Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A question from a friend about how to "convince" a co-worker

Hi! David,

I have tried to convince a friend back to church. What do you think about his arguments?  Any thoughts?

God Bless,

Franklin

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I have no double about the existing of God. I truly believe there is God, the mighty power world creator. I just do not agree with the bible said because there is no logic. There is no point to argue if somebody who only believe the bible is true and right, just like politic.
I truly believe that God does not want everybody to be honest and good. Otherwise he will not give freewill to people to choose to be bad. He needs positive and negative to reflect right and wrong. Otherwise the life of human being will be too boring.
For thousand years, some people were trying to convert bad people to become good, and failed. So it really doesn't matter, after 100 years all people within the generation will die and disappear, no matter you are good or bad, believe or not believe. All the effort has to start over again and wasted. I think God will maintain a balance of good and bad in our life, like you see so many disasters, sickness and hungry, and wars which have never been stopped since the existing of human beings.
Lytton,

If you have any doubt about God, please see the blog below:

http://davidwpendergrass.blogspot.com/ 

He is our associate pastor and a bible scholar.

Frank





Hey brother!

A few thoughts:

1.       I’m not sure if there is anything you can say that would “convince” him since people are convinced for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure if this man is willing to be convinced. So, I would ask him if he’s interested at all, and if so, then ask him what it would take to convince him that Christianity were true.

2.      I don’t know what type of god he believes in. Since he doesn’t acknowledge the Bible as authoritative, he clearly doesn’t believe in the biblical God. This is also demonstrated when he says that “I truly believe that God does not want everybody to be honest and good. Otherwise he will not give freewill to people to choose to be bad. He needs positive and negative to reflect right and wrong. Otherwise the life of human being will be too boring.” Anyone who says such a thing doesn’t know the Biblical God. The real God, the Christian God, certainly “wants” everyone to be honest and good because God is honest and good. God designed us to live according to the same moral values He possesses. So, I have no idea what type of God he believes in. So, I would ask him: “What type/kind of God do you believe in?” And when he answers, then ask him, “Why do you believe in that god? What evidence do you have that your god exists?” – Listen to his answers and keep trying to figure out why he believes what he does.

3.     The idea that God doesn’t want people to do the good because he’s given us free will is simply illogical. That doesn’t follow at all. If I give my son a baseball bat and he hits his sister, it would be nonsense to say that I wanted my son to hit his sister because I gave him a bat. It’s much more likely that I wanted my son to use the bat appropriately and use it “for good” in playing baseball. Why is it more likely? Because me—his father—wouldn’t ever hit an innocent person with a bat nor encourage him to do so. Check this out: http://davidwpendergrass.blogspot.com/2013/11/is-god-source-of-evil-question-from.html

4.     The last few thoughts: “So it really doesn't matter, after 100 years all people within the generation will die and disappear, no matter you are good or bad, believe or not believe.” This is only true in his worldview, not in the biblical worldview. That is, he’s not making an argument, he’s merely stating his assertions. Again, I’d ask him: “Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have that when people die they disappear and nothing matters in the long term?” These are his beliefs and they must be defended.

His repeated emphasis upon the “balance of good and bad” sounds Daoist. Again, whatever it is, it’s a belief that must be defended.

So, keep asking questions like, “What do you believe? Why do you believe that?” And as you listen, point out flaws in his evidence if/when they appear. If he’s interested in reading, I’d recommend my book: http://www.amazon.com/Skeptic-Challenges-Christian-conversation-reasons/dp/1467959707/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337729792&sr=8-1

I would never assume that the words he uses are like your own. Just because he says, “god” – it doesn’t mean he means the biblical God. Etc. etc. So, keep asking him, “what do you mean by “god”? What do you mean by, “it doesn’t matter”?”

Keep up the great work!

For the Kingdom,

David

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Is God the Source of Evil? - A question from a friend

My friend asks:

“The latest probe from a friend...did God create evil? If He created humans with the ability to sin, than He created sin. We're all born with tendencies to what we will do/ become. While I use the Bible as my standard of truth, this non believer relies on 'intellect' and the brain God has given us. Feedback appreciated.”


Hey Friend,

Sorry for the delay. Good question.

Ever since the great theologian, Augustine, the Church, by-in-large, has adopted his view of evil. Augustine said that evil is not a “thing” at all because everything God created is good. Since evil isn’t good, it can’t really exist. Therefore, evil is the absence of good -- like a shadow is the absence of light or cold is the absence of heat. If someone asked you the status of a shadow’s existence, the average person (and certainly any philosopher) would say, “It doesn’t really exist. It’s just what happens when light is blocked.”

Evil is what happens when good is perverted. Evil is the absence of good. Evil is when a good thing is twisted or corrupted.

And the source of any evil act is the free will of a creature. Evil occurs--and thus its source--is when a free will decides not to do the good.

Thus, it is logically and, by definition, not God’s fault that a person sins. Yes, humans have “the ability to sin,” as you say, but that is because they have free will. Having a free will is a “good” -- (1) it allows for morality to exist (= morality can’t exist without the freedom to do good or evil) and (2) it allows for genuine virtues and feelings (= e.g., I can’t love without freedom to do so, since love can’t be forced or coerced).

It’s kind of like blaming Smith and Wesson for murderers. I can kill an animal to feed a starving person; I can murder a person in rage. How nonsensical is it to blame the designers of that gun for “the tendency of person to commit murders?” And, if I handed out a million guns to a million people, knowing full well that many would use it for hunting, feeding themselves and others, while others would use the guns to murder, am I morally culpable for handing out the guns?

You might wonder, Is it better to have never handed out the guns in the first place? What if, like God, I knew that after a number of years, the amount of good that would come out my handing out the guns would far outweigh the amount of bad? God knows the whole show - and to the person who is shot, it is impossible to see or care about the “greater good” God is accomplishing. I fully understand that on an emotional level. No one likes evil; yet, everyone loves free will.

And a “tendency” to sin is a human predicament, not part of God’s design (remember, God designed moral agents with free will, not the tendency to sin). The Bible never explains the source of this tendency; instead, it just says that this tendency began not long after the first humans were created. That is, humans have been sinning (in general) since soon after their creation.

Did God know we'd sin and keep on sinning? Yes. He knew that because He has perfect knowledge of all true propositions. He knew that creating free-willed moral agents ran the risk of doing evil, but (apparently) thought that the risk of having a genuinely free love relationship with his creatures was an indescribable good for the humans. It is an act of love just to give us the opportunity of existing, and of loving and being loved by God.

And concerning using the “brain” vs. the Bible, I say, embrace them both! There’s a reason why Jesus said to love God (the Father) with our “minds.”

Here’s an article you mind find helpful by a brilliant scholar who has spent an enormous amount of time reflecting on the problem of evil: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-evil


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A conversation about mercy and forgiveness

Bob
Hey pastor i have a question... What's the different between forgiveness and grace?

David W. Pendergrass
They are related concepts and often could be synonyms in the Bible. Yet, there is typically a difference in understanding:

(1) forgiveness means something like, "not enacting punishment toward." So, when someone has done something wrong deserving punishment, "forgiveness" is not enacting punishment. The Hebrew way of saying that is metaphorical - it's like owing a great financial "debt" and not having to pay the debt any more.

(2) grace means something like, "an act or state of kindness." It can be an act of "grace" to be "forgiving."

I might say that grace is more broad, while forgiveness is more specific. Grace can refer to any act of kindness or charity, while forgiveness is focused on not punishing someone who deserves it.

Now, I have ALWAYS heard teachers/preachers make a (false) distinction between "grace" and "mercy," and I can find no distinction whatsoever in the Bible between these concepts.

Bob
So what does  god mean when he shared grace and god mercy? Also can grace and forgiveness be the same? Im curious because as a Christian i want to know the different and how i can apply it in my life.

David W. Pendergrass
In general, you could use the term "kindness/kind" for "grace/graceful." Think of the ways that you use the term "kind/ness" in life. So, it's an act of kindness/grace to give to the homeless. It's an act of kindness/grace to forgive people. Etc.

Now, forgiveness is specifically used when describing not enacting punishment.

Bob
Oh ok i see i see. To me it seem like forgiveness and mercy would be more a like right?

David W. Pendergrass
In my reading, mercy and grace are typically synonymous in the Bible (though preachers usually teach that they are different). Forgiveness is distinct from them both.

Bob
Ok. I got it.  is there ever a time when its not ok to forgive?

David W. Pendergrass
No. but I would say two things. First, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. You can not want someone to be punished but also keep your distance from them. Secondly, forgiveness might take quite some time to do.

Bob
How long can it take for a person to forgive you? And can you hate somebody and still forgive them?

David W. Pendergrass

On the first point, that is up to the person. If that person is a Christian, then s/he should be working on forgiving as much as possible. At the same time, a person might hold onto a wound that we have caused them for many many years, depending on the nature of the offense. This is where therapy is so important. However, forgiving someone just means not wanting to have them punished. It is possible to reach that conclusion--not wanting them to be punished--before all the wounds have been healed. 

On the second point, no. You cannot hate someone and forgive them at the same time. Having genuine hatred and disdain for a person means that you have not reached a place of "letting them go." Forgiveness means being very clear, open, and honest about the event/pattern that happened in all of its evil glory, and then getting to a place where it no longer has any power over you. You no longer care, emotionally, if that person gets "pay back." (Though at times, it's best not to be around that person any more, especially if that person will only hurt you again.)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A short reflection by my daughter

Take the time to listen to my daughter's devotional on "peace be still." (Julia takes the camera around and films on her own. This is a recent autonomous reflection.)

Click Here to watch "When it Rains"




Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Do Not Be Anxious . . . Really?

Below is a lesson from curriculum I have written. If you're interested in getting this curriculum for your small group or church, let me know.

Do Not Be Anxious . . . Really?                    Philippians 4:6-7


Literary Context

Philippians is one of Paul’s most joyful letters. He considers the church at Philippi, “dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, ...” (Phi 4:1). They had sent financial aid via Epaphroditus (1:3-8; 2:25-30; 4:10-20). Paul gives them updates of his present and future ministry (1:19-26; 2:19-24; 4:10-13) and encourages the Philippians to continue to live out their Christianity (e.g., 1:27-30), especially by emulating certain models (2:5-11, 19-30; 3:7-14; 4:9), while emphasizing the need to stay away from false teaching (3:2, 18-19). The final chapter of this letter encourages unity and proper Christian thinking.

Interpretative Issues

Do not be [overly] concerned about anything[1] (6) The Greek word used here simply means “to care for” or “be concerned about.” This can be positive (e.g., 1 Cor 12:25). Yet, in this context, it means something like, “don’t be overly concerned” or “anxious” or “worried.” Paul is not suggesting that we not be concerned at all, but rather, not to be concerned to the point that we ignore God’s role in the situation (hence the need to pray).
We are not told if Paul has a particular issue in mind. Yet, in context, Paul has given a few reasons why the Philippians could be anxious: opposition (1:27-28), divisiveness (2:3-4; 4:2), teaching from enemies (3:2, 18), or for Paul’s situation in prison (1:12-26). On the other hand, Paul could have in mind a more general commandment not to be anxious about worldly things (like in Matt 6:25-34, Lk 21:34-36, and 1 Cor 7:33).[2] In any case, Paul’s “point” is what to do when we are anxious, viz., pray.

But, in everything, in/by the prayer and the petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. (6) The Greek word translated here, “prayer,” is a general term for prayer (and “to wish”), while “petition” (or “supplication”) means the prayer that asks God for something. Here, Paul is suggesting the antidote to being “overly concerned/anxious” is to take your anxiety-producing issue to God and let Him take care of it. Of course, such “requests” (not commandments!) are made to God with an attitude of thanksgiving. And what do you put in anxiety’s place? What should we be doing with our thoughts? We should be focusing on what is true, respectable, righteous, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (4:8).

Discussion:
(1) Psychologically speaking, worry is an obsessive pattern of thinking of an issue, typically in an attempt to control it. What do you worry about? Why? (2) List some benefits to worrying. That is, list some things that have been helped by your worrying. (3) How good are you at letting God run the universe? Do you go to Him with your requests? What can you do this week to get better at allowing God to be in control, instead of you?

The Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis (= The Colony of Julius Augustus Philippi) was settled by several war veterans, and by the time of Paul’s visit would have been a flourishing city. Therefore, it is unlikely that many of the Philippians were “anxious” over finding food, shelter, and other basic needs. However, in many modern people’s existence, having enough food, water, and shelter is a source of great anxiety. In the context of this letter, what might Paul have said to anxiety over money to find adequate food, water, and shelter?
Paul knew very well what it meant to go without. He knew want (2 Cor 11:9) and hunger (2 Cor 11:27). The Philippian church had collected an offering to help Paul, and sent the money with Epaphroditus (Phil 4:18), for which Paul expressed great joy (4:10). However, the financial gift given by the Philippians was not the source of Paul’s “contentment.”

for I, myself, have learned to be content in which things I am. . .I have learned the secret of contentment. . .I am able to do everything in the one who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you did well to share my distress. (4:11-14) The Greek term translated, “contentment” is actually “self-sufficiency,” a term used among ancient Stoics to denote serenity because one has no need of anything more than what a person already has. That person wants nothing from anyone, and is therefore, self-sufficient.
As soon as Paul says that he is “self-sufficient/content,” Paul says that the source of that sufficiency is “the one who strengthens me.” So, Paul has no need of other people (= “self-sufficient”) because He knows that His God will “strengthen” him in any endeavor. Notice how Paul is not content because he has financial resources; he is content because he is equipped and enabled by the “nearness” of a God (cf. 4:5) who strengthens. Nevertheless, Paul says, he’s still very glad that the Philippians have supported him.[3]

Discussion: (1) Do you share Paul’s view? What gives you more contentment: knowing what’s in your bank account or knowing that God will give you what you need? Imagine if God gave you the option to choose: (a) I’ll give you ten million dollars and you’re on your own or (b) I’ll give you just enough to cover meager bills, but I’ll stay with you. Which option makes you the most anxious? Why? (2) When you think about your success, jobs, and money earned, who really gets the credit? (3) Paul said that he had great joy because the Philippians gave to him (4:10). Do you have a story of someone giving you that joy? Share it. (4) Phil. 4:13 is almost always used to support the belief that God will enable us to do whatever it is we want to do (as if God were a cosmic genie). Reading this verse in context, what would you say to that interpretation?

Lesson Focus

·     Paul tells the Philippian Christians not to be [overly] concerned with something (either with a particular problem at Philippi or a more general “worldly” concern) to the point that they ignore God’s role in the situation.
·     Paul suggests the antidote to being “overly concerned/anxious” is to take your anxiety-producing issue to God with thanksgiving and let Him take care of it. What do you put in anxiety’s place? What should we be doing with our thoughts? We should be focusing on what is true, respectable, righteous, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (4:8).
·     The Philippian church had collected an offering to help Paul, and sent the money with Epaphroditus (Phil 4:18), for which Paul expressed great joy (4:10). However, the financial gift given by the Philippians was not the source of Paul’s “contentment.” Instead, Paul was content because he was equipped and enabled by the “nearness” of a God (cf. 4:5) who strengthens.




[1] All translations are my own.
[2] Paul expresses “concern” (same Greek word) for the churches he supervised (2 Cor 11:28). Was Paul being inconsistent? If you translate the Greek word in 2 Cor 11:28 as “anxious,” then it seems that Paul isn’t being consistent (i.e., he tells the Philippians not to worry about anything, though he tells the Corinthians that he does worry for the churches). On the other hand, Paul could only mean “concerned” in 2 Cor. 11:28, but “anxious” in Phil 4:6, which means there is no inconsistency. Or, Paul in Phil 4:6 could mean being anxious about “worldly” things, which means there is no inconsistency (since the churches are not worldly things).
[3] Paul does not act overly appreciative of their gift probably because he is concerned with not being seen as mercernary, only seeking money (cf. 1 Cor 9:14-18). There were many known Roman philosophers who were paid for their teaching and wisdom (e.g., the Sophists). Paul is almost certainly distancing himself from those philosophers. In fact, Paul disallowed the Corinthians to support him (2 Cor 11:8-9). He earned his own way (1 Cor 4:12; 2 Thess 3:8-10). This is why Paul used the term “self-sufficient”: his livelihood was not based on the financial support of the churches.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Are our sins not forgiven after becoming a Christian? A conversation with a friend

Hebrews 10:26, 27
Tough words.

I'm in Denver through Wednesday. Just read this this morning. Author seems to imply that sins after accepting Christ aren't covered by His sacrifice. I don't have study materials or more time at the moment. I am teaching this Sunday and thought I would do a highlight of Hebrews, since that is what I have been reading.  Can you help me with these two verses, please?

Thanks!
In Christ,
Christian Friend



Hey brother!

Thanks for the question. I hope your trip in Denver is great. J

24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near. 26 For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, 27 but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God's enemies. 28 Someone who rejected the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:24-29 NET)

In context the author is speaking of the need for Christians to gather together in order to keep one accountable to “love and good works” (i.e., ethical, Christian actions). He then moves to remind them that if they don’t keep “spurning each other” in their church meetings, then they run the risk of continually sinning, which, of course, means a person will not be saved. The translation here (NET) is good. The Greek in v. 26 speaks of a person “willingly sinning” after receiving the gospel who has not received the atoning death of Jesus. To keep on sinning after becoming a disciple is tantamount to having “contempt for the Son of God,” “profaning the blood” of Jesus, and “insulting the Spirit of grace” (v. 29).

New Testament authors were quite adamant about this point: disciples of Jesus are to cease sinning. Paul (Rom 6; 8:2; 1 Cor 15:34), this author of Hebrews, John the Elder (1 Jn 2:1-2; 3:8), and Peter (1 Pet 2:24) all emphasize the fact that Christians are to cease sinning. It is a constant assumption in the NT that only pagans without the Spirit keep sinning (e.g., 2 Pet 2:14). So, the author of Hebrews fits nicely into a widely-held view among first century Christians that a Christian is one who does not continue in sin.

Can a Christian sin? Of course. This is why there are individual cases mentioned in the NT. The early Christians believed that if a person was committing a particular sin, then that person should be approached and helped to stop (Matt 18:15f; Gal 6:1-2; 1 Cor 5:4-5; 1 Jn 2:1-2). However, for a person to continue in sin, especially after having been encouraged/supported to stop sinning, then that person (according to the NT), is not a Christian. When that happened in Corinth (1 Cor 5:-45), Paul told them to kick the guy out of the church (“hand him over to Satan”).

(Now, maybe a good lunch conversation would be to reconcile the fact that we are told to offer “infinite” forgiveness to other humans who have offended us (Matt 18:21-35), while the early Christians didn’t believe God offered us infinite forgiveness if we were to keep on sinning toward Him.)

So . . . I need your help to stop sinning brother!



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Is God to blame for evil? A conversation with a former student

Hey Dr. Pendergrass! I've been reading the links you put up and watching the videos you've posted, and I have a 2 questions that I can't find any good answers to, and I was wondering if you could give me point me to some material to read up on them.
1) Why does the Former Christian God avoid negative responsibility if He has the power to stop evil (omnipotence) and chooses not to? My thinking so far is that God allows evil to exist because of the free-will God gives humans, and He is not the causal agent of evil. Still, it seems that even in the Bible God intervenes at certain points to stop evil either through direct intervention (Saul on the road to Damascus to stop the massacre) or through humans, so why not do that in every case? A few answers I've heard are that 1) God allows evil and suffering so that some good can come of it that would be impossible to produce otherwise and we just don't know how it works, and 2) evil and suffering allow for virtues such as long-suffering and courage to exist because without anything to suffer long or to be courageous about, those virtues would cease to exist. Still, it seems that answer 1 is just a cop out and even inappropriate to say in some cases and that answer 2 isn't a good answer either because in the original and perfect creation, there was no need for those virtues so doing something which gets rid of them is not bad. Honestly, I don't see why Atheists don't use the problem of evil to argue against a good God rather than the existence of God all together. The former seems much more persuasive to me, at least at this point.
2) Is there any Biblical basis that "God has a plan for each of us," and if so, what does that even mean? Jeremiah 29:11 seems pretty clear to me that it is specifically addressed to the exiles in Babylon, and I find it difficult to believe that it can be applied directly to every Former Christian and possibly every human being. One answer I've heard is that God doesn't have a specific plan for our lives, but that His "plan" is for people to grow their relationship with God in every circumstance and obey His commandments to develop morally good characters. However, in Dr. Craig's video on failure in a Former Christian's life, he specifically argues against that saying that God's sovereignty to carry out His will through the free actions of humans and His promise to "make straight our path" suggests that God does have a specific will for our lives. I'm not sure if Dr. Craig's answer is correct (at the moment I am taking the safe bet and agreeing with him), but I am not understanding it very well.

MY RESPONSE IN BLUE
1) Why does the Former Christian God avoid negative responsibility if He has the power to stop evil (omnipotence) and chooses not to? My thinking so far is that God allows evil to exist because of the free-will God gives humans, and He is not the causal agent of evil. Negative responsibility is for when someone should have done something moral but didn’t. If I saw my child drowning but did nothing to help, I’d be morally culpable for not helping. Why? Because I have the moral duty to do so. But this is not the case for God saving every human at all times.
It’s important to remember that moral values (good/bad) and moral duties (right/wrong) are not the same. Or, to use the terms I taught y’all: ethical rules (duties) have various “weights.” So, it’s always good to be honest, preserve human life, serve others, etc. These are moral values that don’t change. However, sometimes we do not have the moral duty to tell the truth when another moral value is at stake (e.g., lying to save your family’s life). That is, moral duties—what to do in that situation—changes depending on the situation and the person. Another example: It’s a moral value to take care of children/preserve human life. Yet, it’s my moral duty to take care of my children; it’s not your moral duty to take care of my children.
This is key (and William Lane Craig helped me see this): we have no reason to assume that God has the same moral duties as humans do. E.g., humans are told never to kill innocent human life. God is under no such moral obligation, no more than I’m under moral obligation not to slash my truck’s tires. I can give/take away whenever and whatever I want from something I own. God is the author of human life; He “owns” us and is under no obligation to make certain we survive beyond one more breath. Life is simply a gift.
He is not under the same moral duties/obligations that we are, even though He does possess the same moral values that humans do. And since He is a perfectly moral Being, we can know for certain that whatever He does is perfectly moral, even if we don’t (completely) know the reasons or ultimate consequences of God’s choices.
Moreover, God is under no obligation whatsoever to preserve us from the consequences of free-willed evil choices. He has no negative responsibility for what a free-will moral agent does with his/her choices. Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson hold no negative responsibility for all of the murders that have taken place because of a Smith and Wesson fire arm.
Saying it like this might “sound” like God is some dispassionate robot letting us do our own thing, crossing his arms, saying, “I’m not to blame!” Yet, the Bible makes it clear that God hates—HATES—all the crap that humans do to each other (like I hate to see my kids fight). God is not dispassionate; He’s hurt and apparently angry (so-to-say) that humans do such evil. He’s been shouting, “Stop!!” for centuries.
Why does free will matter so much? Presumably it’s because God values moral autonomy (remember that He is morally autonomous too!). This is intuitively convincing to me. I value freedom too (as I mention in my book), and see that while I might be safe in a snuggly padded cell all my life, I’d rather be in the “real world,” able to be hurt by others in the process. No matter how safe I’d be in the cell, it’s much better to be free than guaranteed safe. Such it is with genuine moral freedom. And of course, like I said in class, genuine freedom is the only way to freely love and be loved (and freely loving others is certainly the greatest moral value that exists! As Paul says several times in the New Testament).
Still, it seems that even in the Bible God intervenes at certain points to stop evil either through direct intervention (Saul on the road to Damascus to stop the massacre) or through humans, so why not do that in every case? You’re asking why there aren’t more miracles. Because (1) constant miracles rob us of natural/logical consequences, and God designed the universe to run on consequences; (2) constant miracles would no longer be miracles (i.e., special); (3) God genuinely wants humans to develop moral character and act like Jesus in every event. Miraculous interventions, like with Saul/Paul, are very, very rare and are, of course, miracles. They are to help change the course of history to achieve the desired results that God wants. Remember that He’s the boss: working every free-willed and miraculous event, like the Christ-event!, to one main desired outcome of history. As Lewis said, sometimes you give up your chess pieces and placement in order to set up the board the way you want it. You can’t give up pieces all the time or you’d lose.
A few answers I've heard are that 1) God allows evil and suffering so that some good can come of it that would be impossible to produce otherwise and we just don't know how it works, and 2) evil and suffering allow for virtues such as long-suffering and courage to exist because without anything to suffer long or to be courageous about, those virtues would cease to exist. I think I gave y’all about five or six reasons in class from the Bible for possible outcomes of evil/suffering. I’ve already covered evil: evil is a by-product of allowing for genuine, free-willed moral autonomy, which is a central moral value in God’s character (who is also a free-willed Being). Why suffering? It can be punishment for sin, a “testing” of our faith, the results of nature, the results of someone’s evil choices, the ability to develop/mature moral values in a person’s character, etc.
Still, it seems that answer 1 is just a cop out and even inappropriate to say in some cases I’m not sure why this is a “cop out,” nor why it’s “inappropriate to say.” If I told my child that I caused them to hurt by giving them a shot that immunized them from smallpox, would they be justified in calling my reason a “cop out?” It seems to me that making us genuine free-willed moral agents is a genuine moral value and simply awesome.
If what you mean by “inappropriate” is “not the pastoral thing to say in disaster,” I completely concur. But, that’s a different issue. We’re discussing the logical/theological aspects of evil/suffering, not what to say to a person who is experiencing grief. I’d be happy to chat about that if you’d like, but in short, I don’t recommend discussing the “value of suffering” with a person as they go through it because that’s not what they need at that moment. J
and that answer 2 isn't a good answer either because in the original and perfect creation, there was no need for those virtues so doing something which gets rid of them is not bad. I’m not sure what you mean here about “original and perfect creation.” Apparently, one of the very first things the first moral autonomous being did with his/her free will was to disobey a moral duty. So, as long as there’s been humans, there has been a need for virtues/duties.
Honestly, I don't see why Atheists don't use the problem of evil to argue against a good God rather than the existence of God all together. The former seems much more persuasive to me, at least at this point. I would absolutely agree if “good God” implied something like, “a God who disallows evil and suffering in the world.” But, I just see no logical or theological reason to assume that “good” should be defined that way for God as I’ve already (tried to) explained. I really don’t. Now, I don’t like suffering and evil. I just don’t see why God’s “goodness” is impugned if humans are genuine free-willed moral agents and acts of nature cause suffering. Though, I guess God could have designed the universe such that tornadoes don’t occur. . . I don’t know. J Though, the real problem, in my experience, is the suffering that is caused from a human’s evil choices. And, I don’t get why people (not you) incessantly blame God for people’s choices. I don’t get it. Again, no one is OUTRAGED at or ceases to believe in the existence of Smith and Wesson, no matter how many times their guns are used to murder people. Again, the moral character of the human persons, Smith and Wesson, nor their existence, is ever called into question. They are simply not to blame for what a human chooses to do. The same guns can be used to kill animals to feed the starving . . .
2) Is there any Biblical basis that "God has a plan for each of us," and if so, what does that even mean? Jeremiah 29:11 seems pretty clear to me that it is specifically addressed to the exiles in Babylon, and I find it difficult to believe that it can be applied directly to every Christian and possibly every human being.
You’re right about Jer. 29:11. In my view, the Bible demonstrates that God has two kinds of desires: (1) what humans should be and (2) what humans should do. What humans should be is clear: like Jesus. This is the essence of virtue ethics. We should value the same things Jesus valued and implement His teachings. What humans should do is typically clear: with rare exception, humans should simply put into practice the teachings of the Bible, especially those of Jesus. If God wants a person to do something special, He lets them know. That’s it. There’s no ambiguity. We’ll receive an angel, dream, etc. if He wants us to do something different than work on our “Jesus character” in normal life. There is no reason to think that God gives a rip about what toilet paper to use, etc., as long as we’re applying His teachings. So, we should be good stewards, give to the poor, not be greedy, etc. But, it is irrelevant if I buy a red shirt vs. blue shirt.
One answer I've heard is that God doesn't have a specific plan for our lives, but that His "plan" is for people to grow their relationship with God in every circumstance and obey His commandments to develop morally good characters. However, in Dr. Craig's video on failure in a Christian's life, he specifically argues against that saying that God's sovereignty to carry out His will through the free actions of humans and His promise to "make straight our path" suggests that God does have a specific will for our lives. I'm not sure if Dr. Craig's answer is correct (at the moment I am taking the safe bet and agreeing with him), but I am not understanding it very well. I also found this point unconvincing/confusing! He created a false alternative: God can be mostly concerned with our character forming and work within us/inspire us so that out free-willed choices bring about the consequences that God wants. Furthermore, I see no reason (along with nearly all OT scholars) to read the Psalms as promises of God. It’s a psalmist declaring how delighted he is that he has the Torah and that following it helps us succeed in life. We shouldn’t read the Psalms as “God’s guarantees for life.” Their poems/songs, and that’s all. They’re great and rich, but not God’s promises for life.
OK. I’m sleepy now. J If you want, let me know what you think,
Dr. P

FROM STUDENT

On question 1, the analogy about God's possible negative responsibility I was thinking of would be more like if a robber was holding a gun to an innocent person and someone else with the ability to stop the murder did not stop it. Practically, I suppose this would be God's decision not to use His power to stop all cases of evil. However, I guess I was making the assumptions that A) I knew better than God what moral was taking precedent in the circumstance (free will v "innocent" human life) and B) God might not have the same order of importance for moral values. My only concern about assumption A is that saying "God always does what is moral, therefore He is moral" seems like it is assuming the conclusion (that God is perfectly moral) when God's morality is what is in question. On B, I have never heard that point made before, but it seems like a pretty powerful argument. It makes sense that since we are His property, in a sense, and He has the moral authority to do what He wants with us. Another assumption I was making was that His choice to create free-willed moral agents somehow gives us the irrevocable right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Typical American...   

On question 2, I agree with your critique of Dr. Craig's point. Even though I still have no idea how God is able to accomplish all His goals through free-willed human choices, I agree that God's inspiration to choose certain actions over others is a great way to both accomplish His means and respect the free-will of His creation. Also, I almost find it disturbing that I have never thought of Psalms as humans' praises and prayers to God instead of God's promises to humans. Just thinking back at how poorly I've read the Bible over the years gives me the chills.


MY RESPONSE

I didn’t meant to suggest circular reasoning. I said that because we know that God is perfectly moral He will always make the moral choice (not the other way around). We know God is perfectly moral because (1) He is the greatest conceivable being (called “Perfect Being Theology” as made famous by Anselm), and the greatest conceivable being would be perfectly moral; and (2) the Bible demonstrates that God is perfectly moral.

Good point about your two assumptions (A and B). That’s right: God has no moral duty to preserve human life at all times (no more than I have the moral duty to preserve my truck tires at all costs). Instead, God considers it MORE valuable to have genuinely free moral agents who can do genuine good and genuine evil. And this is also why God will punish those who choose to do evil (i.e., it doesn’t go unnoticed).

Good points about being American and proper exegesis of the Psalms! :) Brother, I’ve gotten the “chills” over my ignorance for years!

Keep up the great thinking!
DP


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Relationship of Doing and Being in the NT by Dr. Ben Witherington, III

This is an absolutely correct post from Dr. Ben Witherington, III:

The Relationship of Doing and Being in the NT

One of the major thrusts of my two volume work entitled The Indelible Image was showing the inherent, and necessary, connection between theology and ethics, between belief and behavior, between being and doing, in the Bible and in particular in the NT. I went on to stress the importance of the concept of the image of God as a connecting point between being and doing, belief and behavior, theology and ethics. By this I meant that we are all created in God’s image and we are meant to reflect that image on earth, more specifically we are meant to reflect the moral character of God on earth. God is holy, and so should we be. God is righteous and so should we be, God is compassionate, and so should we be, and so on.
This reflecting of the divine character is not an optional extra amongst God’s expectations for us, rather it is right at the core of what he expects of us. The notion that God only expects of us right notions, right beliefs, but that our ethics, our behavior, or doing is somehow less important or not essential to being a Christian is frankly false. And were I in a quoting mood, I could trot out a plethora of texts which make this clear. For example, consider Paul’s warnings to Christians (not non-Christians) not merely that if they behave like skunks that people will get wind of it (and it will be a bad witness) but that if they choose a pattern of behavior that is ungodly and unholy they will not enter the final Kingdom of God when it comes full on earth (Gal. 5.19ff.: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Paul had warned his converts in Galatia before about this sort of behavior, and he does so again here. And Paul, yes the very theologian of grace, is saying that behavior by Christians can affect their eternal destiny. That’s exactly what he is worried about, because he knows it is true.
Now on the one hand this is hardly a surprising remark for an early Jew. If you have read as much early Jewish literature as I have, there is frankly far more emphasis and stress on right behavior than there is on right belief, far more stress on orthopraxy than on orthodoxy. Think for a minute about the great commandments to love God, neighbor, enemy, fellow believers. This is hardly just about belief about God, neighbor, enemy, fellow believers. It is about behavior.
We do not have a great commandment that says ‘believe with all your might and God will be satisfied”. The attempt to sever behavior from belief, by means of a doctrine of salvation that suggests that human behavior has nothing to do with final salvation, that it is all about divine fiat, or pure grace etc. is a doctrine insufficiently attuned to what the Bible actually says about soteriology.
Yes, the Bible is clear enough that salvation is not a human self-help program. Yes, it makes clear that apart from God’s grace no one can be saved. Yes, it stresses that we are converted by grace through faith, and that God’s grace is necessary at all times and at all points in the process of salvation. What the NT does NOT say, is that human behavior has nothing to do with it. Indeed, I would stress that active believing is itself a form of behavior. Indeed it also says that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling as God works in our midst to will and to do. Last I checked, ‘working out’ involves human behavior. Oh yes, another bulletin from the NT— faith without works is dead.
Put succinctly, while conversion is by grace through faith, sanctification involves both God’s work and our working out our salvation. Sanctification involves human behavior, behavior freely chosen and participated in by us. And if we as Christians freely choose to abuse our freedom (compare Gal. 5.1), which is certainly possible, then we stand in danger of committing: 1) moral apostasy, or 2) intellectual apostasy, or 3) both, and finding ourselves not participating in everlasting life, the final coming of the Kingdom the positive resurrection etc. As many texts, such as Heb.6 warn repeatedly, apostasy, however unlikely for a Christian, is nonetheless possible, and so must be warned against.
Now I suspect that most of the resistance to the sort of reasoning I have laid out in this post comes from a false understanding of the concept of election in the Bible, and more particularly a false joining together of the concept of election and salvation in the Bible. The Bible certainly has something to say about election, about God choosing a people. Election however is a corporate concept in the Bible, not an individual one. Election is ‘in Israel’ in the OT, and ‘in Christ’ (see Ephes. 1). One must be ‘in Israel’ or ‘in Christ’ to be among the chosen people. But election itself, while necessary, is not sufficient to being saved. Take for example the stories in the OT about the exodus and God’s chosen people.
Moses was sent to Egypt to extract God’s chosen, elect people, from Pharaoh’s iron hand. He accomplished this. He led them through the wilderness. He got them to the cusp of the promised land. As 1 Cor. 10 goes on to make clear however, all but two fell by the wayside along the way of the original group. Only two made it into the promised land. The fact that they had had all those wonderful experiences along the way, and had seen mighty miracles of God was not in itself enough for them to be finally saved and enter the promised land. They were chosen, but ended up lost. Election is one thing, salvation is another.
This is not just because election often in the Bible has to do with something other than salvation. For example, Cyrus is God’s anointed one, his chosen one, to set God’s people free from exile in Persia. Did Cyrus’ chosenness save him? Nope. He was chosen for a specific purpose in God’s plan. It had nothing to do with his individual or personal salvation at all.
Election has to do with being a witness for God or an instrument of God, it doesn’t much have to do with the Christian notion of salvation. And this is even true in the NT. Consider for example what Paul says in Rom. 9-11. Among other things we read there that : 1) not all the chosen ones are ‘of Abraham’ and end up saved; and 2) that foreknowledge is not the same thing as foreordination, because God even foreknows those who will be lost; and 3) God temporally broke off some of his chosen limbs of the olive tree so that wild olive branches could be grafted into the people of God, but that 4) God could graft those Jews currently broken off from the people of God back in when the savior returns from heavenly Zion and ‘all Israel is saved’ (a much debated phrase).
In other words, cliches like ‘once saved, always saved’ or ‘if you are elect you know the election results’ and the like do not do justice to the complexity of the relationship between belief and behavior, justification and sanctification, election and salvation etc. in the Bible. It would be more nearly Biblical and correct to warn Christians, as Paul does in Gal. 5 that ‘you are not eternally secure until you are securely in eternity’. But back to the focus of this post.
Belief and behavior, being and doing, theology and ethics, always belonged together according to the Bible. And one of the most salient reasons this is the case is because God created us in his image to reflect his moral image on earth, to be a good witness to the character of God, both his righteous and compassionate character, both his holy and loving character, both his gracious and demanding character. Think on these things.

Monday, July 15, 2013

“Is drinking bad?” A discussion with a student

Michael
Why is drinking/getting drunk bad

David W. Pendergrass
Good question. I know of no particular teaching of Jesus that explicitly prohibits it and tells us why. Yet, based on the New Testament, I'd say that getting drunk is immoral because (1) it violates the requirement of God to have self-control (said repeatedly in the Bible) and (2) it is nearly impossible to love God with all our hearts, souls, strengths, and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mk 12:28-31) if we're drunk. It's also possible that being drunk ruins your Christian witness (Paul speaks about a similar situation in Romans and 1 Corinthians). My last two reasons are not biblical, but still matter: it can lead to an addiction, which enslaves us. Finally, because a drunk looks like a moron. J

Michael
But when I have been drinking I absolutely have my clearest moments with Jesus and god and am actually a really good advocate on behalf of Christianity. I spread the word to my friends when the liquor Is flowing, and I'm being 100 percent honest.

David W. Pendergrass
lol!  and I appreciate you being honest! If you mean that you are an advocate when you've had some drinks, then I don't see anything immoral about that (of course, there are legal ramifications, http://www.tabc.state.tx.us/laws/underage_drinking_laws.asp). That is, drinking alcohol is not inherently immoral/sinful.
If you mean that you are an advocate for Christianity when you're inebriated, then I'd say you're making a consequentialist argument (remember that one? when the end justifies the means). If that's the argument, then I don't find it compelling because you're violating the virtue of having self-control and are almost certainly coming across differently than you perceive.
In that scenario (and we can change it to weed or any other substance), I'd say, "Would Jesus talk about the Kingdom of God to me while drunk or high or wasted?" Immediately, I think that question seems absurd. Of course not. "Would Jesus get drunk or high just so that he had 'clarity' and boldness to talk about the KoG?" Of course not.
So, while I'm not doubting your clarity or advocacy, I'm suggesting that the METHOD of being an advocate--in this case, I'm assuming after heavy drinking--is immoral.
So, I'd say in this case, the ends do NOT justify the means. Why? Because (1) it violates the commandment to have self-control and because (2) I cannot fathom Jesus doing such a thing.

Michael
im not saying it justifies the means, i think the fact that its fun, makes me feel good, and brings people together justify it enough, im just saying my advocacy is just a pretty postive externality, or additional benefit. im also not saying i dont have awesome moments of clarity when im complete sober as well, im just questioning why suppress or demean the act of drinking? i know that when christians(especially my former school) take on ethic of believing drinking is a sin, and should result in punishment(or in our schools case suspension/expulsion) it doesnt drive people to God, it drives them away. when i was in an enviornment where what I did with my body was accepted, I felt comfortable, and as a result my relationship with jesus and god improved tenfold. how do you expalin that?

Michael
also, cannabis is a natural, god made thing. it has the tendency to make some people idle or lazy, but so does putting a 50 inch tv screen in your living room. im not denying it can lead people to bad stuff sometimes as a result of being exposed to a bad crowd, but is smoking marijuana really that inherently bad(other than the fact that it is illegal, and that you break the law/disrespect authority when you do it)?

David W. Pendergrass
Hey Michael,
There are several things here. Here are my reflections:
(1) "its fun, makes me feel good, and brings people together justify it enough" -- Michael, we can't use these as criteria for what's moral. I could use these descriptions for a whole host of immoral choices: Nazi genocide, rapists talking together, thieves, drug addicts, and on an on. In no way, in a Christian worldview, could these be considered descriptions for what would justify an action.
(2) "im just questioning why suppress or demean the act of drinking?" -- I'm not sure who you're speaking against here, maybe people you've encountered. I've already stated in a previous exchange that I see nothing inherently immoral with the act of drinking itself. Jesus drank wine. Rather, it is getting drunk that is immoral.
(3) "it doesnt drive people to God, it drives them away." -- That may be true. Of course, schools must do such action typically, because it violates legal rules (and they could be sued). Now, on this issue, I hate to see people driven away from God just over the issue of drinking. On the other hand, I have no problem at all with people being driven away from God if they are offended because they are told that being drunk is immoral. Why? Because God's moral commandments are good. I'm well aware that people hate religion, and Christianity in particular, because they don't like being told "that's immoral to do." Murderers, rapists, thieves, gossips, practicing homosexuals, the proud, etc.: we all have reason to feel some childish anger toward God. Who likes being told "no"? In any case, we don't make moral decisions in life because it "drives them away." Again, that's a consequentialist ethic that I don't find compelling because it would allow us to do any immoral thing we wanted, as long as it kept people liking God. If that's the case, we should reject Christianity altogether and stop preaching a message of repentance and confession of sin . . .
(4) "when i was in an enviornment where what I did with my body was accepted, I felt comfortable, and as a result my relationship with jesus and god improved tenfold. how do you expalin that?" -- Our relationship with God is not based on how well you accept what you "do with your body." If you were a pedophile hanging out with other pedophiles, you'd be accepted. Our relationship with God is also not based on whether or not other people accept our behavior. As psychological creatures, we feel good when accepted. That's not good or bad (I think), it just is. BUT, this has nothing to do whatsoever in deciding if something is moral or immoral. Gang members have utter acceptance, even when they steal, rape, and kill. Feelings of acceptance have nothing to do with the teachings and example of Jesus. Jesus's example and instruction supersedes all feelings and intuitions we might have. Why? Because He's the Messiah. If He's not, then nothing I've said matters at all. We're just evolved mammals wanting to spread our seed and conquer the weak . . .
(5) "cannabis is a natural, god made thing. . . . but is smoking marijuana really that inherently bad?" -- Cannabis does grow naturally, as does cocaine and sugar. Of course, just because something occurs in nature, it doesn't mean we should avail ourselves of that thing. Sugar is natural, but surely it's not moral to eat sugar in a way that damages our health. The same is true of cocaine and marijuana. Again, I see nothing inherently immoral with using a drug as long as it does not violate the moral commandment not to lose self-control. Otherwise, I cannot love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and MIND and my neighbor as myself. Finally, like I said before, humans must ask the question: "Would Jesus smoke, drink, inhale, shoot up this drug for fun?" I think the answer is clearly "no."
And no matter how much it offends people or turns them away, truth is truth. No matter how offended a person is to the truth that 2+2=4, it doesn't change the veracity of that statement. We all have to make up our minds: either Jesus is the authority for all things moral or He's not. 
Peace,
Dr. P

Michael
All great points
I knew my logic had holes just wanted to have someone explain them to me
Regardless, I'm still going to drink and smoke and love Jesus with all my heart.
Sorry if that offends you at all, just being honest
I've just been thinking about this stuff a lot, wanted to know your input seeing as its a lot more educated than mine lol


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