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Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

Many critics of Christianity often find that the lateness of the dating of the gospels and N.T. letters shows that there is plenty of time for legend, lie, and misinformation about Jesus to shape the Bible that Christians use. This being the case, it is argued that there is very little that we can actually know about the “real” Jesus. I am just going to summarize here my own thoughts about the alternative theories about Jesus and why I don’t think they really hold that much weight.

To begin, the earliest copies of the gospels have been dated anywhere from 60-110 AD but it is definitely of note that they are in fact copies. Thus we can deduce that the original documents did in fact pre-date the copies. And more than that, textual criticism (a historical science, and not just a biblical studies field) shows that in Paul’s letters particularly, he sometimes uses/modifies (to make a point) hymns and creeds familiar to his audience that therefore pre-date his own letters and show us fairly early views of Jesus. Also none of the letters make reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 a completely apocalyptic event for Jews and one which Jesus prophesied which demonstrates a fairly good case to believe the letters of the N.T. were in fact written before AD 70 (with the exception of Revelation) and were authored to existing churches with pre-existing creeds and hymns that thanks to Paul we now have. As for the gospels themselves, we know that they are compiled sources from the people of Jesus’ time period (Luke 1) thus the dating of the whole gospel can be evidently late, but the sources used are obviously earlier. Also their dysfunctional chronology and odd (sometimes seemingly contradictory) details shows an attempt by the compiler to be honest about the material compiled and not try to control the narrative (as one would definitely do if trying to make a convincing lie to one’s contemporaries). The exception of course is John, which is a controlled retelling and is a completely different style than the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke which all demonstrate a very similar picture of Jesus’ teaching, style, and events while simultaneously being very disjointed and having awkward chronologies. The Synoptic Gospels give us good reason to believe that they are based on witness material and there is no good reason to suppose they were written outside of the time period of the people who witnessed Jesus ministry. This is especially probable considering Jesus’ disciples were likely in their early twenties around the time of Jesus’ death and the life expectancy in the height of roman power actually could be quite high. This means that some of Jesus’ followers lived easily up until the destruction of Jerusalem by Nero in AD 70, and long enough to have been around for the creation of the early gospel manuscripts and the spread of Christianity. All together what this means is that Christianity was NOT CREATED by the New Testament. But the majority of the New Testament was created by 1st century Christians.

The other problem facing critics is that Christianity got off the ground quite rapidly in an extremely hostile environment. Roman and Greek culture called the early Christians atheists due to the fact that they had no temples, offered no sacrifices, and had no connection to the pagan religions of all the surrounding areas. Additionally, we have early as well as late evidence to the fact that Christians were highly persecuted and hated by the Romans despite Christian’s peaceful demeanor toward the state (paying taxes and general non-violence). They were hated because Christianity posed a cultural threat in undermining everything about pagan religion. In AD 64 it is recorded that Nero blamed the Christians for the fire of Rome, showing that they had a significant presence and notoriety in Rome only 30 years after the death of Christ. And Josephus recorded the martyrdom of the apostle James even prior to that. The Jews likewise were hostile to Christianity due to its pagan-like view of God coming in human form. It’s dashing of conventional Messianic hopes of liberation from Roman oppression and its insistence on the extension of the gospel to hated groups like the tax collectors, Romans, Samaritans, and Gentiles.

The particularly odd thing about Christianity’s persistence in such a hostile environment is that it is extremely hard for legends to form in such an environment. As most historians and literary studies experts know, legends generally form to support cultural norms. The reason they are accepted and propagated across generations and by the rulers is that they hold together society and teach common values (sort of similarly to the reason parents tell their children about Santa is so that the children know he is watching and only brings toys to good girls and boys and thus is culturally useful). Legends do not form up against cultural norms because then they are easy to expose, especially when you look at such a (uniquely) historically grounded religion such as Christianity. Paul writes that if the resurrection is a lie then faith is worthless. Christians were taught that the underpinning of their faith was an historical event. And if the Romans could so easily have shown that basis to be false they would have, and likely with great success because Christians weren’t exactly having the greatest life in society believing what they did.

More peculiarly, both the recorded teachings of Jesus and the letters of the apostles affirm the value that goodness consists of the emptying of power. Just as God demonstrated His goodness by being forced out of the world onto the cross (though He had the power to overcome His enemies) likewise Christians were not to seek power (economic, political or social) but were to become servants of all. This is extremely unlike say, Islam, where God in special revelation told Mohammed to create Islamic theocracies and his followers and Muslims thus all benefitted politically and economically by the creation of their religion. Early Christians benefited from no creation of power for themselves in propagating Christianity. All they faced was opposition and persecution. Another interesting thing to note is that both Jesus and the apostles stressed the virtue of being honest and not deceitful. Building up legends or lies about a figure who spoke adamantly against doing that, and for no personal gain isn’t exactly the most compelling theory.

I think the only truly compelling theory is that the synoptic gospels are substantially (not exhaustively) accurate. And that the apostles truly did believe, and found no compelling reasons not to believe (even unto suffering, imprisonment, and martyrdom), that Jesus truly did rise from the dead and validated His claims about the kingdom of God and our need to join it. And that Jesus’ teachings recorded in the Gospels truly were the radical revelation from God challenging the way human beings behave in this world.

As I said, this is but a quick summary; for a good scholarly case, Boyd and Eddy’s “Lord or Legend” is what I would recommend. But the uniquely challenging aspect of Christianity is that historical grounding requires that one come up with a more compelling way to look at the data and explain the person of Jesus the Christ and the Christians who followed after Him.

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My last three posts were all addressing various elements of the problem of evil. Together they represent the basic sketch of how in my mind our universe is consistent with a wholly good God. I don’t think that everyone approaches reconciling evil and God in the same way. People have different experiences with evil and God that prompt differing psychological responses. These posts represent my opinion on this subject and not Christianity’s as a whole, but I hope those who struggle with this problem might find inspiration and answers in my posts.

In the first post I aimed to demonstrate how God is not causally responsible for evil, nor does He plan and carry out evils in order to bring out goods (this is a reflection on my ethical beliefs that the ends do not justify the means). Also in the post I talked about how God’s goodness is the reason we do not see much direct influence of God in our world and why He uses primarily His relationships with people to impact our world.

In the second post I discussed the nature of good and evil. Here I expanded on how evil is a natural outcome of good and thus evil requires good to exist. However, good does not require evil to exist and thus good can ultimately overcome evil.  Our universe can plausibly be explained as being in the transition of good overcoming evil.

In the third post I addressed natural evil and how it is not evil at all but a necessary expression of our free agency and the movement of free agents to ultimately overcome evil and be fully good.

https://scottpd.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/god-is-sovereign-not-a-sovereign-a-response-to-the-problem-of-evil/
https://scottpd.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/contingent-evil-a-second-response-to-the-problem-of-evil/

https://scottpd.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/natural-evil-and-the-end-of-evil-a-third-response-to-the-problem-of-evil/

In philosophic terms I believe that the free-will defense against the problem of evil explains why God is not casually responsible for our evils, and I believe a soul-making theodicy explains the setting full of “natural evils” that we experience.

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In answering the problem of evil most people are willing to accept the basic sense of the free-will defense. That is, for moral good to have any real meaning, the potential for evil also must exist. Thus people do evil things in their freedom even though they are designed for and by good. Nevertheless the problem of natural evil (natural disasters, disease, etc.) seems to blatantly contradict the existence of an All-Powerful and Good Creator. Now, some theologians have postulated that natural evil is nothing more than moral evil by a supernatural agent (i.e. Satan and demons cause all natural disasters). While this is a possibility, I myself think it is not necessary to postulate that very dualistic sounding notion.

In my first post of this series I made an argument for why God does not take a very direct reign in creation and in my second post, an argument for why evil is expected in goodness but that evil can be overcome by goodness. By tying these two notions together I think a very plausible response to the problem of natural evil can be made.

My first observation is that what we call natural evil is not really evil when there are no suffering agents around. In fact all these ‘natural’ evils are very powerful creative agents, many of which are beautiful in their power and complexity. The problem is not really the ‘natural evil’ but the weakness and mortality of living agents.

It seems to me however that in the process of overcoming evil, agents need to develop good character. And if there were no harmful consequences to our evil choices we could never be brought into the understanding necessary to begin consistently choosing good and thus develop virtuous character. If we were immortal and immune to suffering how could we learn to do good? And what kind of moral options (if any) would we have to choose from? It seems to me that in suffering of all forms, the reality of our choices is far more obvious and impactful for ourselves and others than in trivial choices. Trivial choices rarely change people. Our physical mortality is the conduit by which we learn and freely act. Thus what we call natural evils are not really evils at all, and neither are our weakness and physical mortality. We simply live in the hot iron to be forged into something beautiful.

To make this argument of course I think some variant of restitution and renewal as promised in the Bible will fall on those who particularly suffer in this life. Also I think any sort of soul-making theodicy requires some variant of universalism which I think is also consistent with Christianity. If one rejects universalism, then I think the only potential way of reconciling natural evil with a Good God is to fall on a spiritual warfare theodicy and believe all natural evil is caused by supernatural evil agents.

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In my earlier post I argued that God is not casually responsible for evil, and that His ontological responsibility for evil does not warrant any devaluing of God’s goodness. In this post I want to talk a little more about the nature of good and evil and why while we can expect evil where there is good, the relationship between good and evil is not dualistic. Good is positive value. Moral good is virtue (like the fruits of the Spirit). But collective good is about more than that. It is positive, creative, free, and relational. Evil on the other hand is negative, destructive, limiting, and isolating. And so for evil to exist it is predicated on the existence of some good. Evil does not create or sustain; pure evil is nothing (non-existence). Only with the existence of good does the potential of evil exist. And without the potential of evil, good itself is emptied of meaning, for then it would have no freedom, no creativity, and no virtue.

All of this is to show that goodness always bears with it the potential for evil and so our universe having evil in it does not count against there being a good God. In fact, I would argue that our desire to exist, to create, to be free, to be good, all point to a supremacy of good behind the workings of our universe. Evil exists because we are not particularly effective at manifesting our freedom for good. It is not that we have some dualistic struggle between wanting to be good and wanting to be evil. We are simply misguided and ignorant in our attempts to maintain existence and to create. And so we end up using our freedom to the detriment of others (and ultimately ourselves). Jesus says He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That is because that is exactly what we are searching for, the proper way to use our freedom, the truth to end our ignorance, and life to continue being good.

This is not to say that an end to evil is not possible. But only that the possibility of evil always exists where good exists. The development of character can allow us (as God’s perfect character does in Him) to choose only good and this is God’s end in our sanctification. The actuality of evil, God has promised to, in the end, bring to a final stop. But this struggle to overcome evil requires the participation, reconciliation, and renewal of all things including all human beings.

In my next post I will delve into to process of eliminating evil and what role “natural evil” plays in that process.

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When ever tragedy strikes, such as with the recent school shooting in Connecticut, there are always a multitude of questions that arise. Where was God? Is this part of His plan? Is this God’s vengeance against..? In these moments we are forced to try and deal with reconciling a God who is good with the great evil of this world. I too have struggled much with this; if God is all-powerful, then isn’t He ultimately responsible for evil? And as such, how could we begin to call Him good? I have however reconciled the issue in my mind by really delving into the life of Christ as being representative of God and His nature, and with some additional insight from pastor and theologian, Gregory Boyd.

I think that where we are confused is that we think that because God is all-powerful (Sovereign) it means He acts as being in control (a Sovereign). However, it is not in the nature of good to rule, to coerce, to create hierarchy. I think we can deduce this about the nature of good intuitively in the world but also revealed heavily in the gospels where the kingdoms of the world are said to be the devil’s, and our struggle is against the rulers and authorities of this world. But we can also see what the nature of God’s goodness is in that Jesus came to serve, to build relationships, to rescue the oppressed. From this we see that the kingdom of God is completely unlike the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom the Jews wanted. We see that the relationship between Christ and the Church is like a marriage marked by mutual submission; He is Lord, but He is a friend. Love and Goodness thrive and emanate creative freedom and relationship not marked by hierarchy, coercion, obligation, decree, ordination etc.

God’s loving goodness manifests itself in creative freedom very evident in our universe. But this freedom (being free) can be good or evil. And this does not become a problem for God’s goodness unless He acts evil toward that which acts evilly. But God does not destroy, rule over, or restrain evil in order to stop it. For to destroy or rule over evil is to be evil. But God loves even that which becomes evil and seeks to overcome it with good. Christ did not restrain evil but wept with those grieving from suffering and equipped them with what they needed to fight evil in the world and be good. Overcoming evil with good is not an easy process; it is a battle, one in which we are engaged in the midst of on this Earth and in this universe. The weapons of the enemy are fear, anxiety, death; all powers to which the Bible attests, and all of which Christ overcame in His suffering unto death and subsequent resurrection. We are in a spiritual war and the enemy is very real.

So then facing tragedy, Christians are not to be of the mindset that “everything happens for a reason” or that evil is “part of God’s plan”. This is a demonic lie that is indignant of God. God never wills evil, and it is never a part of His plan. The Bible affirms that “God is light, and in Him no darkness at all”. God fights against evil at every turn with sheer goodness and beckons us to join in this fight. Tragedy is the work of the enemy that should serve as a rallying call for Christians, not a work of God we need to try and find the purpose of. We as Christians need to realize that Christ reveals to us that God is not a ruler in any sense of the word as it is used in our world. God is Sovereign but He is not a Sovereign.

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The Gospel

This was a presentation of the gospel as I understand it that I posted to someone in a facebook group. I think it is well worth sharing on my blog as well.

In the beginning God created everything. Humans, in particular though were created with what the Hebrews called the image of God. Which in the context it is used in Genesis simply means that we are co-creators/managers of creation. And this is not something unique or counter-intuitive we know that humans have an unparalleled effect on their eco-system, and thus an intrinsic responsibility that sets us apart from all other creatures. Now God intended for this image of God to be utilized within the state of Eden (which Christians now call the kingdom of God, more on that later). Which is not a state of perfection, but a state of relationship, trust, a walking and talking with God. Within this context God calls humanity good, and together with God we continue(d) to make and maintain good. However, humanity (through the typology of Adam and Eve, and possibly even an actual existent group of first conscious humans) came into contact with evil already present in creation. And this should not be a surprise to the modern mind since we know that what in philosophy is commonly called “natural evil” pre-dates humanity on earth. In the Hebrew telling this encounter with ancient evil (the serpent, or lizard of sorts since it had legs) is the story of the temptation and the eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. What the encounter means for the human situation is that humanity already knowing the goodness of God and coming into contact with evil decided that we had a pretty good grasp on this whole good and evil thing and we don’t need God to carry out our responsibilities as creators and managers. And so through this act of “original sin”, rejecting God and assuming our mantle alone we set out on the creation of our Tower of Babels and sprawling civilizations that are being criticized and punished by God all throughout Genesis.

But more than that in Genesis we are told that within Eden was also a tree of everlasting life. And in our expulsion from Eden we are also removed from the source of life (God). And this is what Paul is getting at with sin bringing the dominion of death. Removed from our relationship of God we are made fully aware of our mortality and are fearful of death. And our fear of death is what drives our survival instincts which lead us to exploit the world and one another for security and comfort in the face of death. We even join in exploitations of others simply not to be the one being exploited. The works of psychologists like Ernest Becker have demonstrated that the majority of human behaviour is centered around death avoidance. And these survival instincts are born within us, transmitted in our very DNA. Removed from God we are born sinful and evil. And while we might think we really aren’t that bad psychology has shown pretty conclusively that the real difference between a Nazi and ourselves is just external circumstance.

And to add to our evil from our “slavery to death” (as it is called in Hebrews), our setting out to take up our mission without God also left us in a state of uncertainty about God. Is He angry, will He punish us, does He even like us? This anxiety further keeps us from God and Eden, and is the root of the creation of our religions. Religion sprung up to give us security about God’s disposition toward us and also allow for us to properly scapegoat those who we were exploiting due to our fear of death.
The Genesis story accurately depicts the human condition as one apart from the Eden which we were created for. It reveals that humanity is in a state of horrible and depraved misuse of our responsibilities toward each other and the entire planet, and it is a state which is transmitted through generations and which humanity is trapped in.

But I believe there is hope, and there is good news. Because God came down to us through Jesus and said “He who knows me knows the Father”. And Christ showed us that God loves us, and that God loves His enemies, and that God even particularly loves those whom we have exploited and whom we have told that God doesn’t love. And this love persists whether we oppose Him, whether we betray Him, and even if we crucify Him He will still pronounce words of forgiveness from the cross itself. Jesus brought us the news that we don’t need to fear or have anxiety toward God. He loves and no matter what and we can trust Him. And if we do, we can return to Eden (the kingdom of God) and begin using our unique status as creators and managers for good rather than evil. We can experience joy and renewal instead of vanity and destruction. And Jesus rises from the grave to say that we need no longer need to fear death, it has no place in our biography any longer. We can do the work of God even if it costs us our material and physical security because we are secure in the hands of God Himself who holds the keys to hell and is the source of life.

Paul writes that we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works with in us.” And that is exactly the freedom Christ is working in the hearts of those who return to Him. He is setting them free of the constraints of their anxieties and allowing them to do good, to be perfect, instead of be an instrument of destruction. And for those who do not turn to the kingdom He warned, like the prophet Jeremiah, that they would be tossed into Gehenna as burning corpses, which is exactly what happened to the Jews who rose up to liberate themselves from the Romans. They were fighting for security, and the return of their land. And these cycles of our Darwinian struggle for material and physical security always end in Gehenna, in torment, and pain, and blood. Because that is not how God intended us to be. This is the gospel that has been entrusted to me and I entreat to you. God is good, and only through trusting Him and having a relationship with Him can we ourselves be healed and the entire world from the depravity that exists in it.

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http://www.publicchristianity.org/ward.html

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