Archive for the ‘theology musings’ Category

Controversy: Can Baptists still tolerate sacrifice?

August 19, 2011

After that somewhat intentionally vague and provocative title, let me narrow in on the subject at hand:

“A New Bedford (MA) barbershop has been closed after city officials found evidence of ritualistic animal sacrifice at the site. [The owner] disputes the claim, saying…that his religious freedoms have been violated.”  (link)

With a nod to Mark at HereIBlog, let me open the floor (which means comment…respectfully!):

Where does the boundary between defense of religious liberty end and toleration for a loose ecumenism begin?

I will reserve my opinion until a few others have stated their own case….

Tuesday Theology Musings: 0.1A – Can miracles exist?

July 5, 2011

Last week, we discussed how classical skepticism and the Bible interact in their perception of reality. Today, we will explore the implications of Pyrrho‘s eighth mode: constancy and rarity.

The ninth depends upon the frequency, or rarity, or strangeness of the thing under consideration. For instance, earthquakes excite no wonder among those nations with whom they are of frequent occurrence; nor does the sun, because he is seen every day. (from The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, trans. C.D. Yonge, 1853, Book IX – The Life of Pyrrho, Chapter IX)

Many modern skeptics believe that miracles, like to the kind recorded in Scripture, are impossible because they violate the natural order, as “codified” in repeatable scientific empiricalism. Iwould like to venture a rebuttal on three propositions, inspired by Pyrrho:

1) The rare is not the impossible

Modern particle physics is presently searching for the Higgs boson, also known colloquially as the “God particle”.

However, as of today, it has not been discovered/detected. To quote a particle physics blog:

“The Tevatron by the end of 2011 will have acquired 10-12 inverse femtobarns of luminosity…. To unravel this, here is a handful of back-of-a-madgraph estimates of how many interesting events can the colliders get by the end of 2011.

Higgs Boson (120 GeV Higgs produced in gluon fusion) events:
Tevatron: 10 000
LHC: 11 000

Both experiments will have a similar sensitivity to the Higgs. Although 10k looks like whole lotta events, Higgs signatures are notoriously difficult to search. For example, one promising discovery channel at the LHC is when the Higgs decays into two photons, which happens roughly twice per thousand events for a 120 GeV Higgs. For this and other reasons, neither Tevatron nor the LHC has good prospects of discovering the Higgs, unless in lucky circumstances (e.g. production cross section larger than in the standard model, or Higgs mass sitting close to the sweet spot of 160 GeV).” (Resonaances, accessed 7/5/2011)

To be at least intellectually consistent, if rare events in science can be expected, then so to rare events beyond the comfort threshold of the scientist.

2) The common is not the non-miraculous

As stated in Pyrrho’s own words, ” the sun [does not excite wonder] because he is seen every day.” This is better explained by those more versed in the subject, so I will point you to two takes:

…to which I again appeal for equal treatment under my first proposition!

3) The “laws” of science are never set

The scientist is alwasy questioning and exploring. In science, there are relatively few laws: explanations of the mechanism of a process so rigorously upheld by empirical data (evidential test) and so entrenched in other corollary aspects of scientific understanding (logical-conceptual test) as to conceive of their not being true/real is tantamount to undercutting the whole existence of life/the universe as we know it. However, most scientific understanding is only about a hundred years old (at least, in its present formulation)…why should we not expect the rules of scientific thought to change again?

In conclusion, miracles cannot be discounted or disregarded simply because they do not fit our modern sentiments on the subject.

Tuesday Theology Musings: 0.0 – Can we know?

June 28, 2011

How do we know what we know? (or epistemology)

I tend to be a fallibilist because of my scientific background, but as a Christian, I must also deal with the existence (though the unattainability of certainty about said existence) of Absolutes. Revelation (and the concomittant doctrines of inspiration and illumination) is the divine mode through which we perceive the True in the Cave of our lives.

Having said that, let us explore how the Bible relates to the Five Modes of Perception, as developed  by Agrippa the Skeptic.

(from The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, trans. C.D. Yonge, 1853, Book IX – The Life of Pyrrho, Chapter X)

“One derived from the disagreement of opinions; another from the necessity of proceeding ad infinitum from one reasoning to another; a third from relation; a fourth from hypothesis; and the last from the reciprocal nature of proofs.

[DISSENT]
That which refers to the disagreement of opinions, shows that all the questions which philosophers propose to themselves, or which people in general discuss, are full of uncertainty and contradiction.

[PROGRESS AD INFINITUM]
That which is derived from the necessity of proceeding incessantly from one reasoning to another, demonstrates that it is impossible for a man ever, in his researches, to arrive at undeniable truth; since one truth is only to be established by another truth; and so on, ad infinitum.

[RELATIVITY]
The mode which is derived from relation rests on the doctrine that no object is ever perceived independently and entirely by itself, but always in its relation to something else; so that it is impossible to know its nature correctly.

[ASSUMPTION]
That which depends on hypothesis is directed against those arguers who pretend that it is necessary to accept the principles of things taken absolutely, and that one must place one’s faith in them without any examination, which is an absurdity; for one may just as well lay down the opposite principles.

[CIRCULARITY]
The fifth mode, that one namely which arises from the reciprocal nature of proofs, is capable of application whenever the proof of the truth which we are looking for supposes, as a necessary preliminary, our belief in that truth; for instance, if, after we have proved the porosity of bodies by their evaporations, we return and prove the evaporations by the porosity.”

Dissent – the Bible becomes the arbiter of revealed truth, but we as human interpreters can (and probably should) disagree about the message received. Thus the dual (Baptist?) doctrines of inerrancy and priesthood of all believers become essential for our (admitted limited) knowledge of God.

Progress ad infinitum – This becomes both a non-issue and a mystery for the Christian faith. In one way, God is the Unmoved Mover, the First Cause, the end of the infinite regress as Creator God. In another way, many of the issues with which our human minds struggle, “how do sovereignty and responsibility coexist?”, “If God, why evil?” have their explanation and origin in the deep, unsearchable Infinite that is eternity and the God who inhabits it.

Relativity – Existence, substance, and essence only have meaning in relation to the Creator. What is strange is that in some ways, God is Himself relative, or more precisely related, to His creation…in His role as Savior, for instance.

Assumption – Again, a dual approach is taken by Scripture. In one way, the moral Law is absolute and extensive (who hasn’t wondered about the purpose of the mixed fabrics prohibition?). In another, the Bible takes for granted many philosophical concepts…like the existence of a Divine separate from this reality.

Circularity – The Bible, it does not seem to me, to fall for the circular argument. Most of its arguments point back to the revealed character or reputation of God…and sometimes past the revealed into the mystery beyond human comprehension.

Let us now answer the question: “Can we know?” Well…maybe…? Faith requires the leap…but is rewarded with evidence and experience. Revelation, to me, is more than just the transmitted and preserved Word of God in Scripture – it is also the life-long journey with the God who reveals.

Ethics Quandary: How do we deal with single IVF mothers?

June 11, 2011

Here’s the situation:

A friend of my mother, who has known me since I have little, recently offered to “set me up” with her son’s sister-in-law (trust me, it’s even weird than it sounds!) She sounds like a totally great gal, we’ve got similar interests, but there’s one problem:

She has a daughter by IVF…and she’s never been married…. I guess she decided a few years ago that she didn’t want to wait on having children since a husband was not in the picture. My conundrum is two-part:

  1. What is the church’s/Bible’s position on children out-of-wedlock by this manner? I’m a little rusty on my casuistic thinking. First, we have to tread the Regulative/Normative principle waters here, since obviously the technology to have a child without sexual intercourse (at least directly) was not present in Biblical times. Second, there’s the awkward progressive revelation point: Mary, the mother of our Lord, was also (by obviously a different method) found in the same way
  2. The higher standard being the station of the pastorate: What should a pastor do when in my situation? She and I are in similar waters. We both have not “found” the one to marry due to God’s timing. We both want children, but also want to follow God faithfully. I have time, but she does/did not. But it is not exactly like marrying a widow with children…or is it?

I’d like to hear discussion on this, but I will moderate the less kind or on-topic comments as needed.

Theology Ditty 11: “How is Our Understanding of God Related to History?”

May 18, 2009

Ditty 10 is lost right now – hoping to restore it when/if I find the paper copy!

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We understand God because we have experienced Him in relationship. In colloquial terms, we have history. The Bible is the record of God’s history with Israel and the early church. Tradition is the reckoning of His dealings and leadings with the later generations of the church. The experiential clothing of the basic doctrines as applied to our lives is the result of our personal history with God.

Beginning at Sinai (maybe before that at the burning bush), God initiated a relationship with Israel through miraculous signs and His words communicated through the prophets. As they cycled between obedience to and outright rejection of his revelation, He continued to interact with them and in doing so taught them and us about Himself and His desires for humanity. Culminating in the early church and the apostles, God completed the authoritative record of His direct dealings with mankind, though He has not stopped acting in human society and history.

Once the Scriptures were adopted as canonical, God began what might seem to be a more indirect path of revelation. As the Church Fathers and ecumenical councils struggled with the implications of the Gospel and the logical underpinnings of doctrine to the biblical narrative, God through their discussions, debates, and disagreements continued to reveal the truth of His plan and His character. As tradition took center stage and trumped God’s word as authority, God worked in the hearts of many to reform His church and return to the purity of biblical faith. As human society and knowledge has advanced, God continues to reveal Himself afresh to each generation in its terms and to its need through His modern-day messengers, the ministers.

More narrowly, I and you understand how God is by what He has done with and through us. As we realize our need for a Savior, we find a Creator and a Lord beyond our belief and naive hopes. Along the path of growth and Christian maturity, we find a Friend and Comforter who is more than willing to rebuke us to shape us in His image. In dark days and hard times, we find a Rock and a Shelter whose love is the strongest of nets to catch us. In all things, throughout all generations, God has worked to make Himself known through our history.

Theology Ditty 9: “What is the relationship between natural revelation and non-Christian religion?”

May 4, 2009

After more than a month of silence (working and those seminary papers really eat up your waking time!), I’m back! Hopefully, I’ll post twice a week for May to catch up for lost time….

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Non-Christian religion is simply the expression of mankind’s realization of God’s truth paired with the distortion of His nature. Man-centered religion is the attempt to adapt what we know to be true and right in the framework of a wrong answer to one or both of the questions: “Is there a God?” and “What is the nature of mankind?”

Buddhism and Eastern mysticism answers both questions incorrectly, in that they see mankind as inherently good, but mistaken about his place in reality and that they see the non-existence or palpable absence of God. From that foundation, they take the ideas that we must act rightly and that we inherently seek for something beyond ourselves to mean that by releasing our hold on this world will ultimately free us from its corruption and its limitations. Thus the East seeks to satisfy God’s demands for perfection through self-denial and meditative transcendence.

Works-based religions, whether polytheistic or monotheistic, rightly recognize that there is a God, but that our nature is such that we have the capacity to please Him and earn a life with Him in our own deeds and choices. From that, they discern that God (or Allah or Brahma or whoever) has put in us the desire to act rightly and seek Him/It. Thus many of the world’s religions attempt to fulfill the innate morality God has given us through the strictures of legalism.

Naturalism, best typified by evolutionary thought and practice, answers the question of God’s existence falsely, but does recognize that mankind is inherently wicked and violent. From that atheistic anthropology, they deduce that we act rightly because it benefits us in ever-increasing circles of influence with concomitantly decreasing benefit to us. So the rationalist view is that we are moral people because our biology (our extended desire to survive through reproduction) leads us to behave that way.

Theology Ditty 8: “What are the Sources of Natural Revelation?”

March 16, 2009

Natural revelation, that is the way that we know God and His nature apart from Scripture, is found in four locations. We find God’s providence for His own in the balance of creation. We find God’s nature in the order of the universe. We find God’s character in the uniqueness of human nature. We find God’s love in society and the
family.

When one looks at the complexity of relationships within nature, how every organism at some level is dependent and interrelated to every other, we find that God provides for His creation. He has ensured that every being made is taken care of, that they are fed and sheltered, that they have all that they need to live as He plans (Matthew 6:25-31). This providence is apparent to all men, even when they choose to see it as the result of evolution or natural processes.

The universe, in its simplicity of processes (that the same forces acts at all levels of scale and time) and its complexity of form (molecules, galaxies, and so forth, belies a orderliness that should strikes us as odd. That we find structure and organization as commonplace, even routine, in our world should tell us that we do not live in such a random universe after all. We perceive God as not arbitrary or incomprehensible, but desiring and providing order and ease of understanding.

In the human experience, we discover how God is by His nature and how we are to relate to Him. As with Adam, we instinctively know that we are different from other animals – we see that we are special. We then deduce that a Creator that seeks order and provides for His own is not unlike we are, that we share some characteristics with God. From the love of the family and the structures we find and support in larger society, we learn next how God relates to us, as Father and Lord.

Theology Ditty 7: “Is Natural Revelation Enough to Save a Person?”

March 9, 2009

No, natural revelation is insufficient to save someone because it lacks the ability to reveal in whom that person must rely for salvation. While creation testifies to the goodness and ultimate existence of God, it does not speak to His plan of salvation as such. This might be explained as the result of creation, apart from mankind, not being in active rebellion to Him and thus not needing His salvation.

What is needed to be saved is the knowledge of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ two millennia ago. This was difficult for the people living proximate to him to understand (thus a reason for the resistance of the Pharisees and the Athenians to accept him as Lord and Savior). This is even more true for us living today, some of who doubt Jesus’ very existence. Beyond the mere facts of the gospel, we must also have assurance that our sins are forgiven. Again, this was a difficult concept for those of the ancient Near East to rest in and more so for us today.

Without a clear revelation of how God is acting in history and in our individual lives, we cannot be saved. We need Scripture to flesh out what creation has taught us: that God exists and loves us. Without that explanation, we cannot be saved by mere natural revelation.

Theology Ditty 6: “What is the Holy Spirit’s Relationship to Special Revelation?”

February 25, 2009

Since the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the church is manifold, I will limit my discussion of His role in special revelation to that of the Scripture. At the time of its composition and canonization, the Holy Spirit played the vital role of interlocutor for the Trinity, guiding the thoughts and choices of the authors and the assemblers to produce the Bible that we have today. In the reading of the Bible and its understanding today, the Holy Spirit acts as the interpreter, guiding our thoughts and responses to the Holy Word.

In ancient days, as God revealed Himself to mankind, the Holy Spirit interceded in the lives and writings of the biblical authors to produce the dual source, human and divine, in which God’s revealed truth was transmitted to the people of their day and to us. Through Moses, by bringing recollection of stories passed down the generations and the common law of the civilized peoples of his day, the Holy Spirit codified God’s righteous law and its practical out-workings to the children of Israel. Through David and the other psalmists, the Holy Spirit transmitted the beauty of God’s nature and truth to us in song and poem. Through the prophets, culminating in Jesus Himself, the Holy Spirit expanded and expounded upon the foundations of faith laid down by the forefathers. Through the apostles, the Holy Spirit explained the fulfillment of all revealed truth, as well the higher call of the Christian life and the church as He dwelt within us.

Now as we read the Scripture, the Holy Spirit continues to teach and proclaim the ageless truths of God. He corrects our errors and guides our thoughts to reconcile the mysteries of the spiritual realm with the realities of the world in which we live. He comforts and rebukes by teaching us how to live, showing how we are cared for in life, and bringing remembrance to us out of the storehouse of our memory and meditations.

Theology Ditty 5: “Does Special Revelation Exist Outside of the Bible?”

February 16, 2009

When God reveals some truth to us, be it during Bible study or prayer or even in some reflection on creation or life experiences, that truth in order to be special revelation must certainly align with existing Scripture (Deuteronomy 13:1-3) and must be a previously unknown truth. In this regard, much of what is proposed to be new insight or revelation in recent years is in fact false teaching meant to distract us from the worship of the true God and from obedience to His eternal precepts and requirements. So is that insight I had two days ago during quiet time really revelatory or something else?

Some insights are not revelatory, but merely inspiratory. Sometimes when we read and meditate on Scripture, we see something new, but not something not already known or revealed. Maybe we find a new reference to Christ in the Old Testament. Maybe we see a new connection in the wording or themes of two different biblical authors. Perhaps we find a refreshing hope or renewed joy from an obscure passage. These are not revelatory, in the sense that they tell us and all other believers something not previously understood. These have been revealed by the inspiration of the Spirit, but being not unique, are not equal to a new addendum to Scripture.

Some insights are not revelatory, but sadly contradictory to the tenor of previous revelation. Much of the re-interpretation that results from a reader-centered view falls in this category. Along with this heterodoxy, there is outright heresy as is seen in contemporary and recent cults, where major doctrines or whole passages are ignored or re-worked. In doing so, this “revelation” achieves nothing more than springboarding off the name or reputation of Christianity in order to promote a new (or old) alternative to true faith. It is this kind of insight that the Deuteronomy passage seeks to guard against. These are not revelatory because this “new light” often seeks not to support previous revelation, but undermine it.