Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tipping The Scales

On Friday the 26th of February (2010), Sean McDowell debated James Corbett on the question of what best explains moral values. I would like to offer a few observations concerning this debate.

First, it was clear that McDowell won the debate. Though I'm partial, if you listen the to debate I believe any objective person would say the same thing. Here is the reason why. McDowell clearly offered reasons why moral values exist. Corbett, on the other hand, offered very little if any evidence to support his arguments. Secondly, Corbett's game plan seemed simple; play the straw man game. In logic, the straw man is, "When one person distorts the arguments of another and then proceeds to critique that misrepresentation."[1] Thirdly, it was clear from the outset that McDowell was better prepared and gave more thorough answers than Corbett. Lastly, debates are for the purpose of presenting evidence to persuade, and McDowell's arguments clearly met this objective, while Corbett was random in giving no support to his so-called arguments.

One of the other aspects of the debate that I noticed is that Corbett was constantly mischaracterizing Sean's position by saying that McDowell is certain in his beliefs. This certainty that Corbett incorrectly labeled McDowell with was confusing, as a debate is formed in order to hear both sides of the issue, in order to inform the audience of the positions supported/rejected by the debaters. Individuals engage in debates, so they can present their positions. Sean stated that he was not certain, but his presentation was made for the purpose to persuade others that his view was the most logical. James made little effort to present a coherent case as to why morals exist without the existence of God, and therefore, lost badly in my opinion.

[1] Samples, Kenneth, A World of Difference, p. 66-67

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ehrman's Exageration

Bart Ehrman, is by far, one of the most prominent agnostics and critic of the New Testament today. In his newest book, Jesus Interrupted, Ehrman makes the claim that only the Gospel of John presents Jesus as being divine. Consider this quote from Ehrman, "John is the only Gospel in which Jesus is explicitly identified as divine."[1]- . I do agree that John has the most references to the divinity of Jesus, but is Ehrman correct in his statement?

If we assume that the four Gospels were written by individuals who witnessed the life of Jesus, then this will help to clear up one aspect of the puzzle. If John was the author of the Gospel of John, it is easy to understand why his book would be so different. Also, if we assume the three other Gospel writers were martyred earlier in the 1st century while John lived until the end of the 1st century, then again you could see why differences between the earlier synoptic Gospels would be somewhat different than John. If John along with the other Gospel writers was inspired of God, it is reasonable to believe that his later message would contain extra material by God's direction for believers in the future. The Gospel of John does say that, "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25)" Clearly, the four writers reported differently emphasizing various points as they saw them and as they were guided by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20). Ehrman, however, discounts God and anything to do with the supernatural, so it is obvious to see why he would find fault. Bart is skeptical at heart, looking for variant mistakes, but the central theme of the four Gospels is that Jesus came from God, was God, was crucified for the sins of mankind and bodily rose from the dead. What about Ehrman's claim that Jesus is not presented as divine in the other 3 Gospels?

While Jesus never said in an outright manner that "I am God," he did stipulate his divinity on many occasions. Since Ehrman claims that Jesus is not presented as divine in the other Gospels outside of John, all that one needs to show is one example to the contrary. In Matthew 8:23-27, Jesus calms a storm, at which the apostles remark, "what kind of man is this." Well. only God could calm a storm. While Ehrman would discount this supernatural act of Jesus at least Matthew points out that Jesus had done so, disproving Ehrman's point that Jesus is not identified explicitly as being divine. In Matthew 9:23-26, Jesus heals a girl that had been dead. Only a divine being can heal a dead person. In Luke 7:48, Jesus explicitly tells a woman, what only God can say - "Your sins are forgiven."In Luke 21, Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem. Ehrman, would, of course say that this was a later addition, but the burden of proof lies on his shoulders.

What about the Gospel of Mark? Mark is believed by most scholars to be the earliest of the four Gospels, so how does Mark portray Jesus? In Mark 2:1-12, we find Jesus forgiving sins again and healing a paralytic to prove that he has authority to forgive sins. Two points to raise here are that only God can heal completely and forgive sins, this is why the people who witnessed the statement of Jesus said, "He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" It is interesting to note that other sources outside of the Christian documents inform us that Jesus was a worker of miracles/wonders (see Josephus and the Jewish Talmud).[2] Perhaps the biggest claim to divinity outside of John's gospel is found in Mark 14:53-65. In this passage Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man in the context of Daniel 7:13-14. The Daniel passage that Jesus referenced to himself was a know passage by the Jews in reference to God. It is because Jesus referenced himself to the Daniel 7 passage that the charge of blasphemy was made. The Danial passage that Jesus was claiming in reference to himself was an explicit statement of his divinity.

[1] Ehrman, Bart, Jesus Interrupted, p. 140

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Stepford Christian

There was an old show called, '"The Stepford Wives" where a family moves into a neighborhood only to discover that the wives within the neighborhood are all robots. There seems to be some "Stepford games" taking place within the emergent movement. What I mean is that all views within the emergent movement don't seem to be tolerated. For example, speaking the truth on matters such as the moral climate, politics, and orthodox Christianity seemed to be shunned by some. All of this is being done so as not to offend the outsider (non-Christian). In the end it is relativism that is accepted at the expense of truth.

In his book, A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren makes this statement, "I must add, though, that I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts. This will be hard, you say, and I agree. But frankly, it's not at all easy to be a follower of Jesus in many 'Christian' religious contexts, either."[1] What exactly does McLaren mean by this? If he is saying that the Christian should not forsake his previous culture so as to win them to Christ, I'm all for it. Paul even said, "To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.(1 Cor. 9:22)" In this context Paul adapts to the culture in order to relate to them and win them to Christ without participating in a life of sin.

One of the problems that McLaren and others within the emergent movement have with the Church today is the notion of Christian colonialism. Brian has this to say about how he perceives the church of history's past, "Part of what goes along with a colonial approach to Christianity is a very control-oriented approach to things. One way to describe colonialism is that the people of Europe or people of European descent know how things are and the rest of the world needs to conform to their way of thinking."[2] Again, is McLaren relativizing truth, by saying that we just need to be kinder, gentler Christians without stepping on peoples toes? Is orthodoxy on trial in McLaren's view?

The emergent movement has a hard time taking a stand on anything it seems. One individual who was trying to define the emergent movement said, "It is like trying to nail butter to the wall." And, this seems to be a major problem for the movement, because as the old saying goes,"If you don't stand for something, you stand for nothing." The emergent movement's lack of orthodoxical backbone is exactly why many are calling them out today. McLaren and others refuse to answer the questions on issues such as homosexuality, objective truth, inerrancy of Scriptures, and abortion, all it seems so as not to offend others. It would be nice if the movement could take a stand on the S (sin) word, but so far they have failed to make the utterance. I think they have problems with the militant Christian who is always looking for someone to beat up on, I do too! However, when given the opportunity to address the truth question, the emergent movement is often moot.

In the end, the emergent movement is epistemically limited. Unless you are liberal, young, part of an urban church, and unwilling to take a stand on certain issues, then you don't fit. In trying to be open, in many ways, the doors of the emergent movement are shut on the individual who believes otherwise. The conversation that is valued so much in the movement seems to be flowing in only one direction. There is much good that comes from the movement, but the unwillingness to take a stand on clear Biblical principles, teaches others to fall in line and assume your "Stepford Christian" role.

[1] http://

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The empethatic emergent

One of the common themes that surrounds the emergent movement is that of empathy. Empathy is a good thing. All Christians should be compelled as Jesus was to relate to others. The problem, as I see it, is that truth is sometimes compromised at the expense of not wanting to offend others.

Brian McLaren has made this statement concerning the question of homosexuality, "Frankly, many of us don't know what we should think about homosexuality." He goes on to say, "Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements."[1] In one way I can see what I believe McLaren is trying to do. There have been many slanderous statements and fronts put on the homosexual community by those that call themselves Christian; this it seems is what McLaren wants to dodge so as not to come across as offensive. I applaud his concern for his fellow man, though I have a problem with one aspect of this approach. It appears that in his empathy, the truth of scripture is compromised. When Jesus was presented the woman caught in adultery, he offered both grace and truth (John 8:1-11). The truth came in the fact that he asked her to sin no more.

I'm sure Brian and others within the Emergent Movement don't want to compromise the truth of God, but that is exactly what they do when empathy (grace) is leaned on at the expense of truth. We can all agree that following God is not a simple task. One has to constantly deny himself/herself daily, and even at that we trip and fall. We have no business in pointing to specks in others' eyes when we are blinded by the lumberyard in our own eye, but again, we need to be willing to state the truth to others in a loving way.

C.S. Lewis once remarked on the individual who said that Jesus was only a good man by saying, "But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."[2] Similar to this thought is the idea that the message of Jesus is to only show empathy; he didn't leave that option to us as either. Jesus had some harsh things to say to those who were willing to listen. Sure, the Church should be vigilant in reaching out to individuals who have not submitted their lives to Jesus, but never at the expense of truth. Christians need to lovingly present the good news to all in a manner that is not condemning, but at the same time, truth should be defended. Peter states: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)." We all need to be prepared to give an answer concerning truth, but in a gentle and respectful manner.

[2] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, P. 40-41

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Effects of Sin

Galadriel, a character of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, remarked that, "The world has changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it."[1] Similar to the perilous times of the change in Tolkien's Middle-Earth is the change that took place in our world when sin entered the garden of Eden. The world has changed dramatically as a result of sin. How exactly has this world changed, and what has been lost? Have the effects of sin rendered our situation hopeless?

Before exploring the changes that resulted from sin's entrance, a definition for sin is in order. The Apostle John explains that sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). In this definition, sin is seen as a transgression of law, more specifically, God's law. Wayne Grudem defines sin as "any failure to conform to the moral law of God."[2] while Cornelius Plantinga gives a more detailed defenition, "Sin is not only breaking the law but also the breaking of covenant with one's savior. Sin is the smearing of a relationship, the grieving of one's divine parent and benefactor, a betrayal of the partner to whom one is joined by a holy bond."[3] I believe Plantinga's definition fully captures not only sin but the effects that resulted when sin entered the world via man's conscious choice to rebel against a holy God.

Working off of Plantinga's definition, what exactly changed as a result of sin? In order to answer this, the fall of man, as found in Genesis, needs to be examined. It is here that the change can be clearly seen. The change in man's vision was followed by his realization of his nakedness and fright (Gen. 3:7). Ultimately it was man's relationship that was broken and left beyond repair unless God intervened. Man's perfect relationship with God, along with his relationship with his fellow man, was shattered. Sin changed the world of man from the inside out and upset the balanced harmony that existed between God and man. Sin's entrance brought forth an alien world opposed to both God and man.

After man's rebellion, the first thing to change was his vision. Genesis 3:7 states that, "the eyes of both of them were opened." The opening of their spiritual eyes revealed a world gone wrong. In a sense, man's eyes were opened, but clouded. Sin revealed to man that his relational fall obscured the beautiful vision he once had. But how much obstruction had taken place? Did man totally lose sight of his capacity to see God? I believe John Calvin had it correct in saying, "there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of deity."[4] In other words, our vision is clouded concerning God, but not to the extent that we can't know him or find him. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God, "has set eternity in the hearts of men." Underlying man's fuzzy vision is an unshakable realization of God's existence. Concerning Romans 1:20-21, Calvin further states, "God as presented to the minds of all the means of knowing him, having manifest himself by his works, that they must necessarily see what of themselves they seek not to know that there is some God."[5] Though our eyes have been opened to a cloudy and dark world, we are not without excuse in knowing God and the world that He truly intended for us.

Following man's clouded vision was the realization of his nakedness (Gen. 3:7). Nakedness implies man's loss of God's holy covering. Man was able to see his isolation from God's perfect standard. Being uncovered in his relation to God next brought about man's fear. In Genesis three, we see man trying to hide from God, and when found, man replied, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid. (Gen. 3:10). The sting of sin had produced fear in the heart of man as he clearly saw a new world of danger in his isolated state from God. The perfect relationship that God had produced was broken by man, causing guilt to enter his heart (Rom. 5:12). Man knew, as he does now, that something was awry. The world had forever changed.

Much more had changed in the world, including physical aspects of life. Life would no longer be easy for mankind. Physical pain was brought to woman along with subjection to man (Gen. 3:16). Man was also given to pain and suffering as a result of his sin (Gen. 17-19).

The physical change, along with the emotional, relational, and spiritual change filtered down trough history. Man could not escape his sinful nature after his choice to rebel (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 3:23). The initial harmony that once existed had been severely damaged, but not to the point where divine repair could not take place. Man's sin brought a permanent death sentence, and without Christ, results in eternal, "weeping and gnashing of teeth," in isolation from the presence of God (Matt. 8:12; Rom. 6:23).

Sin upset the good world that God created, but the biggest change that resulted was the broken relationship with God. Isaiah sums up the relational problem by saying of man, "your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you (Isa. 59:2)." Sin marred this once harmonious relationship that existed. Sin's ugliness put man in a position where he could not fully please God (Ps. 14:2-3). Man finds himself running and hiding as opposed to walking with God in the garden's past. His nature as the image-bearer of God was upset, but not unrecoverable. The spiritual mirror no longer revealed God's beautiful image, but reflected instead the disfigured vision of man's corrupt heart.

Man's relation with God was tarnished, but also his relation with humanity. The history of the Bible is full of sin's divisive nature starting from Cain and spanning the corridors of time. Not only were relationships damaged, but sin, left unchecked, unleashed a fury of negative results. Like a snowball running down hill, sin has the capacity to utterly destroy as it picks up momentum when left alone. Sin unchecked and uncontrolled leads to deception, lust, lying, envy, pride and a host of other demonic outcomes (Gen. 4:7; Rom. 6:12). Pride, the original sin, produced idol worship, and more specifically, worship of self. The unbridled sin of pride leads right down the path to outright rebellion against God. The effects of sin are observable through such atrocities as murder, rape and the actions of Hitler.

Sin, however, does not start with action, but with mind. It is the mind where the seed of sin is watered (James 1:15). Sin that is birthed in the mind is not only rejection of God, but can bring about devastating consequential actions. Sin brings about separation and ultimately total destruction of the individual (John 10:10). Sin breaks down the world for which man was originally made.

Given the bleakness of sin, what hope does man have? In the garden, we find that hope emerges right after the entrance of sin into the world. God assured man early on that sin and evil will be overcome (Gen. 3:15). In fact, before the creation of the world, God's plan was in effect to provide a way of escape from the problem of sin (Eph. 1:4-5). God's plan was not a plan B to be put into effect by a desperate God, but instead God foresaw man's need for redemption. The darkness of sin was rebuffed in the light of Christ (John 8:12). The devastating effects of sin can be overcome by following the light of Jesus. Man brought about sin's entrance into the world through his free choice to rebel against God's perfect standard, but he was not abandoned to the grave as an eternal slave of sin. One transgression is all it took for man's condemnation, but one man's perfect sacrifice brought about the redemption of all mankind that comes to God (Rom. 5:18).

The horrific results of unchecked sin will one day be defeated. The image that was lost can be regained through God (Col. 3:10). The relationship that was severed can now be restored. Sin's curse was broken by the shed blood of Christ (Heb. 9:14). What once appeared to be a world without hope has been restored to hope through the perfect sacrifice of God's Son.

C.S. Lewis remarked, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."[6] The world that was lost through sin's entrance into the garden has been regained by God's entrance into our sin-marred world. This world of sin is not our home. It is not the world for which we were created. One of the final prayers of Jesus here on this earth reminds his followers that "they are not of the world, even as I am not of it (John 17:16)." We were made for another world. We were made to live in harmony with God. Our choice to rebel and unleash the ugliness of sin was not the end of the story, nor the way God intended it to end for us.

[1] Tolkien, J.R.R., The Fellowship of the Ring
[2] Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology, p. 490
[3] Plantinga, Cornelius, Not the way it's suppose to be, p. 12
[4] Calvin, John as quoted in Norm Geisler's, Encycopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 541
[5] Ibid, p. 541
[6] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, p. 40-41