when deciding what vast portions of scripture to jettison, why are you so certain that there never was a Roy? How do you know it’s not Aaron who is make believe?

Monday, October 09, 2017

A Meaningless Question

This really a dumb question--although I suspect its author finds it to be exceedingly clever. After all, this is the same scholar who published A Manual for Creating Atheists which purports to be "the first-ever guide not for talking people into faith--but for talking them out of it." I took the challenge. I read the book. I didn't de-convert. (I wonder if that means I didn't have enough faith that the book could destroy my faith? ) I suspect that if anything is efficacious as an atheist apologetic, then  simply having Bertrand Russell's Why I am not a Christian on your bookshelf would be more dangerous for the believer than actually reading A Manual for Creating Athiests. They don't make intellectual atheists like they used to. This is also the same author who, with a colleague, tried to imitate the  brilliant Sokal hoax  but did it so clumsily that even many who wanted to champion their attempt to mock postmodern gender studies found their effort to be harmful to the cause.

Anyway, to the question at hand. 

No Christian (including Paul, his hyperbole aside) would give up his faith (and hence his salvation) for a hundred, a thousand, or a million other people. While any of us would willingly give his mortal life for any number of people or reasons, giving up one's salvation is a) too much to ask and b) a form of idolatry--for it demonstrates that one has prioritized the target of one's worship, and at the top of the list is not God.

At least at some level--without further elaboration--the question, as it stands,  is nonsensical-- even as a thought experiment. You cannot abandon your faith so that others retain theirs, because the tradeoff necessitates an understanding that faith is real--in which case you can't abandon it. To abandon faith means you come to view it as misplaced or fake, in which case it ceases to have value for your 100 closest friends. If you abandon your faith, the last thing you'd desire is for them to retain theirs.  Why, you'd be (to no avail) sending them copies of A  Manual for Creating Atheists. You could patch this up Rube-Goldberg style, but ultimately it's hopeless.

A more reasonable "gotcha" question (if such questions are ever reasonable) would have been: Would you curse God to insure that a hundred others retain their faith?  The question, as posed, shows little understanding of the meaning of faith.

Syrian Lepers are People Too!

25But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." (Luke 4:25-27)

Jesus caused an uproar at the beginning of His ministry when He spoke at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. So incensed were the Jews that they forcefully led Jesus to a cliff outside of town for the purpose of murdering Him.

It all started out so promising! When He began to speak at at the synagogue in Nazareth, as recorded earlier in Luke 4, Jesus stated that He had come to fulfill the Messianic prophesy of Isaiah. Luke wrote:

21And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." 22So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:21-22)

This would appear to indicate that when Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and then proceeded to teach, and the Jews were not outraged; indeed they marveled at his eloquence. However when he spoke of Zarephath and Naaman (he should have given a trigger warning!), which to us may same as incidental rabbit trails,  the Jews became filled with wrath and dragged Him from the synagogue.

Why is this?

Let’s take a quick look at one of these Old Testament stories: Naaman the Syrian leper (2 Kings 5:1-19).

Naaman was a sworn enemy of Israel and a commander in the army of the King of Syria, in whom he found great favor. Naaman had taken a Jewish wife; a young woman captured during a raid into Israel.

Naaman was also a leper. His Jewish bride told him of a Samarian prophet who could heal his leprosy. With the king’s blessing, Naaman took letters of introduction and silver, gold, and clothing as gifts and journeyed to Israel. Eventually Naaman met Elisha, who instructed him to wash seven times in the Jordan. Naaman, after some persuasion, did so and was cleansed. He vowed to worship the God of Israel from that day forward. Elisha refused the gifts offered by Naman.

What incited the anger of those listening to Jesus teach? After all this was a well known story to the Jews in the synagogue.

What angered the Jews was the coupling of this story to Jesus’ Messianic proclamation. The message was clear:
  1. He was the Messiah, He came to free the captives (c.f. Luke 4:18-19). 
  2. This salvation would be for the Gentiles and Jews alike, and not for the Jews universally, for there were ‘many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’
  3. Salvation would be by the grace of a Sovereign God, for Naaman’s cleansing was not a reward for anything he had done, but a gift to an unlikely and unworthy recipient. To make it absolutely clear that works were not involved, even Naaman’s offering was refused. (In an interesting twist, some of Naaman’s money and clothing was surreptitiously accepted by Elisha’s servant Gehazi, who ended up getting Naaman’s leprosy as a punishment for his greed. Awesome!)

The Jews didn’t mind hearing Jesus claim that He was the Messiah. They wanted someone, anyone to free them from Roman tyranny. Yet when He taught the He had come not to free a nation from occupation but to free His people, including Gentiles, from their uncleanliness, they wanted to kill him. It is an interesting “mini gospel encapsulation” contained in just a few passages from Luke 4.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Drama of Redemption Part 6 (modified)

This series is largely based on R. C. Sproul’s audio series The Drama of Redemption, available from his website.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Covenant of Works?

Another term for the Covenant of Creation (between God and Adam and Eve) is the Covenant of Works. And it is true that what is required from Adam and Eve to enjoy eternal life are works. The problem (for some) is that all the covenants that follow are (according to Covenant Theology) under a single umbrella known as the Covenant of Grace. 1 Therein lies the problem: if we have a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace, it sends the message that the Covenant of Works is “graceless.” May it never be. Grace abounds in the Covenant of Works, for God was not obligated to enter into any covenant with Adam and Eve. He was within his rights to create them and tell them: “Good luck, you’re on your own, I'm off to Boca.” But God graciously condescended into entering into a covenant with his creatures. Nevertheless, because of this, the term “Covenant of Creation” is preferred.

It should also be noted that:
  1. The Covenant of Creation was between God and Adam and his descendants. That means everyone. There is no Jew, no Gentile, no Greek, no man, no woman, no Christian. Just people.
  2. The covenant, though broken, was not annulled. While future covenants are with “chosen” people, such as Jews, everyone is held accountable to God by this first covenant with all mankind. Some people are covenant breakers, and some are covenant keepers (but only because Christ kept it for us), but in any case there is no opting out. Sucks to be people.

1 Those who know me also know that I don't actually agree with this. I am more aligned with New Covenant Theology, which in my biased view is the Goldilocks position between the extremes of dispensationalism (which overemphasizes discontinuity) and Covenant Theology (which overemphasizes continuity). But since I'm shadowing Sproul in this series, I may come across more Covenantal than I really am. (Can't we all just love Jesus and forget about these labels?) If you are actually interested, or for obtaining fodder for the purpose of mocking, see this post for more on my views.

2 Nor is the umbrella Covenant of Grace workless. At the time of this post there is some controversy surrounding the teaching of John Piper on justification. Although I'm not a Piper fan boy (I've never been able to finish any of his books--to me his writing is of the "never say with ten words what can be said with 1000" school of style.) Still, from a cursory examination, I think people are being uncharitable to Piper. In a mini  Lordship Salvation way I think Piper is, perhaps not skillfully, simply arguing that a faith that doesn't produce works is not a true faith. Then again, I haven't looked very deeply into this. Here is a (rather poorly written) critique of Piper (the analogy to gym membership simply doesn't work) to get you started, if controversies are your thing.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

What I don't like about missionaries (modified)

I have been thinking about missionaries recently. Not everything that I have been thinking is complimentary.

First, let me start by saying that I absolutely support the idea of missionaries, including the idea that they receive financial support.

But the bottom line is this: the call to be a missionary is as substantive as the call to be a pastor. You don't "try out" being a pastor to see if it's for you. You don't let members of the youth group be pastors for two weeks in Peru. You don't pastor for your own spirtiual growth. We should have the same high esteem for mission work and we do for the pastorate--but unfortunately we often treat missionary work--especially when it comes to short term missions and double-especially when it comes to sending teens, as a sort of Christian vacation, although we don't dare call it that. We certainly treat is as something for which it is acceptable to give the rationale "I want to help people, and I want to see if this kind of work is for me."

We should never send a missionary to do what a local can do. Don't send teens to frame houses. The same same money required to ship a teen to Peru could hire an army of local carpenters.

suspect (not being able to actually read anyone's heart) that mission work is one of the most abused "professions". I am convinced that many who seek to become missionaries have their own glory in mind rather than God’s—even if they don’t recognize it. Not all, maybe not even most, but a sizable “some”.

It is well worth remembering that simple catechism lesson: Man's chief aim is to glorify God  (1 Cor. 10:31).

Regular readers (all six of you) know that I am strongly in the Calvinistic predestination camp. There may be suspicion that this view disinclines me as to the merits of missionary work and evangelism. If so, that reflects an inaccurate view of Calvinism. Proper Reformed teaching states that, at least in the normative sense, man must hear the gospel in order to be saved (Rom. 10:13-15).

After all, the Apostle Paul was both the world's greatest teacher of Calvinism and the world's greatest missionary. 1

Now it is true that as a Calvinist I view missionary work different from an Arminian. I think a missionary should have this point of view:

God, grant me the privilege of being used to preach your gospel.

Rather than

God, I want to reach the unsaved and help them to accept Christ as their "personal Lord and Savior".

The former approach is the one supported in scripture (e.g., Acts 8:25, 40). The latter is not.

To put it differently: mission work is all about the message and not about the response. A positive response is delicious gravy, but it is not the purpose. The message is the purpose.

And this does touch upon some of the errors made by missionaries. Here are a few:
  • Over there syndrome This is the view that, somehow, souls are more valuable in far away places than in your backyard. If 25% of Americans are saved (a generous assumption) that still leaves about 200 million unsaved Americans, more than the population of most countries. Now a Calvinistic missionary, who understands that preaching the gospel, not collecting converts, is the role of the missionary, has a stronger argument for going to remote places. He could argue that most of these 200 million Americans have heard already. An Arminian missionary, to be consistent, should go for numbers, which he easily can find at home. In either case, one much watch for this mistake: It is far sexier to be a missionary in a remote and even dangerous place than at the shopping mall near home.
  • God Needs Me Syndrome This is a kind of missionary-guilt, very Arminian, that causes a missionary or potential missionary to worry that people will go to hell if he cannot do the missionary work he desires. There is no support for such a concern in scripture. Nowhere do we read that the Holy Spirit was disappointed because He wanted to regenerate someone, but Paul just didn't make to the right place and so the poor soul was lost. On the contrary, scripture teaches that the sheep are saved in spite of man's efforts, not because of them (John 10: 27-30).
  • I must be a professional Missionary Syndrome Here the missionary is overwhelmed with the notion that he is being called to be a missionary. Maybe he is, but maybe he just wants to be a missionary. Admittedly knowing the will of God is not easy. But I am convinced that many potential missionaries will ignore multitudinous signs that they should not go into the field. Signs such as a lack of support, or other opportunities and people that God is placing before you. If you find yourself saying that is a great opportunity, but right now I just want to concentrate on getting support for my missionary work, then I suggest that you may be ignoring God's will.
The financial support question is interesting and tricky. I do believe that pastors and missionaries deserve our support. However we do have Paul's teaching:
7For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. (2 Th. 3:7-9)
Now the "tentmaking" doctrine is often misused, but I think Paul is teaching that a good model 2 is a missionary who works and preaches the gospel. Paul could take his work with him. Some people can't. What type of missionary better fits the model: A high school teacher who, one evening a week and on Saturdays preaches the gospel to people on the streets of his hometown (while at the same time glorifying God in the manner he conducts himself at work and maintaining fellowship in a local church) or a high school teacher that quits is job and heads out to the missionary field, living on the financial support of others? It sure ain't obvious to me that the latter glorifies God more than the former.

1 Usually when you write "Paul was the greatest (whatever)" somebody will respond that no, Jesus was the greatest (whatever). Fair enough. Jesus did teach predestination effectively. In fact, on at least two occasions He summarized the entire doctrine in a single verse, namely: Matt 22:14 and John 6:44.

2 This is not unlike the issue of celibacy. Paul teaches, fairly clearly, that the model for a pastor/missionary is celibacy, while acknowledging that not everyone will be up to the task (1 Cor 7:32-34). The Roman Catholic church errs in turning a suggestion into a requirement. Protestants make a more insidious error in the other direction. We applaud extreme violations of Paul’s suggestion, looking with admiration upon pastors and missionaries who boast that they’ll have as many kids as God gives them. And to our shame, I suspect we would look upon with suspicion an unmarried pastoral candidate who said he never intends to wed.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Dude, wrong advent! (Or: Like the stores, let's start Christmas in October!)

I have lost my postmillennial zeal. 1 Not because I have adopted a different eschatology, 2 but because I simply no longer care about the endtimes beyond: And he will come again to judge the quick and the dead. Maybe the fact that the passing of time means that I am much more likely to be of the dead rather than quick, regardless of which millennial view is correct, has pushed me to a more "meh" attitude.

I still, however, love to ponder Christmas songs that aren't Christmas songs. It's a guilty pleasure to point them out, on the day they are sung, even when the response is "<<eyeroll>> Yeah, yeah, yeah, you've told me that a thousand times and I still don't care!"

Consider, for example Joy to the World.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come, 4
Let earth receive her king!
Let every heart prepare him room... 
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessing flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders, wonders of His love. 
This refers to a future golden age on earth. At the first advent, the earth did not receive her king. Christ came to die, and very few hearts prepared Him room. Sins and sorrows abound. Nations are not in the business of proving the glories of his righteousness.

The variation of Joy to the World that starts with Jeremiah was a bullfrog! is as much a Christmas song as this version.

Oh, and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear:
O ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing. 

Another postmillennial hymn. Nothing to with Christmas. Christ's first coming did not bring peace to all the earth. However, we are promised that some day there will be a time of peace on earth. And someday the whole world will give back the song.

Now go ponder  O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Do you know other Christmas carols that are not really about Christmas?

Pointing them out is my version of bah humbug!

1 A very bad reason to reject postmillennialism is this: the world is obviously not getting better. That reasoning is likely false (would you rather live in, say, the 1300's?) and even if you could quantitatively demonstrate that life was more golden in the beloved 1950's, it would still prove nothing. 3 Postmillennialism does not claim that every year will be better than the year before. It claims that the bible teaches that Christ will return to a victorious church, not a church in retreat with its tail between its legs. So accept or reject postmillennialism (or don't give a whit) on the basis of scripture, not on the Drudge Report.

 2 I have not adopted another eschatology, but I wish dispensational premillennialism was true, because a Rapture would soooooo cool. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it lacks the important ingredient of scriptural support.

 3 Sort of in the same sense that a record breaking cold spell (or hot spell) says absolutely nothing about the validity of anthropogenic global warming.

4 Does anyone know why it is: "The Lord is come"? That always bothered me.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Drama of Redemption Part 5 (modified)

This series is largely based on R. C. Sproul’s audio series The Drama of Redemption, available from his website.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

§2. The Opening Act

We are shadowing R. C. Sproul's audio series, the Drama of Redemption. Our goal is to come away with a coherent view of the Old Testament as a story of redemption draped over the scaffolding of biblical covenants. We want to stop looking at the Old Testament as a collection of "chances" God gave the Jews, in which they failed every time, and in which at some point God decided "I'm not doing this any more, clearly it's not working" and so he sent Christ. The story is not haphazard—haphazard history is inconsistent with a sovereign God.

Last time we discussed the Covenant of Redemption. This covenant, inferred from scripture, was entered into before time and made among the three persons of the Trinity. It is the agreement that the Father would give a people to His son, the Son would redeem them, and the Spirit would sanctify them.

From this point forward, we will look at covenants between God and man.

Dramas, as plays, are broken into acts. The standard format for a drama is "a play in three acts." Interestingly, as we pointed out last time, biblical history is a drama in three acts:
  • Act 1: Creation (Two Chapters)
  • Act 2: The Fall of Man (One Chapter)
  • Act 3: Redemption (One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty Six Chapters)
Although the class is about redemption, we have to spend a bit of time in the first two acts. Because there, in creation, we find the first covenant made that included man. As we pointed out, man is a party in these covenants, but man did not participate in establishing the requirements or devising the blessings contained therein. All the covenants are unilaterally imposed by God. It's not even "take it or leave it," it's just "take it." Our only choice is between being a covenant keeper or a covenant breaker.

The Covenant of Creation

The Covenant of Creation was made in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam and Eve. And Adam, as we'll discuss later, actually represented all mankind. It includes laws and promises that God made to Adam and Eve before the fall. For example, He commands them to be fruitful and multiply. He tells them to work. One job for Adam was to name the animals, launching the birth of the science of biology. It's an important point: work is not a consequence of the fall. Unnecessarily difficult work (e.g., farming in the presence of thorns and thistles in a resisting ground) is part of the fall. But the task of farming preceded the fall. Work is not a curse. God worked and God rested and God is holy. Adam and Eve were created to work and to rest and to be holy.

As for the promises, God agreed to provide nurture and sustenance: of all these trees you may freely eat. He also promises eternal life and eternal fellowship. One simple condition: but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.

So to summarize, here is the Covenant of Creation:
  • Man is commanded to be fruitful and multiply, to work the Garden, and to refrain from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
  • In return, God promises many blessings, including providing all man's needs, face-to-face fellowship with himself, and eternal life.
Some theologians describe the pre-fall era as a probationary period, and man failed his probation. Some even go so far as to say that had man passed the probation, then he would have eaten from the Tree of Life—after which sin would have been impossible.

Personally I don't subscribe to this view. There is nothing about a "period" after which, had they obeyed, they would have been rewarded further. No, the command is to obey forever. Furthermore the only tree explicitly forbidden was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. There is no indication they were not allowed to eat from the Tree of Life.

Aside: The Tree of Life 
The Tree of Life, at the center of the garden, appears several places in scripture. It is quite mysterious. All the more so given that (here we jump ahead) when Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden, we read a very odd passage: 
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? 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, and I think the answer might be before us on any given Lord's Day. Because often on Sunday we partake of the Lord's Supper, and we use exactly the same language. We talk of eternal life in this meal that we will 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'll soon partake of. The tree of life was the seal—and for covenant breakers to eat of it, after they became covenant breakers, would have been profane. Likewise, eating the bread in an unworthy manner is profane.

Though the pact with Adam and Eve is not explicitly called a covenant in the opening chapters of Genesis, it is elsewhere:
Like Adam, they have broken the covenant— they were unfaithful to me there. (Hos. 6:7)
And this frightful reference:
20 "This is what the LORD says: 'If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, 21then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. (Jer 33:20-21)
compares the covenant with David to God's covenant with the day and the night and the statues of heaven and earth which God laid down at creation. In addition, we have the comparison of the representative headship of Christ and Adam in Romans.

[To be continued…]

Monday, October 02, 2017

God is not omni-omni (modified)

The attributes of God are all good--on this we can agree. But there is something about God's attributes that may surprise you: they can be in tension--and this prevents some from being "omni" (the prefix omni meaning all) attributes. For example, God is just and God is merciful. But those attributes are in conflict—mercy is not a subset of justice. In fact it is orthogonal--as we'll discuss later.

When discussing God's attributes it is worth reminding ourselves what we all know: there is only one attribute of God that is described in the Hebrew superlative: God is holy, holy, holy. No other attribute is described in that manner. Nowhere is God described as just, just, just, or love, love, love.

Aside: what does holy mean? I don't know. Not really. I can catch glimpses of it—especially when Isaiah has his vision (Woe is me—I am unraveled!) Whatever it is, it is the defining attribute of God, the trump card. I am persuaded that our ability to understand God is severely limited by our inability to comprehend holiness.

So in terms of the "omnis" we can at least be certain that God is omniholy. We can further deduce that God is omnipotent—but only if we understand what that means: it means whatever is possible, God can do it. It really means the same thing as saying: God is sovereign. It does not mean that God can do the impossible. If God, as it appears, has created a universe that has no center, then God cannot put us in the center of the universe. Because, well, it has no center. God, in short, cannot violate the law of non-contradiction. Likewise we can, I believe, infer from scripture that God is omniscient and omnipresent. (Another aside: If you think hell is the total absence of God—I say you are wrong. His presence--If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there--may well be a large component of the agony of hell—but I speculate.)

Instead of the prefix omni, some like to use the qualifier infinitely. That is more nebulous—but fine—we can agree that God is infinitely holy, infinitely knowledgeable, etc.

Trouble arises when people insist that God is infinitely X, when the bible clearly indicates that God is most definitely not infinitely X.

A common tactic is to claim that God is omnibenevolent, a presupposition that more than a few Christians would mistakenly accept, and then to display, trivially, that God is in many cases not benevolent—ergo, game over man, no God. We should never fall for this cheap trick. The bible is explicit: God is not benevolent, benevolent, benevolent. Just ask the "ites" who stood in the way of the Jewish conquest of Canaan. Or ask Esau. Instead of infinitely benevolent, God is particularly benevolent. He has mercy not on all, but on those whom it pleases him to have mercy, such as Jacob. He works in all things for good (in that sense he is all-good, or omnigood, or infinitely good) but he does so only for the benefit of a subset of all people: those who love him (in that sense he is not infinitely benevolent.)

Benevolence is, in fact, in tension with omnipotence of sovereignty. A God that must be benevolent, in all circumstances to all creatures, is a God whose sovereignty is severely restricted, a God who is obligated to behave in a certain manner.

Back to the example of God's justice. God is not just, just, just. Which as we know is a good thing. In our own country there was a wobeggoten movement to make our own judges just, just, just by enforcing mandatory, uniform sentences—with predictably, at times, disastrous results. God's justice is at tension with his mercy--and thankfully he chooses not to be, or rather his nature is not, infinitely just. In a diagram it looks something like this:

God's mercy is at the expense of his justice. He sacrifices being infinitely just in order to be merciful to some. Justice implies uniform sentencing for the same crime—but God has mercy on some. The negative side of non-justice—injustice, is not found in God. Nobody receives a punishment they don't deserve.

I think there is a trap waiting for us--the well-intentioned desire to declare that God is omni-blank, as long as blank sounds like a reasonable attribute for God. But this leads to inconsistencies and contradictions. Choose the omnis wisely.