Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I'll be out for a couple days, but before we get back to our look at Colossians, I wanted to leave you with some additional comments coming from John Hoopman's clan regarding the motive for faith. His blog can be seen here, and most of the action is in the comments section. Here is my last response:

@the exterminator,

The "old Christian trick" is no trick at all, but an important step in conversation. I can tell that John Evo and phillychief have already passed that step. But I don't think you have. You say that my "original answer" - that the single most important benefit I receive from my faith is eternal life - is "an inept lie." Prove it.

You speak of being alive "in the normal sense." Really, what are you talking about? What is normal? The state of being alive can be understood quite differently. Plants are alive. Animals are alive. Dare I say on this blog that humans are alive from conception? When does life begin? What about the quality of life having a say in what it means to be alive? Is a comatose individual on life-support alive? Why or why not?

As far as turning to the dictionary to define words, why should we put our faith in their validity? Why is a giraffe called a giraffe? Who has the authority to name it such? Why can't I call it a longneck? If I did, you might think I was talking about beer.

Finally, you suggest that I'm in a "death cult." What's wrong with that? Are you trying to evangelize me out of it? Why? Why not? Why are you concerned that I am right or wrong? It's certainly not a matter of life and death! You say that my motive for faith being the working of the Holy Spirit is "insincere." That's "an inept lie," if I've ever heard one. You can't judge my sincerity.

So in the end, the definition stage is crucial for you and I to have a meaningful conversation. On to the guys who have graduated...

@John Evo,

I appreciate your comments. We aren't on the same page regarding the marriage analogy. And as you said, everything you wrote means absolute nothing to me. But, in the end, you said that I "offer a wonderful world of fantasy." Whereas, "You offer a wonderful world of reality." As you know, I see it somewhat the other way around. My view is the reality; yours is not exactly a "wonderful world of fantasy," but it is false.

I am curious about your final statement: "I hope some day you'll join us." Why? Are you evangelizing me like the exterminator? When you sprang into my world with your question on my blog, you assumed I was trying to convince you that Christianity is true. I stated in my original answer that I neither have the power to do that nor the presumption that I have the power to do that. In other words, I'm not trying to convince you. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Yet, it appears that you are trying to convince me. Why? What would be the purpose? Would my conversion to faith in atheistic evolution speed ahead the evolutionary process, akinto what Hitler thought he was doing in killing the Jews?

And what do you mean by "best wishes"? Are you wishing upon a star that my "life," whatever that means, would be the best? What would the best life look like? Obviously, I know that you are just being courteous. I'm throwing this in for the exterminator's pleasure (or pain). But "sincerely," what is "Best wishes" supposed to convey, given that you had said, "I hope you join us"?

Finally, @ phillychief,

Thanks for the link to Linden's book; I bookmarked it and might check it out after my upcoming vacation.

It seems that you believe the burden of proof is on me. Since I am a theist, you demand my proof for the existence of God. I'll offer Jesus Christ as my proof, along with His claims as recorded in the Bible. But, as I said to John Evo, I'm not trying to convince you. If I understand you guys correctly, you claim to be atheists, and from these posts, it appears that you are trying to convince me that you are right. Therefore, you must shoulder the burden of proof as well.

Paul Edwards, a prominent atheist and editor of The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, defines an atheist as "a person who maintains that there is no God." Atheism therefore implies a denial of God's existence, not just an absence of belief. Since you cannot prove the non-existence of God you are agnostics at best (or at worst). Therefore, you must say, as John Evo implied when discussing the soul earlier, that it is unproven.

Can you explain the existence of the universe? If you say it is eternal, then you are contradicting your god, "modern science," which claims a beginning (Big Bang) and a gradual running down (Second Law of Thermodynamics). Furthermore, if the universe was eternal, then it would have an infinite past. This, however, leads to a logical contradiction. By definition one can never reach the end of an infinite period of time; nevertheless, we have arrived at today, which completes or traverses the so-called infinite past.... If you affirm that the universe had a beginning, then you need to account for that. Ex nihilo, nihil fit - out of nothing, nothing comes. Perhaps it created itself, but for something to create itself, it would have to exist before it was created, and that is completely absurd.

So, in light of this dilemma, and as Ben Stein's recent documentary asked, "Why won't you admit even the possibility of an intelligent designer?"

I'll leave you with a "helpful" quote, since it addresses many of the topics that the three of you bring up, from Alvin Platinga:

"By way of conclusion: a natural way to understand such notions as rationality and irrationality is in terms of the proper functioning of the relevant cognitive equipment. Seen from this perspective, the question whether it is rational to believe in God without the evidential support of other propositions is really a metaphysical or theological dispute. The theist has an easy time explaining the notion of our cognitive equipment's functioning properly: our cognitive equipment functions properly when it functions in the way God designed it to function. The atheist evidential objector, however, owes us an account of this notion. What does he mean when he complains that the theist without evidence displays a cognitive defect of some sort? How does he understand the notion of cognitive malfunction?"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Evolutionary Middleman: Beyond the grave, Part 3

John Hoopman kindly asked a question last week, and I devoted a post to answering. In the title-linked blog (which may contain additional dialogue in the "comments" section as we proceed), he responds to my answer by claiming that I have a "fear of nature" that causes me to look to the supernatural. Here is the text, so you don't have to navigate there:

Other than being a theist, he [that's me] seems like a reasonably bright young man. Feel free to click on the link and read the whole post. But, again, he validates my position that fear of death is, if not the primary factor in supernatural belief, certainly one of the main factors. Chip Crush writes:

The question again is, "What is the single greatest thing that you think your faith gives you now, or will give you in the future?"

It's a simple answer. The single greatest thing that I think my faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has given me in the past, gives me now, and will give me in the future, is eternal life. I have eternal life, and will have eternal life by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

I would like to point out that Chip put the emphasis into the previous paragraph. It’s clear that he gives some validity to my point and he fears nature. He fears it to the point of rejecting it in favor of the supernatural. He goes on to say:

But a person is not their body. A person is more than mere flesh and blood. We continue to exist after the first death. This death is merely a door to a different kind of life. We'll be in paradise or hades (sheol) after walking through this door of the first death.

Science has repeatedly tested the notion of the self being more than the body. Every scientific study has produced evidence that shows they are one and the same. This does not (as always in science) disprove a “soul”. It only says two things.

1. Thousands of tests, experiments, studies have revealed no evidence of a soul.
2. Everything we know about Homo sapiens can be understood in terms of a unitary self that is in no way divided.

Chip concludes by going back to his greatest fear, which he alleviates by his being able to constantly refer to life ever-lasting, every time he has the opportunity to try to convince another. Surely with every success, he becomes more certain that he is right. How else could he have convinced someone?

So there you have it, John: a simple answer to a good question. My faith gives me eternal life. Would you like to have eternal life? Come to Jesus, and live forever.

I'd enjoy carrying this out in dialogue, and it will be interesting to see if John is willing. First of all, concluding that my Christian faith is based on a fear of nature is unfounded. That conclusion would be akin to suggesting that John's belief in gravity is based on his fear of falling from the sky (or fear of floating away). The link between the two claims is a missing link, or at least has yet to be shown empirically.

However, I suppose we could say that John's faith in science is based on his fear of God (or lack thereof). As Romans 1:18-23 declares, "
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." Furthermore, John 3:19-21 makes the same claim, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

John is a sinner, and though the logical thing to do in his wretched state would be to repent and "come into the Light," to turn to God for forgiveness and salvation - "eternal life" being a restored, lasting, and intimate relationship with the Intelligent Designer (Christians, read: Creator and Sustainer of all things) - he does not do that. Instead he remains in the darkness, thinking himself to be hidden from God so that his evil deeds will not be exposed - at least for now. He has suppressed the truth by his wickedness and is wallowing in hopelessness and Godlessness; thinking himself to be wise, he has revealed his foolishness. His thinking is futile and his foolish heart is darkened. Alas, he is an evolutionist; he has exchanged the glory of God for images made to look like man and animals.

Anyway, John's next assessment of my response attacked the existence of a soul. He kindly and rightly noted that "science" cannot disprove the existence of a soul. But he claims that "science" has neither proven the soul's existence, nor revealed that humans have any existence apart from their bodies. Just as John saw "clearly" what he claimed to be my "fear of nature" as the motivation for my faith, so I see "clearly" his deification of science here. John is "faithfully" relying on science to prove his identity as an animal.

Admittedly, I am also relying on faith to reveal my identity as a child of God. But there is a difference. I also have been made alive in my inner being; I have experienced the existence and life of my soul in a way that John has not. He is dead in sin and trespasses and knows not the life that God breathes into His people by His Holy Spirit. Therefore, faith in science is all John has. I have faith and experience. And ultimately, where John is blinded by the god of this world, my eyes have been opened by grace by the Sovereign Lord, and having the mind of Christ, I am able to determine, once again by grace, right from wrong regarding spiritual things. 1 Corinthians 2:12 says, "
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.
" John, sadly, is a "natural man," and as 1 Corinthians 2:14 declares, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."

Perhaps, through our dialogue, John may be brought into the Light, made alive while he was dead. And so I genuinely pray with the Apostle Paul "
that out of His glorious riches [God] may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
" (Ephesians 3:16-17).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Colossians 1:21-23

21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of [or as shown by] your evil behavior. 22But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- 23if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Paul transitions a little bit here, but his focus is still on Christ. He basically applies his general teaching specifically to the Colossians in order to stress that Christ is a sole and sufficient Savior, not just generally for mankind but specifically for individuals, namely the Colossian believers. He does this with a four-step process. First Paul reminds us of the sin that separates us from God. Second Paul reminds us of the reconciliation that comes to those in Christ. Third Paul shows that our sanctification necessarily follows our justification in the work of God through Christ. And fourth Paul issues a qualifying warning, meant to serve as encouragement to perseverance in faith, relying on Christ, and clinging to the hope we have.

irst, we were once alienated from God and enemies of God due to sin (Ephesians 4:18-19). Paul’s message here is to humble us and perhaps to evangelize any lost people in his audience. If you haven’t received Christ, then you are out of fellowship with God, hostile to God, and unable to please Him (Romans 8:7-8). Before you received Christ, you were alienated from God, enemies of His due to your evil behavior. Our rebellion against God is on every front – mind, will, and body. And so recalling this reality in our lives brings us down into right humility and exalts Jesus as supremely sufficient, for everyone who has received Him knows the change that He has brought to their lives, including but not limited to “peace with God” (Romans 5:1). The phrase “enemies in your minds” is speaking of the hostility unbelievers have to spiritual truth, to the very thought of a holy and just and righteous God. It describes a self-centeredness that is incapable of submitting to the rule of God in one’s life, an inability to see God’s outlook on life. And finally, evil behavior is seen in those who disbelieve the gospel truth. Apart from Christ, it is impossible to do things with right motives, for right reasons, to glorify God. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). There is no neutral position that humanity can have with God. We’re either alienated from Him or reconciled to Him. That’s Paul’s lesson from v21.

Second, Paul points to Jesus as the reconciling agent of God Father (v22). Though we were alienated from God, enemies in our minds, evildoers, God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus. Paul will speak of this in more drastic terms later – we were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God made us alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5; Colossians 2:13). How did God make us alive? How did God reconcile us to Himself? Through Jesus, but more specifically, through His “physical body through death.” It was a blood-reconciliation, and it’s fully completed. There’s nothing more to do. Christ is sufficient. But Paul wants us to see the cost of our reconciliation: the price was the death of the Son of God’s love. You will one day be more holy than you are now. You will one day be happier than you are now. But you will never be more reconciled than you are now. Praise God!

Third, also in v22, Paul points to God’s purpose in reconciling us to Himself. God justified us in order to sanctify us, to glorify us, “to present [us] holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” This brings to mind Romans 8:28-30, the Golden Chain of Salvation. The false teachers may have suggested that forgiveness through Christ is nice, but this other stuff, these mystical rituals and speculative spiritual knowledge will enhance your life. But Paul says, “No. Christ is sufficient, for He is making you perfect.” He is making us holy, that is, sinless and set apart unto God. He is making us without blemish, pure and clean, spotless; He is making us free from accusation, meaning no one will be able to find anything flawed in our entire character and being. Why would God want to do that? “We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus” (Romans 8:29). But why? To have fellowship with Him! And we have to be perfect to enter into His presence. We get to be perfect to spend eternity with our Maker; and through Christ it comes to pass (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Fourth, in v23, Paul gives the appropriate response to this good news of the gospel in the form of a careful warning, a qualifier of the reality of the work of Christ in us. Faith is the link between Christ and His people, and that link must be maintained. And it certainly will be, for if it is genuine, then it is “established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” Calvin says, “Here we have an exhortation to perseverance, by which he admonishes them that all the grace that had been conferred upon them hitherto would be vain, unless they persevered in the purity of the gospel. And thus he intimates, that they are still only making progress, and have not yet reached the goal. For the stability of their faith was at that time exposed to danger through the stratagems of the false [teachers]. Now he paints in lively colors assurance of faith when he bids the Colossians be grounded and settled in it. For faith is not like mere opinion, which is shaken by various movements, but has a firm steadfastness, which can withstand all the machinations of hell.” We persevere, because God preserves us. And we make our calling and election sure by holding fast to the gospel, not adding to it (as the false teachers were instructing) or taking away from it (namely in our culture by denying our dire circumstance, our sinfulness in light of God’s just and righteous holiness).

Paul concludes here in v23 by reminding the Colossians of three reasons they should hold fast to that hope, remaining established and firm in their faith in Christ. First, they have heard the gospel, this very gospel, the one that he, as a servant of it, is even now proclaiming, the gospel that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Second, they are not alone; the gospel is fruitful throughout the world. They shouldn’t base their stance on this truth, as Paul uses hyperbole here (Romans 15:18-25), and even if all else were to fall away, we must not; but the fact that others believe and continue to believe does encourage us in our walk with Christ. Third, the fact that Paul himself is a servant of the gospel should lead them to strive for perseverance. They respect Paul, though they haven’t met him, and they see his efforts to forward the gospel. Perhaps they know of his dramatic conversion and his many sufferings for Christ. I’d like to think that if I received a letter from Paul today that I would be encouraged in my faith. Well look here. I have thirteen letters from Paul, and though not specifically addressed to me, they certainly apply to me.