Thursday, February 20, 2020

Why did God create anything?

One of my all time favorite books, which is really just a 60 or so page pamphlet, is Jonathan Edward's book, The End For Which God Created the World. This book explains the big picture behind what Christianity (and reality as a whole) is all about. It's all about God and everything that's true about God. Creation is the expression of and the means through which God expresses his glory, and his glory consists in everything that's true about him.

There are two parts to the book/pamphlet. In the first part, Edwards gives a philosophical argument for God making himself the chief end in everything he does. In the second part, he gives Biblical arguments for the same thing. The Biblical case consists of copious citations of God doing this or that for his name's sake or for himself or for his own glory, etc. The philosophical case rests on the premise that God is "infinitely the greatest and best of beings," and everything else follows from that--that to be good is to value that which is most valuable, and to value God's divine attributes is to love the exercise and expression of those attributes, etc.

This book/pamphlets sheds light on almost any other theological or apologetic topic. It explains why there is evil, why God saves some and not others, why God requires worship, whether this make him an egomaniac, why God didn't do this or that some other way, why God's sovereignty is so exhaustive, how and why everything has a purpose, what that purpose is, why we should obey God, what the ultimate goal in morality is, etc.

So I highly recommend reading this book/pamphlet. It's only 60 pages, but it could shed a lot of light on a lot of different things. This is the big picture. This is the answer to, "What is the meaning of life?"

Monday, February 17, 2020

Did Paul write the pastoral epistles?

I don't find the typical arguments against the Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles very persuasive. The primary argument is based on some of the vocabulary in the pastorals not being typical of Paul. Just looking at my own vocabulary over the years makes me doubt the validity of this argument. For example, I used to use the word, "presuppose," so much that a friend pointed out to me that I used it a lot. I rarely ever use it these days. Lately, I've been using the word, "ameliorate," a lot, but I used to never use it. And it's not just word choice that has changed, but even the way I say things has changed. For example, I began saying things like, "It turns out that. . ." or "If it turned out that. . ." maybe six years ago, but I didn't talk that way before then. People pick up and drop speech patterns and words all the time. And we even adapt our vocabulary and speech to our audience, so it would make sense for Paul to speak a little differently if writing to an individual church leader than if he were writing to a whole congregation. The same arguments that are used to dismiss the pastoral epistles as Pauline would surely rule out a lot of things I've written as being Samine. So the arguments against the Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles just don't strike me as being all that persuasive.

See also: Gregisms and Jesusisms

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Deluding ourselves

I think people in general have a tendency to delude themselves about themselves when there are expectations placed on them or when they hold themselves to certain standards. Christians do this, too. For example, some Christians believe that unless you speak in tongues, you haven't been baptized by the Holy Spirit, in which case you aren't saved. Since they believe speaking in tongues is a necessary sign of being saved, they conjure it up. They learn to blabber non-sense because they think that's what they're supposed to do, and they manage to convince themselves that it's real. I'm not saying there's no legitimate tongues, and I can't prove everybody is faking it, but I strongly believe most people who speak in tongues are faking it. And I'm not saying they are knowingly being fakes. I think in most cases they are deluding themselves.

Another area where Christians delude themselves is when it comes to God talking to them. A lot of Christians think it's normal for God to speak directly to them, to make their decisions for them or to give them guidance or insight. As a consequence, they interpret their experiences, or coincidences that happen to them, or feelings and hunches they have as the voice of God. I went to a church recently where just about everybody talked that way. I don't think God does talk to people that way, and even if he does, it's not the norm. If he did, it seems unlikely that he would happen to talk that way to people who go to a church where they think it's normal, but he doesn't in churches where they don't think it's normal. It seems more likely that people are just deluding themselves about the voice of God because that's what they want and expect. Or maybe they're deluding themselves out of peer pressure to be acceptable to the people around them since they think that's what everybody else expects from them.

Everybody, whether Christian or not, deludes themselves when it comes to morality. If you ask somebody why they did something wrong, they'll rarely say, "Because I wanted to," even though that's the most honest answer you could give. Sometimes, they'll conjure up some kind of justification for it to let themselves off the hook. It isn't just to try to look good to the other person either. They try to convince themselves because nobody likes to think of themselves as the bad guy. Even when people are willing to admit that they did wrong, they'll still give reasons that ameliorate their guilt. "Yeah, I did wrong, but look at the position I was in!" We all do this.

One time I told a Christian that the reason I had done something wrong was because at the time I wanted to commit the sin more than I wanted to please God. It seemed to me that was the most honest answer for why I sin or for why any Christian sins, which seems undeniable. But she acted like it was the most unChristian thing for me to say. She was horrified by it. If her feelings about it are the norm, then it's no wonder so few people are honest with themselves about their own sinfulness.

One area where I think Christians are especially prone to deluding themselves is in the area of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a big deal in Christianity because Jesus taught us to always forgive those who ask for it because God had forgiven us, and we should always turn the other cheek. You don't have to be a Christian to value forgiveness, but it is a virtue that is emphasized more in Christianity than outside of it. And unbelievers know this, so they're especially critical of Christians who are unforgiving, and they accuse them of hypocrisy if they can't forgive.

A lot of Christians will say they forgive somebody simply because they know that's what they're supposed to do. But there's a lot of discussion about what it even means to forgive. One definition says that to forgive somebody is to treat them as if they hadn't done anything wrong. But this is untenable in a lot of situations because while you might be required to forgive them, it would be foolish to trust them again. So forgiveness can't mean that we have to give them an opportunity to hurt us again.

Another definition for forgiveness means that you don't seek revenge or seek to get even or anything like that. That seems reasonable to me, but what about feelings of resentment? I think a lot of us believe that as long as we're harboring resentment, we haven't really forgiven the other person. Letting go of that resentment is part of what it means to forgive. The problem is that we can't simply decide to do that. It takes time to heal. This difficulty of letting go of our feelings of anger and resentment is why Christians are always asking each other what it really means to forgive. We'd like to define forgiveness in such a way that we can actually do it because we're supposed to. So what I've seen some Christians do (and what I've done) is try to convince ourselves that we're letting go of the resentment. We'll say we forgive somebody because that's what we're supposed to do, but we're not being entirely honest.

Maybe we should just stop saying we forgive people when we really don't. We should say we're trying if we honestly are. Sure, it'll make us look bad, and people will call us hypocrites, but we should be honest about that, too. We're sinners. We are guilty of hypocrisy sometimes.

While I am far from perfect, I do try to be honest with myself about my own moral failings. I was inspired to be this way a long time ago when I read something by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. He said,

The truth is, we believe in decency so much--we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so--that we cannot bear the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. For you notice it is only for our bad behavior that we find all these explanations. It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves.

This passage really made me want to be honest with myself about my own motives in the things I do and to be honest with myself about my own guilt and to resist the temptation to delude myself with excuses. Other authors have made similar observations.

"Wannamaker learned this lesson early, but I personally had to blunder through this old world for a third of a century before it even began to dawn upon me that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people don't criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong it may be." ~Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

"By and large we do know right from wrong, but wish we didn't. We only make believe we are searching for truth-so that we can do wrong, condone wrong, or suppress our remorse for having done wrong in the past." ~J. Budziszewski, The Revenge of Conscience

“Evil people never believe that they are evil; rather, they believe that everyone else is evil.” ~Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, p. 133

Some people I've confided in have chastised me for being too hard on myself or for harboring guilty feelings while being clothed in the righteousness of Christ. But I don't see my efforts at honest introspection to be anything I should seek to avoid. I think it's a good thing. Even if it does drag you down, it's sobering. And how can you honestly seek forgiveness if you don't honestly face the depth of your own guilt? It is disingenuous to go to God for forgiveness while, at the same time, making excuses for your behavior to let yourself off the hook or to try to get God to understand your position. I think we should all seek to be brutally honest with ourselves about our failures rather than try to make excuses for ourselves and delude ourselves into thinking we're not so bad after all. Doesn't it diminish the glory of God in the demonstration of his mercy and grace to suggest that our sins weren't that bad?

I had a friend a long time ago who was being verbally abused by her boyfriend. When she confronted him about it, he didn't admit his fault and apologize. Instead, he tried to justify it. And his justifications were lame. I don't think the target audience for these justifications was her. I think it was him. Can you imagine her responding, "Oh, my bad! I guess it's okay for you to belittle me after all"? No, I doubt he expected that. What he was trying to do is ameliorate his own feelings of guilt. He wanted to convince himself that he wasn't so bad. The problem is that if he succeeded in convincing himself that he hadn't done anything wrong, he would have no motive to change. So being brutally honest with yourself is really essential for moral improvement. It's a bad sign when somebody who has wronged you tries to justify it because it means they are talking themselves out of any reason to stop doing it. That is the danger of deluding yourself about your own sinfulness.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Gerd Ludemann on the appearances

Gerd Ludemann is well known among Christian apologists of the resurrection of Jesus because he advocates an alternative to the view that Jesus' followers saw a real flesh and blood person at the time of the resurrection appearances. Since Ludemann is an atheist scholar who affirms that the appearances really happened, some bloggers and apologists will cite him in defense of that fact. It's a way of saying, "He's a guy who agrees with me about the appearances even though he's not just a Christian saying what he wants to be true." It's like saying we've got a concession from a hostile witness.

After reading Ludemann's own defense of the hallucination hypothesis in What Really Happened to Jesus and in Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment, I think it's a mistake to cite him this way. The reason Ludemann subscribes to the hallucination hypothesis is because grief hallucinations are very common. Since resurrection apologists deny that the appearances were hallucinations, they cannot use this argument to support the fact that appearances happened. However common grief hallucinations are, if they are not the real explanation for the appearances, then they are irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus' disciples saw the risen Jesus.

Ludemann also rejects some of the reasons resurrection apologists think the appearances happened. For example, in Jesus' Resurrection, Fact or Figment, William Lane Craig appeals to multiple attestation as evidence for the appearances, but Ludemann rejects some of those appearance accounts as unhistorical. Craig also points to the appearances to the women at the tomb, but Ludemann rejects those appearances as unhistorical as well. So Ludemann does not accept the appearances as historical for the same reasons Craig does.

So it is inconsistent for a resurrection apologist to cite Ludemann in support of the appearances. One can only consistently cite a source of authority on an historical conclusion if they agree with the reasons that authority came to their conclusion. Or, I suppose it's okay to cite an authority if you don't know what their reasons are, but it's better to know so you avoid making this kind of mistake.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The moral argument in a nutshell

Usually when I come up with a really succinct way to explain an argument, I call it a "quick and dirty" post, but this version of the moral argument goes beyond quick and dirty, so I call this a "nutshell" post. Somebody on reddit asked whether anybody who believes in a higher power sees evidence in nature. This was my response.

I see evidence in just the innate information that is hardwired into our brains, like our perception of morality. I think our natural inclination to think there's a real difference between right and wrong that goes beyond individual or cultural preference is analogous to our natural inclination to believe our senses are giving us true information about a real external world that exists beyond our perceptions, or that our memories are giving us true information about a past that actually happened, or our natural inclination to believe that nature will behave in the future according to the same patterns and laws it has exhibited in the past. None of these things can be proved, but it seem extremely unreasonable to deny them. It's just as unreasonable to say there's nothing in the world actually wrong with murdering any and everybody.

Well, since morality makes demands on our behavior and ascribes real value to human life, then it's sort of like a law. But laws don't have force or validity apart from some source of authority, and nothing matters unless there's somebody it matters to. So the existence of a real moral law that exists independently of the subjective preferences of individuals and cultures and that dictates how people should behave, what really matters, etc., suggests that there's a higher power who created us with the capacity to apprehend these laws and who imposes these laws on us and who places value in human life.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

That's just a silly question!

I made a joke today that I suspect the other person didn't get because it was kind of an inside joke with myself and possible a few random on-lookers being on the inside.

Several years ago, Richard Dawkins participated in a panel discussion/debate in Mexico about whether or not the universe had a purpose. His whole argument was that it was a silly question. He likened it to asking what the mountains are for. If you ask children, they'll say it's so the animals can scratch their backs (or something like that), but if you ask an adult, they'll say it's a silly question. Then he said, alluding to Bill Craig and the other theist, that some people never grow up.

This person on reddit asked what reddit was for, so I ran Richard Dawkins' argument. The joke was that it was a silly argument because obviously reddit isn't like a mountain. Reddit really does have a purpose because somebody created it for a reason.

And that illustrates the circularity of Dawkins' argument. Dawkins' argument can be run with a pair of scissors. If somebody asked what a pair of scissors are for, we could say, "That's a silly question," then go into our analogy with mountains and children, then accuse the person asking the question of being childish and refusing to grow up.

Whether the question of what something is for is a silly question or not depends on whether it actually has a purpose or not. Dawkins was attempting to make an argument against the universe having a purpose, but instead, he assumed that it had no purpose and went from there. His argument was about as circular as you can get.

What Bill Craig and the others should've said was that Dawkins had made a silly argument. You know who makes silly arguments? Children. But when people grow up and acquire good critical thinking skills and learn to reason logically, they stop making silly arguments like circular reasoning. But apparently, not everybody.

Monday, February 10, 2020

But I can't stop sinning!

Whenever God changes a person's heart, causing them to come to Christ for salvation, two things happen. The change in heart causes the person to want to live morally so as to please God and glorify him. But at the same time, the person realizes that they are unable to satisfy this desire completely. So while a person may improve morally over time, their own sinfulness actually bothers them more than it did before their conversion.

This has been an on-going problem for me for several years now. Sometimes, I feel like I've moved backward instead of forward, and it has made me question whether I'm really regenerated at all.

It raises a question I've wondered about. Why does God only change us in such a way as to come to Christ for salvation? Why doesn't he change us completely so that we are free of sin altogether? Ezekiel 36 says that God will "give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances" (Ezekiel 36:26-27). However, after a person converts to Christianity, they remain sinful their entire lives. They may improve, but they never reach perfection. Nobody is able to obey Jesus' command to "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

It looks like moral perfection doesn't take place until either after death or after the resurrection and judgment. That's when God completely cures us of our sinfulness. Until then, we're stuck with a desire to please God and an inability to do so. Why, if God cures us of our rebellion to enable us to come to Christ, does he not go the rest of the way and cure us of our sinfulness?

There may be a lot of reasons, but here's one I was thinking about today (I wrote this a few months ago actually). The reason, I suspect, is to keep us humble while we await redemption. It's a constant reminder in the meantime that we are relying solely on his grace for our salvation, and not on our own ability to be morally perfect. When God changes our hearts, he gives us a desire to obey his commands, but when we find that we are unable to accomplish that desire, we realize how helpless we are. This drives home the point that salvation is by the grace of God alone, and it leaves no room for boasting on our parts. All the glory for our salvation goes to God alone.

So if you, like me, sometimes experience guilt and remorse for your behavior, or you feel like a failure because of your inability to be the kind of Christian you aspire to be, the solution is not to dispair, but to throw yourself at the mercy of God and praise him for his grace. And be thankful that you have it.

I confided my troubles to a friend a couple of years ago. Every time I expressed guilt or remorse over something I had done, she would go beyond trying to comfort me with the fact that I was forgiven. She seemed to think the fact that I felt guilty at all was an indication that I didn't understand the gospel. I think the mistake was on her part, though.

The gospel includes the fact that if you are in Christ, you are clothed in his righteousness, and it's that righteousness that allows you to have peace with God. As far as God's judgment is concerned, it's as if our sins never happened. We are completely absolved. That is reason for a person weighed down with guilt to feel relieved and thankful. But does this mean we should never feel guilty for our actions? I don't think so.

Granted, a person can go overboard and berate themselves excessively in an unhealthy way, but feeling guilty is a perfectly natural and appropriate response to being guilty, and since even those who are declared righteous in Christ commit sins, they are guilty of something from time to time. A person who never felt guilt or shame for their sins merely because of their faith in Christ has misunderstood the gospel. You would have to be a sociopath to never feel bad about hurting other people. Not only are guilt and shame perfectly natural and appropriate but they even have the added benefit of driving people to repentance and preventing them from repeating their mistakes. God gave us a conscience in addition to a moral awareness to motivate moral behavior.1 It isn't enough that a person knows right from wrong; they have to care about right and wrong, and caring entails feeling bad about doing wrong.

To say that a person should never feel guilty just because Jesus died for their sins boarders on antinomianism because if there's no real moral guilt for a Christian simply because Jesus atoned for sins, then for all practical purposes, there's no moral law that Christians are obligated to keep. That is not what my friend believes, but it is the logical consequence of her view. If there is a moral law that Christians are obligated to keep, and if they don't keep it, then they are actually guilty of something. Atonement removes our guilty standing before God, but it doesn't reverse the past. If you sinned in the past, then it will forever be the case that you sinned in the past. If you're a healthy human being with a conscience, you'll feel bad about it when it happens.

And you may also feel remorse because of the practical consequences of your sin. Regardless of the righteousness we have in Christ, everybody must reap what they sow in this lifetime. If I committed a murder, I could be completely forgiven and declared righteous before God on the basis of Christ's atonement, but I might still have to spend the rest of my life in prison because I am not righteous under the law. There are consequences to your actions, whether good or bad, and you do reap what you sow, whether you're saved or not. 1 Peter makes a contrast between suffering for doing what's right and suffering for doing what's wrong. In one case, you are blessed, and in the other case you are simply reaping what you sow. If you are reaping the unpleasant consequences of your sin, then you are warranted in feeling remorse and regret for having committed the sin.

Another friend of mine thought that forgiving somebody means treating them like they never did anything wrong. So, for example, if you wronged your girlfriend, and she dumped you, then as long as she doesn't take you back, that means she hasn't forgiven you. To forgive you, according to my friend, means that she takes you back. I think that's absurd. Forgiving somebody doesn't mean you trust them again. Imagine if you hired a baby sitter whose recklessness resulted in your kid losing a finger. You may forgive the baby sitter, but that doesn't mean you're going to trust them with your kid again. We are commanded to forgive anybody who asks us for forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22), but that doesn't mean we have to be foolish. It would be foolish to trust somebody who has proven themselves untrustworthy. So if you've done wrong, there are consequences you'll have to live with even if you are forgiven.

Jesus didn't die so that you wouldn't feel guilty when you sin. He died to pay the penalty for your sin so that God won't punish you for it. Jesus saved us from the wrath of God. He didn't save us from our conscience. Our conscience isn't something we need to be saved from. Our conscience is what motivates us to do right, and it does so at least partly by making us feel guilty when we've done wrong. It serves a good purpose. Conviction comes from the Holy Spirit. So don't think that you've missed the gospel just because you feel guilty about something bad you did. You haven't missed anything! Instead of trying not to feel guilty, repent of the sin and give God glory for his grace. The feeling of guilt will subside on its own with time. Or it should anyway. But you aren't somehow out of step with the gospel just because you feel guilty.


1. See Conscience and moral intuition for more on this distinction.