Thursday, May 31, 2007

A movie about Revelation

I've always thought it would be neat to make a movie about Revelation. Now there are already movies about Revelation, but they're all based on interpretations of Revelation. I'd like there to be a movie just about the whole vision that John saw. It would start off with John on the Island of Patmos, and the whole thing is the vision he sees. I think special effects have gotten good enough to where a movie like that could be spectacular. Of course Basil Poledouris would have to write the soundtrack for it. Sometimes I wish I was a movie producer. I've come up with a few movies I'd like to see made and a few idea for how I'd like them to be. But I really have no clue how to make a movie. That's not to mention my lack of funds. A movie like I'm thinking would cost oodles and doodles of moolah. Anyway, Peter Jackson, if you're reading this, do give it some thought, will ya?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The problem with empiricism

Recently on Yahoo Answers, somebody posted a question asking Christians to say what they think the best argument against the existence of God is. Most of them said something like lack of empirical evidence.

Empiricism is the idea that all of our knowledge comes through sensory experience. Empirical evidence is evidence that can be apprehended through the five senses. If you're an empiricist, then you would demand empirical evidence for anything before you would consider it an item of knowledge.

David Hume tried to take empiricism to its logical conclusion in his book, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. (I highly recommend that book to everybody, by the way.) What he arrived at was radical skepticism. The reason is that before your senses can tell you anything, you must first know a few things your senses cannot tell you.

You must know that your sensory experience corresponds to a real external world and is not just an illusion in your mind before your senses can tell you anything about the external world. You must know that your memory corresponds to real past experience if your knowledge is to cover anything beyond what you are experiencing at the moment. You must know the uniformity of nature if you are going to make any generalizations based on your sensory experience or arrive at any probabilities. None of these things can be known through your senses. If we don't know these non-empirical things, then we don't have any empirical knowledge either.

There are actually a whole lot of things we know that our senses can't tell us. We know the content of our thoughts, how we're feeling, the basic concepts of math and geometry, the laws of logic, that "ought" implies "can," and that the simplest explanation is the best (i.e. Okham's razor/the law of parsimony). In fact, we know many of these things with more certainty than we know things that our senses tell us. It's possible that we could be mistaken about what we're percieving (it could be an illusion), but it's not possible that we could be mistaken about the content of our thoughts. We know what we're thinking merely because we're thinking it.

But I think it's a little hasty to say there is no empirical evidence for God. The cosmological argument and the teleological argument both rely on empirical evidence.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why is it that some believe and some don't? Part 2

Turning to the parable of the good shepherd in John 10, there are basically two kinds of people--those who are Jesus' sheep, and those who are not his sheep. Of his sheep, he says they follow him because they know his voice (v.4), and they will not follow a stranger because they do not know his voice (v.5). If a person belongs to Jesus, then they will follow him. Belonging to Jesus, then, is logically prior to following him. It is because we belong to Jesus that we follow him.

That is even more clear when Jesus said:

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd (John 10:16).
When Jesus said, "I have sheep," it is in the present tense. Yet when he says, "they shall hear my voice" it is in the future tense. That means believing in Jesus isn't what causes us to be his sheep. Rather, being his sheep is what causes us to believe in him. Moreover, if a person is one of Jesus' sheep, then it's a certainty that they will believe in him. They will recognize his voice when he calls them.

I was discussing this passage with a friend of mine a few years ago, and he pointed out to me that since God exists outside of time, then it's irrelevent that from our point of view belief comes after ownership. From God's point of view, there's no difference.

I'm a little skeptical that God exists outside of time, as I explained here, but let's assume for the sake of argument that he does. For the sake of this discussion, it doesn't matter because belonging to Jesus is not just temporally prior to belief. It's logically prior. What I mean is that belonging to Jesus doesn't just come before belief in time; rather, belonging to Jesus is the reason we come to believe in him. Jesus is explicit about that in vs. 26-27:

But you do not believe, because you are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Just as we saw in John 6 in my previous post, we see also hear that the reason some believe and others don't is because some belong to Jesus and the others don't. If you belong to Jesus, then you will believe in him. If you do not belong to Jesus, then you will not believe in him. So it isn't the believing that causes you to belong; rather, it's the belonging that causes you to believe.

But what determines whether we belong to Jesus if not our choice to believe in him? Well, just as we saw in John 6:37 about how "all that the Father gives me shall come to me," so also we see in John 10:29 that a person becomes one of Jesus' sheep by the Father giving them to Jesus. He said:

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
So again we see that it's all up to the Father. The Father gives people to Jesus. Since those people now belong to Jesus, they will hear his voice, believe in him, and follow him. If somebody does not belong to Jesus then he was not given to Jesus by the Father. Consequently, he will not believe in Jesus. As we saw in the last post, nobody can believe in Jesus unless the Father enables him.

Again, I realize much more can be said. I only meant to show in these last two chapters how Jesus answers the question of why some believe and some don't. These two chapters actually support all five points of Calvinism, but I chose not to go into detail about that for the sake of simplicity.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Why is it that some believe and some don't? Part 1

If any of you read my post explaining my conversion to Calvinism, you may recall that James White had a lot to do with it. The turning point for me was chapter 7 (Jesus Teaches "Extreme Calvinism") of his book, The Potter's Freedom. In that chapters, White argued from John 6 that whether we come to Jesus for salvation or not is entirely up to God. In other words, God is absolutely sovereign in our salvation.

I want to explain, now, why I think the case for Calvinism from John 6 and John 10 is solid.

Since I said in my previous post that I'm a one-point Calvinist, I want you to have a look at these chapters in John with one question in mind: Why is it that some people believe in Jesus and others don't?. I think Jesus answers that question with clarity. The reason some believe and some don't is because some were given to Jesus by the Father and others weren't. That means our salvation is entirely up to God. He is absolutely sovereign in our salvation. I'm convinced that if you read these chapters in John carefully with that question in mind, you'll see what I mean.

But I'm going to go through them and point things out anyway.

In John 6, Jesus feeds the 5000 and then goes across the Sea of Galilee. The next day, the crowd follows him over there wanting some more food (v.26). That's when Jesus launches into the "bread of life" discourse. The "bread of life" turns out to be Jesus himself (v.35). Eating the bread of life in order to live forever becomes a metaphore for for believing in Jesus for salvation.

(For my Catholic friends out there, I realize you disagree with how I understand eating the bread of life, but that's another subject I don't want to go into right now. Our disagreement on that issue shouldn't distract from the rest of what I'm going to say.)

Starting in verse 35, Jesus says:

I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
Coming to Jesus and believing in Jesus both mean the same thing as you can tell by reading the whole section and noticing how they are used interchangeably.

In the next verse, Jesus says:

But I said to you, that you have seen me, and yet do not believe.
Now he's about to explain why they don't believe. He says:

All that the Father gives me shall come to me, and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out.
Jesus is making an argument here, which you can show with a syllogism. It goes like this:

1. If the Father gives you to me, then you will come to me (i.e. believe in me; v. 37).
2. You do not believe in me (v. 36).
3. Therefore, the Father did not give you to me.

The conclusion follows by logical necessity from Jesus' exact words. It's very clear from this much alone. Jesus is explaining why some people believe and some don't. It's because some are given to him by the Father and some aren't. Those who are given to him come to him. Those who are not given to him do not come to him. It's all up to the Father.

Starting in verse 41, the Jews begin grumbling about Jesus' claim to come from heaven even though they actually know his parents. They were having trouble believing he could come from heaven when they knew exactly where he came from--Mary and Joseph. Jesus reacted by saying:

Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day (vs. 43-44).
This statement follows from what Jesus said before. According to vs. 36-37, whether somebody believes in Jesus or not depends on what the Father does. Since it's entirely up to the Father there was no point in them grumbling. They would be unable to come to Jesus unless the Father drew them.

Jesus went on about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. The Jews were perplexed by that, but instead of explaining it to them in a way that might make it more palatable to them, Jesus reiterated it even more forcefully than before. In the end, he said:

The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.
And then he explicitly said why they don't believe. He said:

For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to me, unless it has been granted him from the Father (v. 65).
So the whole reason Jesus told them that nobody could come to him unless it had been granted to him by the Father is because some of his listeners didn't believe. He was explaining their unbelief. They didn't believe because it had not been granted to them to believe by the Father.

For my Calvinist friends out there, I realize several more points could be made from this passage in John 6. I decided, though, to keep the topic focused on the one question of why some believe and some don't.

Next, I'm going to talk about John 10.
Why is it that some believe and some don't?, part 2

Friday, May 25, 2007

One point Calvinism

As most of you know, I'm a Calvinist. Traditionally, there have been five points that define what Calvinism is--total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistable grace, and preserverance of the saints. Some people call themselves four-point Calvinists because they reject limited atonement. The five-pointers call those people "inconsistent Arminians."

Although I believe in all five points of Calivinism, I prefer to call myself a one-point Calvinist. The reason is because basically Calvinism all boils down to one point--the sovereignty of God in salvation. In other words, whether a person is saved or not is entirely up to God. Now granted, we have to embrace the gospel to be saved; however, the reason anybody ever embraces the gospel to begin with is because God chose them. So regardless of what decision we make regarding Jesus, that decision is ultimately determined by God.

All five points follow from this one point. If God decides who will come to faith in Christ and be saved, then nobody can come to Christ unless God enables him to. We are in such a state of rebellion against God that we are unable to come to Christ apart from God's enablement. That's total depravity.

If salvation is totally up to God, then it must be unconditional. If it were conditioned on our own choices or something about us that God had no control over, then it wouldn't be totally up to God. So God's election must be unconditional.

If God intended to save a specific people and not others, and if he sent Jesus to die to save those people, then he must've only intended Jesus' atonement to be for those he had chosen. That's limited (or particular) atonement. The atonement is limited to a particular group of people--those God intended to save.

If salvation is ultimately up to God, then the decision is entirely his. If the decision is entirely his, then those he decides will come to Jesus will come to Jesus. It's a necessity. Salvation is by the grace of God. In other words, we don't earn it. God gives it freely. That means the grace is irresistable to those God has chosen. If God chooses to bestow his grace on somebody by saving them, then that person will be saved. They can't resist it.

If our salvation is completely determined by God, then those God has chosen to be saved cannot lose their salvation. That's because God can't fail to save anybody he intends to save. That's preserverance of the saints.

So basically what it all boils down to is that God is completely sovereign in our salvation. It's all up to him. That's why I prefer to think of myself as a one-point Calvinist. It simplifies things.

Stay tuned. I have more to say on this subject...
Why is it that some believe and some don't, part 1

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why I am not a Unitarian Universalist

I haven't posted anything in a while, so I thought I'd go to google and search for ephphatha sam and see if I could find some old message board discussions that would give me something to write about. I read a whole bunch of them. I think I was smarter back then than I am now. What on earth has gone wrong? I feel like Charlie toward the end of Flowers for Algernon. Anyway, I found this post from March of 2003 where somebody asked, "Why aren't more people UU's?" I gave my own reasons for not being a UU. Here's what I said, and here's a link to the discussion:

I guess in the spirit of FaeryDragon I'll give some of my reasons for not being a UU.

I guess the biggest reason is that as a Christian, I consider myself a member of a family along with other Christians. As such I think it's important to have the unity we have in worship. I don't think it's possible to have that unity in UUism since most aren't Christians. The UU church is not about Jesus Christ and our citizenship in his kingdom. These are important and intimate things to me, and I guess the whole family thing is what makes it important to me to worship and study with other Christians. If UUism weren't a church that met for religious services, and if it were on another day besides Sunday (I guess Sunday afternoon would be okay), I suppose I would think it was a pretty neat idea. I mean if it was just a meeting place for interfaith dialogue, I'd be all for that. It would be great to have a place where people of different faiths could share, discuss, and debate their differences with tolerance and civility. I just wouldn't want something like that to take the place of my membership in the church of Jesus Christ. If you'll read 1 Corinthians 12 about the analogy of the body and it's many parts, you'll see why I have this view.

Another reason I'm not a UU is because some of my beliefs would not be welcome in a UU church. I would not have the same freedom of expression in a UU church as I would have in a Christian church. For example, I believe that God has given us a moral law, that we all break that moral law, that Jesus is the Christ (in the historic Jewish meaning of the word), that he died to atone for our breaking of the moral law, and that salvation from judgement can only come by faith in Christ's atonement. I believe Jesus was raised from the dead, and that there will be a final resurrection of the dead in which some will face judgment, and others will enter eternal life. I believe the Bible is the word of God. I don't believe that all religions are equally valid, nor that picking a religion should be like choosing ice cream flavours, and that whatever works for you is okay with God. I do not believe God is indifferent to our relationship to him. I believe that Christianity is true in its essential claims, and that other religions are wrong when they contradict those claims. I think my views would likely be met with much hostility in a UU church, and I could never be comfortable in one because of it.

One more reason I'm not a UU is because I think that UUism leads to irrationalism and shallowness. In general, there are three kinds of UU's. There are those who have all the politically correct views, and they are free to express their views and recieve pats on the back. Then there are those whose views are politically incorrect, and they have to choose between keeping their views to themselves in order to avoid offending anybody, or expressing them and facing hostility. Some just resort to abiguity to get their views off their chest without causing a stir. The third group are those so heavily bent on tolerance and pluralism, that they adopt the view that religious truth is relative. I've got my beliefs, and you've got yours, and even though they contradict, neither of us is wrong. These people think it's intolerant to think another person's views are wrong, so they pretend like they think everybody's views are true for them EXCEPT for those who don't share their view that all religious truth is relative, and that some religious views are wrong (which I find hypocritical). I think UUism actually encourages this kind of thinking. It's okay in UUism to believe whatever you want as long as you don't actually think it's true, because once you claim that you have some truth about religion, well then you're intolerant because you're implying that other people are wrong about their religion. I am generalizing here, but I'm sure a lot of you will agree with me.