Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Scripture and Sanctification

Words are important. Words communicate. Communication is a matter of one person communicating to a person about something. It is not always another person, however: sometimes it is me communicating something to myself. We do talk to ourselves. Sometimes it is not clear who is communicating. Words say something about how the world is.

Habits are also important. Habits provide a structure to lives. On this structure, other things can hang. Without a structure, lives seem to float. Whether they are routines for getting up or going to bed, patterns of thought or speech, or ways of carrying oneself, habits form the basic framework of life.

Habits of thought provide the framework for thinking. Thought often occurs in words. Thus, effecting patterns of speech ends up effecting patterns of thought.

Consider how you think about things. Often, we have a background collection of stories which provide an idea of how things go in the world. You might also have phrases which come to mind when you consider what to do. I have heard people, in Bible studies and sermons, say, "what is the therefore there for?" Questions like that--words--provide a reminder of what to think about. So do the key parts of the stories we carry around with us. Another source for patterns of thought, which is harder for me to show, is music. I doubt I need to show that music is an excellent memory aid, but notice, too, that music provides some guidance as to how to feel. There is happy music and sad music. This happiness and sadness is linked with any words. The words then stick in the memory along with the way that the music is teaching you to feel about them. As in the previous two cases, the words are then available to structure thought.

Now, the point: Reading, praying, and singing Scripture imbeds it into our hearts so that we think in Scripture--so that we might have, more and more, the mind of Christ. This is part of why I want preaching to be a matter of pointing to Scripture. This is also why I care about what gets sung--despite having no real musical ability of my own. This is why we are to take ever thought captive, and to meditate on what is good: because that will change how we think and feel, and, thus, how we act.

Scripture is where God is present. If you love him: go, spend time with him! If you don't love him yet: go, meet him, he is awesome! (I preach to myself here)

But we are also dependent on the Spirit to give us the mind of Christ so that we may understand Scripture. Apart from God we won't so much as seek God. Go, read Scripture, for it is God who works in you, to teach you by the Spirit, to raise you up into Christ's likeness. So long as we depend on human understanding, Scripture will probably look absurd, unless God gives us grace (and we will continue to depend on our own understanding apart from his grace), and we will not understand, let alone begin to think as Christ does.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Inconceivable Stable

As we read the History of Israel we come to Christ and find the absurdities:
The glorious one who came to lead Abraham to a new home, who came to Moses in a burning bush, and to all of Israel in a column of smoke and fire, now comes to Mary and Joseph in the form of a helpless babe, born in a manger. He who fed Israel with manna is now fed at his mother's breast. He who is the shepherd of Israel is now visited by sheep, by shepherds, and he leads them nowhere (but look: they were led to him). Wise men came from afar, to visit the king in a manger, the wisest of all, but who does not yet speak--yet this is the one who spoke the world into existence! The incarnation is quite obviously strange when we look at how it began.
It doesn't stop being strange, though...
The glorious God of the universe made himself one of us, wretched small beings who are as nothing in comparison to the universe--let alone God--in order to save us from our sins.

How great the price he payed for us!

How much in need of saving we must have been! How wretched we humans are!

Christ Jesus died--the great I AM died--to save us from our sins.

An offense to the proud. Surely it didn't require that much? Yes, it did. You really are that lost without him.
Unbelievable to the despairing. Surely we are not worth that much? Yes, you are. We are the keystone of creation.

Our God is awesome. Our God is incredible.
When we look around and go "I sure hope God knows what he's doing..." Well, he has done something far stranger in the incarnation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

God is God and There is No Other

I have a god. It might be God, it might not be. If my god is not one who deserves to be my god, then that is idolatry. To be my god is to be that which is my highest end. If something is my god, that means that I desire the good of that thing ahead of the good of any other thing. To have a god is to have one desire according to which all others are ordered.

We all have various desires, aims, goals. These come into conflict with one another. My god is that according to which I decide which desire ranks ahead of which in such a conflict. It is that according to which I can tell whether my desires are good or evil.

I tend to consider myself my god. I order my desires according to how much they serve to please me, how much they make things good for me. To have myself as my god means that I consider how my desires will effect my well-being as the deciding factor in how I order my desires. If I make myself my god, then I will desire what makes life pleasant for me. If I am my god, then I do everything for my own pleasure.

Recognizing that this pleasure need not be merely the pleasures of animals, but might also be those which are unique to humans. Recognize, too, that this manner of life is the one we often suppose others have. If you want to convince someone that something would be good for them to do, you usually try to point out how it will advantage them in some way. The problem comes when you notice that having oneself as one's god backfires: there are great pleasures which cannot be attained if they are done for the pleasure. The attitude of "how can I get the most pleasure out of this social interaction" removes the available pleasure from it. To live with oneself as one's god leaves one unable to do what one considers that one should do.

It is also common to try to make all of humanity one's god. It sounds nice. It is the god of the utilitarian: the ideal of the greatest good for the greatest number. If I have humanity as my god, then my aim is to produce as much pleasure as possible. That would be my aim in life. If humanity were my god, though, it would be bad to mourn if I could help it--unless I thought it would produce more pleasure overall.

It is hard to maximize pleasure in this way. It is also impersonal. I do not matter if my god is humanity in general. If my god is humanity in general, it does not matter what will bring me or those close to me pleasure. If my god is humanity, then it is not any particular humans. Much can be justified by finite and ignorant humans if humanity is their god. Indeed, much looks like something which should be done, if one's god is humanity, which may well turn out poorly.

If God is God, then what I must do is desire his pleasure above all else. My life must become oriented around him. My desires must be evaluated against the standard of whether they are for him or against him. Good desires are those which are for him. It is good to do that which will show one's dependency on him. It is good to act out of one's dependency on him. This is not to desire to fail, but to desire that one's successes would be of God, and one's failures would be such as would allow one to exhibit one's safety in God. One is, then, safe to be weak because it offers a glimpse of the God who is one's strength. It is good to be pained by the evil of the world because in doing so I argue that it is not an evil to be lived with, but to be revolted against. If God is God, then it becomes possible to do what seems foolish because he is the one who brings success.

Would you be free to act without fear of failure? Would you be free to obey in your weakness? Would you be one of those who does what is good? Would you know what is good? Then let all your desires, let all that you do--even what you do against God--be for God. Act for God. When you act against him, let your reaction to that be to let it be made for him. Let your rebellion become his conquest over your sin--as it was on the cross.

Emmanuel: God with us. So that we can act in the knowledge that whatever we do, he is drawing us to himself. He has come as good news--there is no other way to reach the greatest pleasure, whether for ourselves or for any others, apart from seeking him as God.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Baa Baa Splat

Where are the pastors?

In the Churches? Are those what you call "pastors"? Maybe a few count. Maybe a few, but not many.

There are Christians scattered about who know that what they need to hear each week is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are pastors who get up each week and preach something else. Do they count as pastors? Do they feed the sheep? We're starving. We're wandering.

This is a problem. Christ came to be the shepherd of Israel. He said he would be with us. He fed multitudes. He called, and his sheep followed him. He said he would be with us always. Why are we starving? Where is the good shepherd now? When his sheep are starving, what is he doing about it?

I'm not talking about biblical illiteracy, as big a problem as it is. I'm talking about a failure where there are bibles. I'm talking about sermons where God's voice is peripheral to the message, if it is there at all. You have food in front of you, why won't you give any to us? Or are you starving to? Is Scripture inedible to our pastors as well? What has gone wrong? Where is the bread of life?

Remind me, who is God? Is he not able and willing, as he raised up prophets and judges before, to raise up more people to feed us? Where are they? If he is not able, then what has changed? If he is unwilling, then what is good about him? Surely he knows, surely he sees how we are starving for spiritual food? Where is the God who fed Elijah? Where is the God who fed his people with manna? Is not our spiritual hunger much more important than their physical hunger? If I must, I would give up all my physical food for the sake of spiritual food, even if it meant I would starve to death.

Where is the Church? That is where we are supposed to be fed, right? It is divided. Split in two: Protestants, Catholics; Calvinists, Arminians; High-church, Low-church; Young-earth, Old-earth; Paedobaptists, Credobaptists; Cessationists, Pentecostals; and on and on it goes. It does not--we do not--act like "one holy catholic Church." Are we competing with "Holy Roman Empire" for worst name or something?

Where is the shepherd leading us? Where is the Spirit leading us into all righteousness? What unity is there in the body? Do we even strive for unity? Do we even hear those who say that they are a part of the body? Do we even listen? There are Christians elsewhere, do we hear them? Do they count for us? You will live with them in heaven. We cannot just let them wander off on their own. It is important that we be the Church. Where is the Church seeking to follow Christ? Where are we going to one another with our disagreements and seeking to see how we can live as one Church? I have seen Arminians speak with such faith in God's sovereign goodness that it sounds like something a Calvinist would love to have said. Our doctrines may be varied, but we do all worship the same God. Can't we seek him together?

Because Christ said there would be one Church. He said that he would be with us. Where am I supposed to look to see that? Where is the Church of Christ? Why hasn't God kept his Church together and whole and under the guidance of his shepherds and fed from his Word? Has God failed? It looks like it. We better hope not. But how is this not God's failure?

This is the problem of evil as it applies to the existence (or not) of pastors and distinct denominations.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Whether Scripture is Inerrant

I take it that the belief that Scripture is inerrant is the belief that a correct interpretation of Scripture is true.

Question: whether Scripture is inerrant.

Objection 1: That it is not, as there are places where Scripture contradicts itself.

Objection 2: That it is not, as there are places where Scripture disagrees with historical research.

Objection 3: That it is not, as various people disagree as to the meaning of Scripture.

Objection 4:That it is not, as it is unclear what it intends in various places.

I answer that: Scripture is inerrant, being inspired and preserved by God for our instruction in what is necessary for the spiritual life. This inerrancy is of no help to us, however, except insofar as we have a correct interpretation of it, and this is available most securely only through the illumining of our hearts by the Spirit of God, and often available not only most securely, but only truly in that way. I further take it that any effectiveness of Scripture on the hearer or reader is due to the illumining of the Spirit--which is not to say that any doctrine by which a person changes for the better is true, but that the change made in hearing the doctrine is by that truth which is contained in that doctrine (whatever that may be) being impressed on the heart by the Spirit so as to effect that change in the heart.

Answer to objection 1: Where Scripture contradicts itself, either the contradiction is itself meant to teach, or what is contradicted is not intended, in one or all places, as what we are to learn.

Answer to objection 2: Where Scripture disagrees with historical research, it is either correct--as in places where it is a matter of faith that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, lived a perfect life, died on a cross, and rose again--or is not intended to instruct as to such things--as in places where the numbers in each army may disagree with historical research without altering the sense of the passage. The claim is that Scripture is accurate in what it teaches, but not all that it says is teaching in the sense we might take it to be. It may be difficult to say what a certain passage is meant to teach.

Answer to objection 3: The disagreement of people over the teachings of Scripture has no more relevance to the inerrancy of Scripture than does the disagreement of scientists have anything to do with whether the created order can be described. Nor do our disagreements over the sense of any passage have anything more to do with whether it has one, or what it is, than do similar disagreements over what is before our physical eyes have anything to do with whether there is anything there, or what it is.

Answer to Objection 4: The lack of clarity which is held to exist in Scripture is, variously, unimportant, nonexistent, meant in itself to teach, or to be worked through by the power of the Spirit of God. That a thing is unclear has no more to do with what it is in Scripture than in creation. It may be that a part of Scripture--even a great deal of it--is incomprehensible apart from the renewing of our minds. Indeed, I suspect that Scripture interpreted apart from the Spirit of God is almost always Scripture poorly and sinfully interpreted. If it is truth we are looking for, then we must rely on the mind of Christ, which we have through the Spirit, to enlighten us. Whether we interpret through the Spirit or not, though, Scripture remains, in itself, inerrant.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Myers-Briggs: J/P

Enough has been written concerning the first letter in the Myers-Briggs typology and the differences between those who type as extraverts (E's) and introverts (I's), and this has been done sloppily enough, at times, to irritate a response from me. The last letter in the Myers-Briggs typology has received much less attention, however. The last letter can be either J (judging) or P (perceiving). Judgers prefer structure, order, stability. Percievers prefer open-endedness, scatteredness, fluctuation.

Judging types are prone to irritation if there is uncertainty. There is what they believe, and there is what they do not believe, and anything which is not in either category needs to get in one or the other quickly. They do not like that kind of vagueness. They plan, because they want what is to come solidly in front of them. There is a structure which they expect things to conform to, and if things don't fit that structure, then it is bothersome at least, evil at worst. Judgers want things to go well. They want good.

Perceivers tend to be comfortable with uncertainty. There are a few things they believe, and a few they don't, and quite a bit in between. They expect that kind of vagueness. They do not like plans, and feel restricted by them. There is a structure which things conform to, or maybe not, but the perceiver doesn't know what it is, and doesn't expect to. They have some idea, but if something does not fit their idea of how the world works, that is just an opportunity to explore how it may actually be. Perceivers enjoy examining their ideas of how the world goes. They like tweaking their ideas. Perceivers want hands off. They want good, but don't know what it is, and don't want someone else messing with what they are doing, or to mess with what others are doing.

Neither is better than the other. I am a perceiver, but, if there weren't judgers, then I would have had to go through more discomfort, at least, because I can veer too far into the indecisive. Judgers just sometimes err too far to the decisive, and I want to say "Wait! Just slow down: let's explore the options. What else might be going on here? How else might things work?" Perceivers explore, judgers set up shop. Perceivers uproot, Judgers protect. Other perceivers might explore the open endedness of things differently, through varieties of experience rather than varieties of thought. Some judgers might exhibit more desire for staticness in manners of life, others in manners of thought. Most of each will exhibit it in both arenas, insofar as they exhibit both arenas.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Go read the Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Most of what I say here arises from my understanding of what he says there.

A way of acting in the world, combined with humans' nature as language-users, gives rise to a way of speaking. Words, phrases, and so on, thus gain their meaning from the way of life from which they arise. To make some set of sounds is to say something because of how those sounds fit into a way of speaking. As there are various ways of being in the world, so there are various ways of speaking. A musician can say things which are meaningless to a mechanic, and vice-versa.

Call a way of acting or being in the world a "way of life." Call a way of speaking, i.e., a language with its characteristic usage, a "language game." These are phrasings from Wittgenstein.

If we imagine a language game, then there must be some ways of acting which go with it. If there are particular words in the language game, then there must be some actions, events, items, etc., which go with them. These words might refer to quite particular parts of a life: "my left hand," or be vague: "toy." Differences between words might be quite clear: "hat," "mitten," or vague: "jacket," "coat."

Things wind up having a kind of grammar, just as the words do. A sentence like "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" it is grammatically correct as far as the sort of words they are, but when I say that a colorless thing cannot also be green, I am saying something about what I here calling the grammar of those words or concepts. That is, it is a comment about the way our words are allowed to go together. I am also making a grammatical statement of this sort when I tell you that an idea, itself, can't be green, even if it can be of something which is green.

When we want to know the meaning of a word or phrase, then, we are asking about how it is used in the language game. How is it used? What kind of life, or part of a life of what kind, is indicated when this word is used in this manner? A word may refer to a variety of things, some by analogy to others. The vagueness of a word is like the vagueness of a last name, thus Wittgenstein speaks of a "family resemblance" between the meanings of a word. How is go fish like chess, other than both being called a "game"? How are "football" and "soccer ball" alike, other than being confused for one another in writing by some people and both being called a "ball"? We might be able to see some connection between the two, or not, but this does not invalidate our use of the word "ball" or "game" for very different things.

As language is not fully a language apart from the practices which go with it, so the practices of people have meaning. My actions communicate. We read each others body language all the time, and this is a kind of communication. We can say of someone that it would be wrong to call them happy, and we justify it by observations about them. This is what is meant by using a word wrongly. Someone might tell us that, when they call someone happy, they mean that the person has taken to locking themselves in their room for long periods of time. We would say that they do not mean by "happy" what we mean by it, but that, if that is what they mean, then the person--who we would not call happy--is happy. This is a confusion caused by the person using a word in a way that is not recognized in our language game. Thus, they use it wrong, but it would be right if the language game were set up differently--and so they think it is.

We learn to communicate with others better, then, by learning the nuances of how they use the language. Their language game is set up slightly differently from ours, in every case. The mechanic, on hearing the musician speak of tones and fifths and quarter steps, might say "it's all Greek to me," and vice-versa. If the musician were to learn how to play music, though, then he would eventually learn how those words are used in that language game. Even between those in a similar discipline, there might be differences in how they use the language. We can imagine discussing what color to call something, or what we mean when we call someone our friend. Even more obviously, and at the same time more often overlooked, we might differ in what we call a "good day" at a very basic level. Is a day good if you were happy for most of it? If you were productive? If you got to spend most of it in bed? If you were unhappy for most of it, but felt by the end that it was for the best? Might you call a day bad if you spent it laughing and smiling at things which won't matter by the end of the week?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

On the Spirit

Self-aware evaluative beings are termed "conscious." To be a self-aware evaluative being is to be aware of one's evaluations, i.e., to evaluate one's evaluations. To evaluate something is to deem it good or bad, better or worse. To be self-aware also involves having one or more evaluations regarding one's overall evaluative framework. Thus, it involves the capacity to see oneself as valuing rightly or wrongly.

In general, noting an overall coherence in one's valuings is experienced as a kind of peace. Further, a system of valuings all pulling in some direction, all saying together, as it were, "Act! Do this!" Gives rise to a kind of passionate engagement in the world. This latter is not limited to cases where each part of oneself calls one to the same act, but frequently in my experience has arisen from all my values in collision with each other saying, as it were, "You have no hope but to do this. Go!" A collision of guilt and the desire to be free of guilt gives rise to seeking God. A collision of not knowing what to do, and needing to do something, gives rise to seeking a way of seeing which makes sense of things like that. It is not necessarily an action done out of need, per se, but it is one done out of passion. Here is what I am to do, whether I can restrain myself or not. Indeed, it is often like the case of setting food in front of a hungry man: he may not need to eat now, exactly, he could probably wait five minutes, but why should he? Likewise, when a problem in philosophy is set before me I see that I do not have to think about, and that even if I do think about it there may be ways other than philosophically, but that is not relevant to me any more than the possibility of not eating is relevant to the hungry man. Now, the point here is that passional action is done in very much a different kind of way than other kinds of action. It is acting with one's whole self. We can do a great deal without involving our whole selves, and we often do. I do not say that it is bad to do so, but it is better to act with one's whole self.

This is the kind of drivenness which should characterize our worship. In fact, I would characterize worship by seeking this kind of drivenness towards God. To worship is to seek God with one's whole heart, to commit oneself to God as one's whole self. In corporate worship, it is at the same time to commit to one another in the same action, by necessity since our union in Christ makes us one body. By this definition I mean to delimit worship. I do not mean worship to be limited to singing, or even any of those things done within church walls, but I mean to speak of worship as an act of one's whole life. Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory--do all as worship to--God.

I suspect that this kind of wholistic evaluation of oneself is only possible for those, or else is, perhaps only in part, constitutive of, having a soul. I suspect that this is what we do not see in normal life, and I suspect that the lack of this kind of passion in life makes us easier to ignore. I mean, I think our culture is a culture made up of practical solipsists. We do not think others have minds the way we do.  We do not recognize this kind of awareness of self in others. We know that we are, ourselves, troubled by our sins, yet we look around at people who all look fine. It makes AI easy, if all we want to do is replicate the part of us which we see. There is more, though, and it should be made apparent. Surely, the Church should be a place where it is evident that there are others living in this kind of complicated life, this life where how we fit into it matters, and it is not easy. Where we are sinners. We do not currently recognize ourselves as human in the way we ought.

Logic is easy. Performing good acts is easy. Performing good acts for the right reasons is hard. It can only happen by a change in the will. Our struggle, our distress, in being these kinds of people who struggle against sin, should be visible. We should be tormented simply by being sinners, and comforted simply by being saved, though it is not easy to comprehend. That comfort must also show itself in passionate action, in commitment to God and neighbor. What agony we should feel at seeing others in sin! We should see the world as God does, and that will draw us to action in the love of God. How do we see the world as God does? By love of God. And how that? By knowledge of God, by prayer and reading, by seeking him. And how that? By love of God. Yes, but how do we get there? By God loving you in Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself to save you and draw you to himself. By the Holy Spirit coming and showing you who God is, revealing himself to you so that you will, so that you must, in some way, to some extent, love God in the depths of yourself. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pacifism or Not

So, this guy's bad argument against pacifism irked me, and at least some others, and then there were at least incomplete counters there. Point being, I'd like discussions about theology to be for the sake of reaching some kind of agreement, so can we please, first, give arguments, and, second, ones that are neither stupid, nor offensive?

So, to begin with, if the question is "As Christians, should we be pacifists?" then my first question is "What is this 'pacifism' thing?" I take it that pacifism is the belief that one ought never to intend anyone's death, and a pacifist is one who tries to live according to that belief.

So, first, the original stupid argument (note: ':.' means 'therefore'):
1. Christian pacifism is sometimes based on this verse which commands not murdering.
2. Murdering is different from killing in a legally significant way.
:. 3. This verse does not (on its own) support Christian pacifism.
:. 4. Christian pacifism is wrong...
Right, up until 3., that was fine, but 4. is a fallacy. Compare:
1. If this verse means that, then the other.
2. This verse does not mean that.
:. 3. Not the other.
This is a fallacy, "denying the antecedent." in logical form:
1. If p, then q
2. Not p
:. 3. Not q
Now, if it were 'If q, then p' in the first premise, that would be fine. But for that to be the case in the original would be something like "If Christians should be pacifists, then this verse must, on its own, mean this." Which seems like a stupid claim to make, to me anyway (imagine any other claim that any other verse on its own is supposed to show a belief to be right. If it were just this one verse supporting it, all he'd have to do is say something like "one oughtn't base a belief on a single verse" and he'd be done).

So, great, thank God that's over with. On to the other not-much-of-arguments (not quite so fallacious).

So, working with the argumenty things given by the others in the link above, working top to bottom.


1. We are to be loving.
2. God is love.
3. Jesus is the self-revelation of God.
:. 4. What Jesus did, we should imitate.

So far, so good.

5. Jesus died on a cross without fighting back (Jesus acted as a pacifist in this instance).
:. 6. We ought to always act like pacifists.

Hm... not quite so solid. Pretty good, though, and if you're going to make an argument in a short space, that is about as sound as I would expect. Add in Jesus's comments to Peter about the swords, and you really do have a decent argument. You are going to want to note a shift from physical to spiritual warfare between the Testaments, though, and then read the Revelation of John in a suitably spiritual way, but that, honestly, is not that hard.

I am largely convinced by this, actually. The problem I see, is that it may assume that all reasons people might attack me would be ones where I am limited to kill or be killed and where my death would be on account of my belief in Christ. My love of my neighbor is why I would like to think that I would kill only as a last resort. I suspect that in a good many cases, especially where it is only my life at stake, I would try to incapacitate them or, failing that, let them kill me. So I agree with the priorities there.

The question arises when it is someone for whom my dying is almost certainly not going to affect anything. Christ's death freed us from our sins. His death effected changes in at least some of those watching. If my death was going to be like his in that way, then there is an argument to be made. If not, then I'm not sure the parallel stands. One might argue that I have no way of knowing whether my dying pacifistically will make them question how I could do such a thing, and thus lead them to Christ. True. Again, my best case scenario is for us both to live, and for me to forgive them. Second best, only I die. Third, they die. The pacifist wants third to be more than just I die, but I don't kill the guy attacking me. Really? I don't want to kill any more than anyone else, but should I sacrifice everyone else for the sake of this one? There seems to be some tension here. Should Christ spiritually killing the enemy for the sake of his bride be mirrored by physical fighting against those who would kill our families? Is there something wrong with this other-preservation instinct which I have, such that I would kill to save others? I agree that it is the worse end, and that one should mourn having to take that action, yet I suspect that I still would if it came to that.

Right, on to the next one: King.

Erm... actually, this isn't that great an argument so far as I can tell.
1. The Sermon on the Mount increases the requirement from do not kill to go reconcile with the other.
2. Pacifism is not non-resistance, but a way of resisting.
:. 3. No killing ever.

Okay... funny, I read that and thought "so... why pacifism again?" Apparently loving another requires never for any reason killing them (I should note that King is ignoring the kill/murder distinction which, while not conclusive, I do think is relevant). Well, I'll agree that it makes it a horrible thing to have to do, but I do not see why it makes it something one may never do. Again, there can be a conflict between this one's life and the life of another who I also love. If I can save the others, even if it means I must kill this one, should I? If it were only my life at stake, I would give it up to save my attacker, but if my giving up of my life means others lose their lives against their will... then I will feel guilt again. Yes I trust God, and I hope he never requires this decision of me, I trust he will give a third way if that circumstance arises, I hope that my martial arts training allows me to keep from having to kill anyone in such a circumstance, but I will if that is the only option I see open to me. Again, this argument may work fine, but only in certain highly restricted circumstances.

Sprinkle: I don't see an argument here, and I have no idea what he is talking about with Romans 12 and 1 Peter 2-3. He is mostly just saying that pacifists are not pansies, which I wouldn't argue with anyway. So... on to the next. McKnight, who is making pretty much the same point--that pacifism is not inactive. And finally: Wilson-Hartgrove, making the same point.

Okay, Wilson-Hartgrove helps me make sense of the verses Sprinkle referenced. Wilson-Hartgrove talk about not returning evil for evil as if it were synonymous with killing someone trying to kill you, which is question-begging. The verses Sprinkle refers to also talk about how we are not supposed to return evil for evil, so I am guessing that is mostly what he is talking about. So, they are both question-begging (So... they're fallacious too). Yes, we all agree we aren't supposed to return evil for evil, the question is whether killing is always evil, even when done to protect others.

Okay, so, the first two arguments were okay... the other three not so much, apart from the "pacifism is not the same as inactivity," which isn't totally useless. Still, not an argument for pacifism.

Hopefully this post has presented an argument which is neither irrational nor offensive. Hopefully, too, some further progress can be made on this issue. I suggest that the pacifists ought to show why I ought to prefer someone else murdering others to my killing (which is not necessarily murder, or if it is, still needs to be shown to be) the one who would murder.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sketch of a Philosophy of Mind

To be a creature is to be a valuer, i.e., to be one who considers things on an evaluative level.
To be a person at the level on which humans are persons is to be a self-aware valuer, i.e., a valuer whose values exist in a network such that some values exist as a result of a cross-section of values.

A dog, for example, values, but does not have any equivalent to the problem of evil to consider. A dog who existed as a person might have a difficulty in considering whether or not to trust someone who seemed at some times to care for it and at other times not to. For creatures, anything like this problem is played out in living--it acts on a certain answer (trust/don't trust) and that answer may or may not be changed by the results of acting according to it.

A person, on the other hand, is capable of self-reflective evaluation of the evidence, so that the evidence may be considered, whether it points to one answer or the other. This occurs, for instance, in our ability to consider what a person's intent may have been. It also occurs in the case of someone who has encountered evidence that someone is not trustworthy, yet also sees evidence that they have no survivable option but to trust that person, when such a person chooses to trust the person even though they would never do so under normal conditions. A dog might act according to a cost-benefit type analysis, but a person is able to go beyond that to consider some options viable which are not viable at first glance. This lack of ability to consider evidence may account for the remarkable loyalty of tamed animals. (I should note that I am writing based on a layman's understanding of animal psychology)

A person's self-reflective capacity, then, gives rise to the logical side of the person. We begin with some set of values (we value our own good), which must then be ordered in some way or other. This requirement that we order our values, combined with our self-reflective nature, requires us to adopt some standard of coherence for ourselves, i.e., logic.

This forms the basis on which I argue for belief in an external world, other minds, and God, among other things.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Young and Old

There is a survey currently ongoing about whether "Youth Group" is biblical. I have often noted than when one is philosophizing one often asks questions about the original question before answering anything, and I feel the need to do so in this case as well. So, I could ask "what do you mean by 'Youth Group'?" but let me be more specific. Why do you suppose the youth should be separated off from the rest of the church like that? I've been in churches where kids going into college played with kids who could not yet talk, and everywhere in between. Like, College aged, high school aged, middle school aged, elementary school aged, not yet school aged, etc., all hanging out together is possible.

I am not saying that there is no room for a particular age group to be particularly discipled as a unit. I am questioning our motives for doing so. If we are doing so because the other ages would find it boring to sit in a room and talk about some of these things, then I at least hope we mean those younger for whom the issues of that age have not quite become problematic in their lives. Even there, however, there is something to be said for being exposed to problems and possible ways of addressing those problems before one is actually needing to live out a way of addressing those problems. Still, it might make sense to treat some topics for particular groups.

My hesitation is primarily that I would expect that intergenerational groups--or even just multiple ages--would be more helpful to all involved. It would also, probably, be less stressful to whoever would be leading a youth group if that person had the backup of the rest of the grown ups, including that old woman who has actually had to deal with this in her children, and then her children dealing with it in their children, or the old guy who has been married for longer than the average youth group leader has been alive, especially if those old folks are still thinking relatively clearly. Sometimes I wonder whether 30-year-olds leading 15-year-olds is a lot more like the blind leading the blind than a lot more often than we sometimes think.

I am admittedly biased in that I have always preferred the company of my elders to the company of my peers, but that does not seem like a bad bias to have.

Yes, there is a generation gap. However, that might be a symptom, rather than a cause, of our youth group mentality. If the generations actually hung out a bit more, maybe they'd figure each other out a bit more, since their worlds would overlap more. Yes, older people have lived through things we who are young have not, but that is just more reason to hang out around them. In hearing their stories, we can pick up some of what they gained in living through those things.

Respect your elders, let the little children come to Him, be one body. Your differences aren't that great, we all need the same Gospel. Get that first, then we can start thinking about what any given group may need drawn out particularly. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Government and Church

My Socratic "The government can't hurt me" is conflicting with my Socratic interest in virtuous government.

My Pauline "The government can't hurt me" is raising my Pauline concern that the Church be orderly enough that when governments seem chaotic we are a place where the orderliness of God provides comfort and rest.

I am usually quite ready to argue that the government has relatively little power in the big scheme of things, or even the medium one. I am quite ready to say that the governments of the world are really quite small players in the world. Yes, they can stop food flow, and deny basic human rights, which are very bad, but in even a medium scheme of things, these are small affairs. I care about them, because I care about how we should live, and these interfere with feeding the poor, caring for the oppressed, etc., and in that sense governments are important and it is appropriate to be concerned with how they act. However, the government cannot stop the spread of the word of God. Nor can they stop the people of God from being the people of God. In this way, what the government does is tiny compared to what the Church, under the headship of Christ, does.

No one can hurt a Christian. By this I do not mean that we are invincible, nor oblivious to hunger or pain. I mean that those are not harms relevant to a Christian's decisions. They are not deterrents. Death is not something for Christians to fear, nor hunger, nor strife if it is required of God. The Church is where we exist as God's people, remembering how Christ makes us untouchable by the world. We recall how he took the evils of this world on himself. Christ has made us virtuous and thus we need not fear whatever comes--what bad we once deserved, he has already taken. In the Church, Christ is made visible. His love, his righteousness, and, especially relevant when considering unstable governments, his permanence and orderliness. Thus the Church--and each church--should be a place where we find refuge from the chaos of the world in the calm of Christ who saved us out of the world.

We need not fear the passing away of a mere government, nor need we fear its remaining. What we should be doing, however, is be the people of God who, because his kingdom is here in us, show the permanence of the heavenly kingdom. We need not do anything, for Christ has accomplished it. What we ought to do, we will do, if we are in Christ. What we ought to do we will be unable to do unless we know Christ. It is our dependence on Christ, rather than things of this world, which makes the Church stable. The Church is stable because her foundation is stable. If our churches are a part of the universal Church, then they will also exhibit that stability to the world.

We do not need to fear falling behind, nor struggle to keep up with others, for we have already seen the end of the race. If we show who God is by who we are and what our churches are like, then we will draw those who have learned that the world cannot fulfill their desires. If we try to fulfill their worldly desires, we will find ourselves on another foundation, and thus on an insecure foundation, unstable, and unable to bear us through trials of various kinds. If you draw people to church by anything other than who God is, by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified, then you will be on another foundation. If you draw them by appealing to their deepest need, their need for a savior from sin and to know God, then you will be building on Christ, and then you can draw all sorts, in all conditions. If you appeal to the things of this world, you will draw the things of this world into the church, but if you appeal to the things which are above, you will likewise draw the things that are above into the Church.

Only Jesus Christ who died to save sinners and draw them to God appeals to the true state of humanity. It is a timelessly sweet Gospel. If we try to draw people in by any other means, it will be obscured at best, and lost at worst. Do we not believe that it is a beautiful Gospel? Then do not preach anything else: this is the antidote to the fear of man, this is the assurance that God cares for us through all our trials, this is the only power which can sustain us through turmoil. Would you reassure people when the government has shut down? Preach the Gospel. When terrorists strike? The Gospel. In all times, in all places, in all ways, preach the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ who payed the debt to set the captives free and to feed our souls with his life! It is not up to us to get people to come, nor to make them listen. Our job is simply to not hold back in preaching--how can we? Do we not know how precious this is? How can we keep from speaking and writing about it? How do our conversations not derail into it? How is it that we do not realize how great our God is and how amazing his grace towards us? So, learn from him how great he is. Then you will see, and then you will not be able to hold back from speaking about the things of God when you get up and when you sit down and when you go to bed and when you are at your table and when you are going out and coming in and eating and drinking and on and on. His love is intoxicating--his grace is beautiful. We will have it oozing out of our pores when we reach heaven and finally realize how awesome it is that God should love us, and how incredible his means of salvation, and how deep our sin from which he was able and willing to save us. Then we will sing without ceasing because we will not be forced to cease by the troubles of this world. Yet even now, let our lives be songs of praise to him who saved us!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why Church?

There are plenty of articles about things like why people are leaving churches, or how to get people to come to church, or what attracts people to church, or what repels people about church. Funny, I thought the church was God's people coming together as God's people to be God's people together? Maybe one kind of church is more worth going to than another, but if the church is shrinking overall in an area, that ought to mean that Christianity is shrinking in the area.

So there are articles about what offends people about various churches.

Hmm... I wonder if the problem might be that the Church isn't very present in our churches?

I'm not saying that the church being offensive is necessarily bad. I'd be much quicker to say that the fact that our churches aren't ridiculed might be a problem. We should be offensive, but in a particular kind of way. Not so much the offense of "Hey, I found the truth! Listen! Listen! Hey, why aren't you listening, we told you this is true!" as the offense of "Um... guys..." looking around at the abysmal nature of our situation, "...maybe we should call God for help?" This is the difference between the attitude of the guy who thinks he can handle a street gang coming at him, and the attitude of the guy who calls the cops--it may hurt our pride, someone may calls us all wusses, but it tends to work a lot better.

We can jabber on about morals, but so can anyone with a tongue. We can jabber on about how Christ has redeemed us, but, um, from what and to what again? We jabber on about how sinful we are, but... where's the hope there? We can jabber on about how we should be holy as God is holy, but, excuse me, maybe I'm just really bad at this whole christian thing, but that feels really futile a lot of the time. We can jabber about the love of God, but that tends to sound sort of vague... or the glory of God (what's glory again?)... or about our love for God, but why?

Maybe the reason people don't want to come to church is because they don't meet God there. I mean, who is God? Is that at all clear in our churches? Is it clear that Christ came to save us from our sins? Is it clear that he frees us from bondage to sin? Is it clear why sin matters? Is it clear that when Christ ascended he did not leave us alone? Is it clear how fully we have been reconciled to the Father?

Is anything clear? Or are we just singing our vague little songs to some "you" which might at some point be called "lord," but is rarely identified by what he has done? I mean, all well and good to call him savior, but it doesn't mean a whole lot apart from what we have been saved from and to. Give me Jesus! Not just the name, but show me who this person is! Let the worship, the greeting, the songs, the sermon, the whole experience of coming into fellowship with each other, be Godward. Let it all reorient me to God, let us reorient one another to God. We are quite distractable. I walk into some times of worship having all but forgotten who God is and why I should worship him. I have gone into such places thinking "God, here I am, even though I'd rather not be--go ahead and change me, please," (if even that). So maybe our worship services should be structured with that kind of thing in mind. Maybe we should set ourselves up as a counter culture by setting our churches up to be oases from the culture of the world where the culture of Christ can shape us.

Church is not merely a place for a bunch of people to share being Christian with each other. It is a place for us to exist as a body. It is a place where a culture becomes visible, and that culture is evidence of God--love one another. That culture is different from the one the world has. We are those who love all. Interacting with each other, we love one another. That culture is the culture of the Holy Spirit manifesting in us. Where two or more are gathered, there you see Christ. So, why church? Well, because church is where we gather, so: to see Christ.

Friday, September 20, 2013

For the Children

I'm writing this from roughly the standpoint I occupied at several points as a child. By "child" I mean from the age of 6 up through whenever. I do not have a very good standpoint from which to talk about parenting from the parents' perspective.

I wonder, if we noticed better that the child has a spiritual heart, might that lead to a more relaxed view of the parenting rules? Scheduling a child's life away and making it impossible for them to mess up with their diets and such seems, to me, rather inconsiderate to the child. Aren't they people who can make decisions too? If they are, then I would think it natural to assume that parenting cannot create the child, though it may mold the child. Same deal as discipleship.

When I was in a first grade Sunday school class, I asked me teacher how we knew the Bible was right (She'd asked how we know Jesus loves us, everyone else answered "because the Bible tells me so"). She was totally unprepared for the question, I hope: she answered with something like "because the Bible says so," which it was quite obvious to me was not at all a useful answer. I voiced my dissatisfaction with various things my parents signed me up for (some were good, others were, to me, intolerably chaotic). I have good parents--they listened.

If I had been signed up for things willy-nilly, and my parents had not listened to me when I told them I wanted out, I don't know how I would have ended up, but I do know that if that had been my life, it would not have been a life I could call my own in the way I can call the childhood I had mine.

Kids are people. Signing them up for everything under the sun without consulting them disregards their autonomy as persons. Disregarding them as unable to understand things, if you aren't even willing to try, will end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kids live lives like yours, theirs just haven't been going for as long. They may doubt things, they may be passionate about things, they have joys and sorrows and frustrations. They need the Gospel the same as any of us. I know because I remember. I remember being afraid that God would miss something. I remember being afraid that God had not accepted me. I didn't really voice those worries, because I thought they were appropriate worries, but they were there. Why didn't I learn about what it means that God came to live and die for us? Why didn't I learn how Christ is Immanuel for us even today, when I was a little child? You can't believe for a child. Just because you are sure of your salvation doesn't mean your kid is. Just because a kid doesn't appear distressed, doesn't mean their theology is fine. How many grown-ups have flawed theology and don't even realize it? So also with children.

If you want a kid to make their faith their own, why wait until they're teenagers? Why wait for them to reach a certain age to start telling them how great God is and what he has done so that we can live without fear? They can understand a whole lot more than you think. Don't talk down to them, come down to them. It is not that hard. Have you forgotten who you were when you were a child? Do you think they aren't similar? Did you ever think you were merely a body to be exercised and fed, and a mind to be filled with facts? Didn't you consider yourself deeper than that all your life? I know I did. I had a love of learning, not just a duty to learn. I had subjects in school I did not like--I had writers I did not like. I remember being very irritated by my learning to read books (which seemed to think all kids were disobedient idiots) to the point where I practically refused to continue reading them.

Kids are smarter and more spiritual than people seem to think. They are people after all!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

To Reform the Church

If one were to give a set of steps for reforming the church, the first couple would have to go something like this:
  1. Realize it's not your job.
  2. Pray and read Scripture.
The second is second because it must be seen in light of the first. If you're praying because you think that praying will get the church reformed, or a revival to happen, then you're still thinking of it like it's your job. Prayer and Bible reading exist primarily for getting to know God. Getting to know God, we will become like him. In this way, our own lives will be reformed, revived. Then we will be salt and light, and others will see that something is different, and then the church will be different, since we all are members of the Church. Those who are in the church will see the others in the church and be sharpened by each other, and learn from one another how great it is to know God, and thus we will all come to hunger for him. Why do we not now hunger for him as we ought? Have forgotten how precious he was when we first encountered him? Or have some of us never encountered him? Do not read Scripture for the sake of reading Scripture. Do not pray for the sake of prayer. Rather, pray and read the Scriptures for the sake of knowing God. Do good for the sake of knowing God, or because, knowing God, you can do nothing else. The Gospel is that we can know God. Do we cast that aside so lightly, like Esau sold his birthright?

Regarding those around us who we feel need revival, Christ says to us, as to Peter, "what is that to you? You follow me!" If you think others need to be fixed more than you, you are not looking at what is worth looking at. You cannot fix them! Pray for them, yes, as brothers and sisters. But look at yourself first: you are sinful, too. You cannot even fix yourself, why do you bother even trying to fix others? If you could fix someone, it would be yourself. You cannot even tame your own tongue, which you are in control of, how then can you hope to tame another's tongue, which you have no control over? If your will is what is the problem, and you can hardly guess at what another's will is like, how futile is it to try to fix them? Pray for them, not because that will fix them, but because you cannot fix them.

You cannot bring revival. You can be revived, though. As I watch others, I see God drawing people out of their graves. People hear God say "Lazarus, come out," and simply come out. Yet as I see myself, I look at God and ask him to call me. Yet if I am revived, I know that it is because he did. Can I will myself alive? No. Yet I must do as the Lord commands me. Can I will that? No, yet to me it will feel as though I am willing. When God calls, it is irresistible. When I am called, it is as though I have a choice, but I can do no other. I see the other way as the way a fool would go, or I see the right way as the one that any who saw it would desire.

When I reach the end of myself, and see that I need God, and when I see that he is worth knowing in and of himself, then I am at the point where, called or not (though I am called) I will do what the one who is called is called to do. I would barge into his throne room without fear that he would then curse me, not necessarily because I am sure he won't, but because if I do not enter now I will live as one cursed--I will interrupt God if that is necessary for eternal life! This is humility before God, just as a child who calls for his mother to help him, nagging, interrupting, is being humble in that he knows he cannot do it himself.

When the church sees the worth of God, then it will have been reformed by God. We can only be reformed. We cannot reform. Luther did not reform the church, he was caught up in God reforming the church. He was merely among the first to be reformed. There is no leader in a revival or a reformation other than Christ, there are only those who go before us. And we follow their lead in following Christ, as a younger brother learns how to obey (or disobey) his parents from watching and listening to his older brother. In the same way, we are all leading those who will go after us, and those who are around us. That is how prayer and Scripture reading leads to revival: if we come to know God well, others will follow us in seeking God, and they, too, will come to know him, and knowing God transforms people.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Problem of Autonomy

If one surrenders oneself to Christ, how does one then gain oneself?
How is it that when one surrenders one's intellect to Christ, one does not cease to experience the thinking as our own? How is it that to be controlled by the love of God does not make one as a robot? (or if it does, then what, exactly, will be the supreme motivating force for us in heaven?).

These questions may be offered as problematic to the Determinist first, but they are no less problematic to a non-determinist Christian, so far as I can see. Even if it is by character formation that our wills become constrained, why bother continued existence once one no longer has a real choice? If there is any case where an actor can say to himself "well, then, I'll just wait and see what I do," then the question may be applied. If one says that we will always have a choice of how to act well, then this is still unsatisfactory: I don't care about such miniscule decisions! (as regards my recognizing myself as a separable being, not lost in some mass of unified consciousness or something--the length of time I take to order at restaurants notwithstanding.)

To be Christian is to affirm an answer to these questions. We are one body. The question these questions are getting at is, how are we yet many members? How does union with Christ not entail becoming lost in a kind of God-consciousness, such that there is no longer really a "me" to speak of? We believe there is an answer to these things. What is it? If the analogy of the Trinity is offered, this is no help, for it tries to explain that which we do not understand, yet believe as Christians to be the case with something else we... do not understand, yet believe as Christians to be the case.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Reading and Free Will

The internet has been down where I have been the past couple of weeks, or I probably would have written something. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, it is hard to evaluate what one does not have access to), I have no idea what it was I was going to write.

I tend to read philosophy even when the internet is fine, but over this summer I have noticed that I do not read fiction quite so much, and have the feeling that I do not know how to read fictional stories. I appreciate fictional stories as valuable. It is not a matter of not seeing fictional stories as valuable, but a matter of not knowing how to get the value out of it. This may well be the same as not having developed, or having lost, the taste for it.

The problem is that when I read, I tend to read the facts off the page, but that raises the question of what else there is to read. We often think as if the world consisted of the facts in the world, and those alone, but this deprives the world of meaning in the most basic sense. If we view the world as simply the facts, and not as having values, then the world is a very dull place. Thus, what I think I am missing in reading fictional stories as simply facts, is the implicit values of the world which the author is giving me.

To view the world as a person is to view the world as having values, or at least the possibility of value. Viewing the world as mere facts makes the idea of "value" inapplicable to the world (likewise, "interesting" or "dull"). Viewing the world as mere value thereby also removes any reasons for action. If there are no values in the world, then there is nothing to act on the basis of. To read fictional stories well, or any stories for that matter, then, it is necessary to view the world of that story as one to be acted from within.

How does one read a story, which will not change, as if one had to act in it? (This closely parallels the problem of free will: how is it right that I view the world as one I have to decide on a course of action within, when it appears as though what I do is simply part of how the world goes along?)

Monday, August 5, 2013

RE: Does it Show?

Imagine that you hear a sermon. A friend of yours was there as well, and says to you afterwards "he said 'such-and-such' but I have to ask myself 'does it show?' and I have to be honest and answer, to my shame, 'not really.'" How would you respond?

What is the relation between the truths of the Gospel and what we do?

Here is a truth: we are saved by grace. Here is a corresponding action: forgiving one another. Suppose you found yourself not forgiving others. What do you do with that? Do say "woe is me, I'd better try harder"? No, if the truth which forgiveness is supposed to show is God's grace, then if you are not showing it as much as you ought, it is because you do not understand it fully. Thus, if we sin, the solution is to seek the truths which we were supposed to be showing.

Now, where are those truths? Scripture. And how is it that we come to understand them? By God's revelation through his word by the Spirit. That is to say, they are there in Scripture, but we can only understand if God gives the understanding. Indeed, only in knowledge of God is there knowledge of Scripture, since that is what is involved when the Spirit reveals anything to us: The Spirit joining us to God in Christ.

But look at what this means: If we sin because we do not understand, but can only understand if God gives understanding, then we are totally dependent on God for any good we do. We are dependent on him, not only for life (Christ paying the penalty for us), but for living (Christ living the life for us). Thus if we sin, the response should be "God, please, show me what I do not understand for I am helpless to do good apart from you." Now, you may have all the factual understanding, but what we must have if we are to act on it is an experiential understanding. We must get it, or it will remain facts, like the times tables, to be merely spat out in answer to questions. We must understand it into our lives, so that we can live answers to the questions that we are asked in our living, but only God can effect this.

A Basic Ethical Disagreement

If we decided that to hate the sin necessarily involved hating the sinner, at least when the sinner held the sin as a good, then what would follow? First, such a position depends on a level of moral relativism if it is to be extended as far as murderers.

Let us suppose that we restrict the position to actions where there are no non-consenting persons directly involved. The idea, then, is that those persons form a closed moral system within which others are not allowed to judge because they are outside that moral system. If it were established that the moral system in question were closed, then this would hold, however the simple fact that the actions in any hypothesized "closed moral system" are to be observed by others "outside it" proves that it is not a closed moral system as those who observe it are affected by it. Thus, let us suppose that the argument is that only those who participate in a moral system can critique those who are part of it. This is effectively a return to moral relativism again, except that there are no non-consenting persons directly involved in what occurs.

Why not allow any action which directly involves only consenting persons? This is the basic issue of ethical philosophy which is being argued over in our culture at the moment. One side says that all actions affect the whole society, while the other side says that what happens between consenting adults stays between consenting adults (until they produce a child, and note that none of us ever consented to be born).

A useful argument here will not take that form "there are no actions which involve only consenting persons in the relevant way," since we disagree about how direct the involvement must be to count. The argument will need to take a different tack on it, not head on, but reaching the point about what actions should be permitted via a route which is not bound by this question.

The problem is with the question: "should actions where consenting people are the only people directly involved by allowed?" The side which has been answering "not necessarily" needs to stick to "not necessarily" and not diverge into "those don't exist" since our taxonomies of action and/or involvement are not such that we can talk at that level. "Not necessarily," here, it seems to me, means "well, it depends on the action. How much who is involved, at least at the human level, is not necessarily relevant."

How much who is involved may be relevant in some cases, but simply that no one else is involved is not necessarily enough reason to say that an act is to be permitted. Even if it were, the problem of saying who is relevantly involved means that an ethical system predicated on that assumption would still be incomplete.

Love Sinner/Hate Sin: A Defense

Sparked by this: http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/07/30/who-am-i-to-judge-the-pope-the-press-and-the-predicament/

Given: All persons are to be respected as persons.
Given: There are actions which can be said to be bad, at least beyond a shadow of a doubt (e.g., killing another without just cause).

What is bad is to be regarded as something to be done away with. Persons, as persons, are not to be done away with. To regard the sin as to be done away with is good, but to regard the sinner as to be done away with is bad. Thus: love the sinner, but hate the sin.

This is a relatively simple proof of sorts for the principle, but for a proper defense I would like to show why the most obvious alternative is unworkable.

To regard persons as the sum of their actions and desires is to diminish them as persons. It is to say "you are nothing more than the one who did these things and wanted those things." Yet we want to add that persons are not only those who do and want, but also those who need. At our best, our desires match our needs. Very often, though, we want what is not good for us. To love the sinner we must hate the sin, because sin is bad. Sin is bad not only in itself, but for the sinner. If we ignored what people need, we could easily argue that to love a person we must endorse their choices as good. That was Sartre's philosophy--that what a person does is called good by them, and that, therefore, a person can always say "What I want is good." It is not, however, a livable philosophy. We all are aware of things we would change about ourselves. Thus, to follow Sartre's philosophy we must argue a sort of contradiction: I want to change my actions (I feel that other actions than those I do are good) and what I do is what I should do.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vertical and Horizontal: A Critique

The title makes use of some Christianese: "Vertical" as in the relationship with God, and "Horizontal" as in relationships with others. It is the Christianese I am critiquing, not the relationships themselves (except for, in part, the latter).

I do not think there are supposed to be "horizontal" relationships in this way. Many sermons acknowledge the point I mean to make here, actually. We do say that if your relationship with God is not right, then your relationships with others won't be either, but we are not so clear on why this is.

My larger point is not often noted. We should have nothing apart from God. This means that in relating to others, we are relating in Christ. Our "horizontal" relationships take place through our "vertical" relationship. To have the mind of Christ is to see the world as Christ sees it, which is to be united with him--into the body, the Church. To do otherwise would be to have some other mind. To see the world merely through our own eyes is pride: it is thinking we can see rightly apart from Christ. Apart from Christ we can do nothing, and we are blind. We cannot see others rightly, let alone act according as we ought, if we do not have the life of Christ in us.

And this is what it is to act in love: not merely to act in a way that we think is loving, but to act in the Spirit of love--i.e., by the power of the Spirit of God who is love. Thus all our relationships are to be vertical, or perhaps zig-zag. Indeed, since we cannot see rightly apart from Christ, our horizontal relationships are relationships of falsehood. They are not true relationships at all, but merely a relating of self to others, but the others are not truly there.

You think your relationships are broken? You do not know how much! Yet Christ knows all about you, and knows what is good for you, and for those you love. And Christ provides the grace to go on, for he has broken down the barrier of sin which keeps us apart from him, and him from the world, and so in him we find union--truly?--yet so rarely shown in our Churches, our union in Christ is one of the most important things we should be striving to reveal in our life together. We cannot manufacture this revealing of the unity of the body of Christ, though, since we do not know how to act, but if we are under the headship of Christ, then he will guide us into the way we should go. 1 John 4:10, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." and it remains this way even in the love of the Christian for others: it is still the love of God for us and sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Even our love for God is by our union with Christ.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Divine Causality Revisited

First off, I am willing to "define" God as He who shows himself through, and in, the world, and who is good (which is as much a definition as defining you as He who shows himself through that body is a definition of you, but it is kind of helpful). I begin with the premise that God is good. I'm not going to argue for it. Perhaps another time. Now, the world is, itself, corrupted. God is not corrupted. The world is. It's the same as the fact that you aren't sick in your person just because your body is (though there are plenty of cases where your body's sickness makes your person sick in some way, such as being cranky from lack of sleep, but that is because we are embodied in that way, whereas God is, while in a sense embodied, not in that way). The world's corruption is there to show us who God is, though. God is he who shows himself through and in the world, and the world, here, means everything. God shows himself through the world in that whatever occurs in the world only occurs due to his will. He shows himself in the world--he stands in the world--in those places where he is revealed to us.

Did God cause the Holocaust? God does not show himself in the Holocaust, but he does show up in the Holocaust. He made himself appear to people--not necessarily visible, but as surely as if he had--through the events surrounding and including the Holocaust. Here is a counter question: those people who became Christians because of the Holocaust, not because of the horrors of it, really, but because it brought them into contact with people who truly believed and who showed it--who revealed Christ likeness by their way of life--and who were blessed to share the Good News that Christ has dealt with all the evil of the world, even conquering death, were they saved by God, or humans? If humans, then it may be that humans caused the Holocaust. If saved by God, then God saved them in whole, and the Holocaust, as part of that whole, must be considered caused by God. But! This causing is not the sort where one can point at God and say "you killed so many Jews!" Rather, one can only say, "God, all that pain, for human souls? I don't see how it was worth it." And he responds "not yet--look at the Cross where my Son bore all that evil--it is finished." Some will say that the loss of faith for many outweighs the gain of faith for a few, but how can anyone who truly believes ever turn all the way away from Christ? If they fell away, then they never really got it to begin with.

Does God condemn some to hell, and save others? Well, in the end his actions are all for good. Is anyone's dying and going to hell good on its own? I doubt it, and I don't think God sees it as good either. Yet it happens. On the other hand, anyone being saved is good all on its own. This means they must be distinguished: God does not cause the former in anywhere near the direct way he causes the latter. God shows up in salvation, but not in damnation. Damnation is where we start, he doesn't need to intervene. Even in those places where it appears that God keeps people from seeing him--where he hardens people's hearts, or blinds them, or speaks in parables so that they do not hear and understand--he is not resisting their seeking of him. Those who seek Christ's life will be found in it, while those who seek their own life will find it... to be death. People don't seek God unless he impels them to. They may seek something like God, but it is their own idea of God.

Here: the good reveals God, the bad reveals our need of God, and the redeeming of the bad reveals Christ. And in the end it will all be made good: the bad will be redeemed. God will be glorified above all.

So, I think I believe in single-predestination in the only way that makes sense to me, but I'm not so sure there is a difference between this form of single-predestination and double-predestination where God is yet without fault.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Language is a funny thing. It really isn't "out there" somewhere, yet we all use it. It is a cultural thing, really. Words mean things because we all treat them as meaning things--we use them like they mean things, so they do. Imagine someone said something like "the sea is very red today." Now, perhaps the sea is literally the color red, but it is also possible that the speaker is referring to a battle that occurred that day at sea where many people died, thus "red" refers to blood which, in turn, refers to loss of life, and the sea turning the color implies the large amounts. Now, imagine you are talking to someone and they begin to talk about how they are bothered by someone else: they are always saying such-and-such, which this person finds awful. Perhaps, though, you see nothing wrong with that person's position, and even see no difference between it and ideas that the first person has advocated in the past.

Maybe these two people really agree, but they see the concept in such different light, and thus describe it completely differently; or maybe they really do have opposing views, but they have such different views on the world that the descriptions look much the same without a good deal of the underlying conceptual context.

Now, you have no idea what underlying context other people are working with. Even people you know well may switch what they are talking about without you realizing it, sometimes. So there is a good possibility that what they are saying and what you are hearing diverge.

Beyond this, different people may use different words in different ways. Everyone does this, using different words in slightly different ways given different contexts (consider the love of persons versus the love of food). There are also the many possibilities of creative use of language, for example, wordplay or neologisms.

So, let's say that someone says something that makes no sense to you. Can you really say that it is nonsense? Can you be sure (without asking them and their saying that it is)? Perhaps you just don't understand how they are seeing things such that what they said means something. There are haves and have-nots, why can't I say "I want to have." and leave the sentence there? Surely I can make transitives intransitive, intransitives transitive, noun verbs, verb nouns, and on, and on, and on.

So, now, what about communicating? Maybe I want you to get some point, but it's one of those things we all say, so, even though you don't understand, you will think you do if I say it normally. So maybe I say it in such a way that you have to think. Really, ideally, I learn your dialect well enough to say it differently enough from how you would think to say it, or so that I can make you tell me it in such a way that I hear that you get it.

But how do you say things strangely while still saying them? This is the trick of writing. Especially of writing philosophy or theology or anything else where you're trying to get across points about how one sees the world. Often, you cannot read a thing right until you understand it right.

Perseverance Through Doubt

ὑπομονή, ῆς, ἡ: this is usually the word we are talking about when we speak of perseverance. Taking apart the word, it looks like "under-remaining." It is often translated as endurance, patience, or perseverance.

There is a certain way of speaking of "having doubts" which makes it appear that the process of doubting is equivalent to unbelief.

I would like to recommend, then, a mode of doubt which I believe is compatible with faith. There is a mode which is incompatible with strong faith, but it is not the only mode of doubt.

The kind of doubt which is incompatible with faith is the kind which puts itself over God. This sort says "how can it be?" expecting an answer of "it can't." Most agnostics are atheist agnostics: they live like God doesn't exist. Likewise, this kind of doubt is an atheistic doubt: it asks questions as if God will not answer them. It begins doubting irreverently.

One might, however, begin doubting by basically unpacking one's beliefs. One might say--with a certain sense of "to God if you're listening"--"Here is what I'm having trouble accepting, here is what that means to me, here is what I can accept. Show me--give me--what I need!" One might go back as far as "how am I to be saved?" or even "why do I need to be saved?" and "why this way?" and then investigate: what do you believe about these things already? what do you mean by those things? what does God's word say about those things? what does he mean by those things? This mode of doubt, then, is the method of taking God himself as a conversation partner in trying to see what the truth is. Sure, God may not say anything explicitly to you (though he might), but if you go about doubt crying "Where in the world are you, God?" then this is to orient you to look for him in the world. You may begin to see things, as if God were leaving things behind for you to see. You may begin to hear God speaking in the words of others. The doubt inconsistent with faith makes a person see these kinds of things as coincidences, whereas a doubt seeking faith sees them almost as answers to prayer (though you may not have been really praying for it).

The basic difference between these is this: the doubt which is antagonistic to faith says "I can't believe that! Lord, be different, or convince me (if you're really there at all)." whereas the doubt which is compatible to faith says "I want to believe that, but I can't see how I can--Lord help me!"

This kind of doubt--the kind compatible with faith--is not necessarily good in and of itself, but it is not to be feared. It is, however, a kind of trial. Thus why I began this post with "ὑπομονή, ῆς, ἡ". 
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." James 1:2-8
The doubt here, it seems to me, is the wishy-washy, uncertain kind of doubt. What I am discussing here is the sort of doubt which says "Well, you say this, but... I just don't get it." It is not "Well... maybe so, maybe not," though it may look quite similar. The doubt I speak of is the doubt which tries to be honest before God, not the kind which is trying to hold back from God--the maybe-ish sort of doubt says "I don't want to give that much to God," the doubt I am advocating says "I will give all, even my inability to see God as who he says he is, to God."
"Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful." James 5:11
Job is not the sort of person, I don't think, who we would say had no doubts. He did not have the "maybe God doesn't exist" kind of doubts which we are used to in our day, but he certainly had the equivalent of his day--"maybe God isn't good." Yet, throughout Job, he is asking to be allowed to make his case against God. He wants things set right. He is saying "God, you say you are good... but I just can't see how this is you being good. Show me!" and why shouldn't the rest of us doubt like Job?

There is a core of faith in Job's doubting. He refuses to be finished with God--he perseveres in this. He will not curse God and die. He even has a core commitment to trusting God: "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face." Job 13:15, and this verse sums up quite nicely the attitude which I am trying to argue for as the proper attitude of Christian doubt. Do not put aside your doubt as if it were bad, but argue your ways to his face--trusting him to bring you through the doubt. Doubts do not arise from nowhere. If you doubt, then there is likely something you are missing--find it, seek it, ask for that wisdom from God! Yes he is slaying you! He is slaying your old man, so that the new man who we receive in Christ Jesus might be made all the more evident. Trust him, then, that these doubts are not in vain.

There's a sense in which this all is why I see predestination--that God is the one who saves, that it is not our own doing, that we cannot avoid it, that it is God's right and power to save souls--as core to my thoughts on salvation, as core to what I consider when I consider "How was I saved?" "How can I disciple others--be used as a tool toward the salvation of others?" See, for me, that it is up to God to save me, and not up to me, frees me to doubt and then to believe. See, if it were up to me, I would have given up one of these times when I doubted. But since it is up to God, each time, I have, at one point or another, had to pray something along the lines of "God, I want to give up, so you better be worth it, you better show up, give me some strength to keep doubting," 'cause the alternative was unbelief, 'cause doubting--especially when it's God's real, personal existence you're doubting--is like talking into a void, trying to be heard, and finally it's like... "I feel like an idiot, how long do you want me to keep this up? I don't have anything left to say!" And then you're talking yourself in circles, and... well, may as well give up, right? But then, I've never really wanted to, or, more accurately, I've always to give up into a simple, "I just believe," but that's rarely been an option for me, so the alternative to doubt is often unbelief, but I really, really, want to believe--even when I don't, 'cause it means giving up my life to God, for him to use as he wills, and I don't even get to pretend that I get to direct my life, in the end. So... if it wasn't up to God, then it would probably be up to me, and I really don't think I have the energy for it. I can't make myself see God (and, the past few times, that's been the whole issue of the doubt), so there's really no sense bothering with doubt unless God's in charge of the showing up bit.

What I mean to say is, if it's not about seeing God, then what is it about? and if we can manage the seeing of God, then we should be able to develop a sort of technique for converting people. But if it's up to God to reveal himself, then... it's up to God in his grace to save who he will. And if salvation is of God, then it isn't of me, and I can relax and doubt if need be. 'Cause if I need to find God on my own, then, well, it makes it a lot harder to be honest with myself about my doubts, and it makes me want to hide them from God and others--and myself--even more than I already, in my pride, do.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pre-empting an Antinomian Slide

"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." 1 John 2:1

There is a very helpful trend in certain evangelical circles in emphasizing God's unmerited grace to us which cannot earn. Along with this trend has come a certain wariness of any saying "ought" or "should," so that it has become hard for me to see what these people do with the many passages which command Christians to do things. There are oughts and shoulds in even the New Testament, and even in the epistles--it is not just in the sermon on the mount, where one might argue that it was Christ reinforcing the impossibility of following the law. We are commanded to love one another, to forgive one another, to be humble. That we will fail is given as well, yet the goal remains "that you may not sin."

It is right to emphasize that we have unmerited grace, and that it is only by God's grace that we live--in Christ! What we must be wary of, however, is that this grace does not become diluted so that there is nothing which our lives affirm us as being saved, or needing to be saved, from. If this grace saves from sin, then our lives ought to reflect that savedness--I say this ought as a logical, not a moral, ought. If this grace is a union with Christ, then this (too?) should appear in our lives.

Look: what we lack is righteousness, and what we receive by grace unmeasured, vast and free is Christ's righteousness--Christ's own life--and this is also what--better: who--we seek. In all of life, we seek Christ, for he is our life. For a Christian, if he truly sees his life as hid with Christ, then, logically, he ought to treat Christ as savior and Lord--as the one who has dominion over his life. If suicide is wrong generally, then how much more denial of Christ! If, then, we receive this life, then we will live in a way that reflects having received the life of Christ. We will live like he lived, for it is he who lives in us.

The danger is in making it all and only grace to us, or all and only the actions we are to do. Rather, it must be Christ alone, much more than grace alone (for grace alone only makes sense as shorthand for Christ alone). It is Christ's life given to us, and Christ's righteousness which we as Christ's body live out. It is because we have a righteousness which is not our own that we also have a life which is not our own, and because it is not our own, but Christ's, it is a life which must be submitted to him. We live, then, as Christ lived, not by our own effort, but because we, by faith, really have Christ's living in us, bleeding out. Nothing I do is righteousness, but only what Christ does in me.

Grace becomes antinomianism when Christ's life is set apart from grace. Christ's life for us is grace to us. Grace may not be left as a mere concept, but must be embodied, lived out in the community of faith, as the life of Christ. Grace therefore requires us to follow hard after Christ. Grace is not grace if it does not bind us to Christ--"let thy grace, Lord, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee." Indeed, grace is grace in that it binds Christ's righteousness and thus Christ's life to our own so that Christ died for our transgressions and was punished for our iniquities, and so that Christ's life of perfect obedience to God is our own. This is grace: not that sin does not matter, but that sin matters so much that God sent his Son to free his people from sin. So, now, since we are free from sin, by God's grace--by following Christ, by being disciples of Christ, by holding fast to the life of Christ (which is to say, by holding fast to the righteousness which we have been given in Christ)--let us live in this freedom, not freedom that allows us to sin, but freedom from sin. To sin is to reject the freedom, and the life which we have by union with Christ.

I write this against any antinomian tendencies which might be about to develop, but I must also provide the caution on the other side. If we ever forget that our actions are by Christ, that our righteousness is only in Christ, and that we are saved by Christ alone. If we ever begin to think that we somehow earned union with Christ, then we will have returned to legalism. The key is this: Jesus Christ. He is our life, and thus our righteousness, our strength, our hope, and our peace. It is in him that we are in love. It is through him that we do what is right, and know what is good. To speak the truth in love it is necessary to know Christ who is truth and to be hid with Christ so that we are in God who is love. Apart from Christ I can do nothing! Yet in him I am used to accomplish things I do not even know. And all the glory must go to God, for it is God in the person of Christ who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, accomplishes all these things in me.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Prayer to, Fear of, and Trust in God

I have heard two different people in the past week emphasize the power of prayer. One of the people said something along the lines of "when people pray, things start happening" the other something like "if all the people in [some town--or it may have just been a church] prayed, [said town] would be changed," but it's sort of like... well, yeah, people praying is quite a change, but it isn't the cause of the change, it's an effect. God is the cause of the change, and the further changes might not be along the lines that those people are praying. On the one hand, yes, God hears us when we pray, but on the other hand, while the emphasizing was not in a trivial context, I fear a vending machine god. It seems important to keep the power of prayer as derived from the power of God, and then to keep the fear of God in view.

The Fear of God, so far as I can tell, arises from the acknowledgement that God can do whatever he likes. God is good, yes, but we must be humble and acknowledge that what good may turn out to be in this or that situation may well be something we don't like. The Fear of God is the fear that God will do something we don't like. This Fear of God must, however, be set together with the goodness of God and our trust in him. God is good, and many have realized that God, in his goodness, was calling them to do what they did not want. The Fear of the God who is good appears throughout scripture, note the various times, as with Moses, where God says "I am calling you to lead my people," and the one he is speaking to replies "but I don't want to!" The one God calls ends up going. The realization that God may do that to me should cause me to be, in a way, terrified, or exhilarated (but there is still a sort of fear in exhilaration).

To trust in God, one must place all of oneself in God's hands. But then all of oneself is in his hands, and he gets to do as he likes with you, whether strike you with sores, send you as a missionary, or pastor, or plumber, or truck driver, or accountant, lock you away, sit you in doubt, or whatever else he may choose to do. We may not like it. We may love it. Either way, it is what God has chosen to do in us, and thus we ought to give glory to him for it, for he is good. Wherever God has you now, it is good for you to be there now. This is not to say that you should necessarily remain there, but that your being there now is good. Press on to the goal, but in the knowledge that it is Christ who works in you--your pressing on is also something God is doing with you.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Logical Positivism, Russell, Quine, and the New Atheists

First off, the New Atheists currently bore me. Unfortunately, they do still get some attention from a few people: atheists, agnostics, and Christians, not just other atheists.

Secondly: Bertrand Russell's famous china teapot thought experiment. Thirdly: Quine and Two Dogmas of Empiricism.

Tea! In Space!

Russell's china teapot was one which is a matter for belief. Is it right for me to believe that there is a china teapot orbiting around earth at this moment? The point is that I can't know, nor do I have any way of checking, whether there is or is not a china teapot. I only know that it would be very strange if there were one, as I have not heard of anyone launching a china teapot into orbit, and anyways it probably would not last long (Mythbusters should test that last one, if they haven't yet). But still, there might be a china teapot orbiting the earth. Maybe someone had one specially put into orbit just a moment ago, and I just didn't hear about it.

Russell claimed that one should not, and that it would be silly. This is part the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" argument against theism. I have seen people argue that theism is not such an extraordinary claim, and I have seen arguments to the contrary.

Removing Assumptions

W.V.O. Quine wrote Two Dogmas of Empiricism, which you can read of you click the link above. In that article, he effected the end of Logical Positivism, a line of thinking which involved a theory of truth where a statement had empirical content, which thus must be verifiable through sense experience, in order to be true, and is also thus interchangeable with other statements with the same empirical content. Logical Positivist philosophy is also famous for arguing that the term "God" has no meaning (since it seems to have no empirical content).

The article includes one line where Quine says, "Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system," that is, our system of beliefs.

Back to Russell's for Tea

My point in all this is that "x is true come what may" may be translated as "x is 100% likely to be true." Thus, since what Russell is saying when he says that theistic belief is an "extraordinary claim in need of extraordinary evidence" is that theistic belief is not 100% likely to be true, Quine has also removed that argument from the game as it stands.

This is not to say that an argument might be able to be worked out that said "x is unlikely, and we have no proof for it, so let's not believe it." It is, rather, to say that such an argument rests on the assumption that x is unlikely. Russell's argument from unlikelihood really is a nothing argument. To make it a real argument against the existence of God, he would have to show that God's existence is actually unlikely. This is what the problem of evil tries to do, and why it is so successful (when met in person, rather than in a classroom, at least).

To those who debate atheists: congratulations, you both take God's existence or non-existence as true come what may. A Christian sees no problem of evil because he has the belief that God exists, and God is good, so the problem of evil poses no real problem for his belief. On the other hand, the atheist sees the problem of evil quite clearly, and is not satisfied with the Christians faith in a good God without some kind of answer to the problem of evil. Now, I'm not saying that there is no use to trying to figure out how it can be that God exists and there is apparent evil in the world, just that a lack of explication is not grounds for dropping one belief over the other, only grounds for holding an unresolved tension with the expectation that it can be resolved, or for dropping one of the two beliefs. What I am saying is that when a Christian and an atheist debate such things as faith, they are coming at it with largely different views on the matter, such that the problems one has with the other person's view may not even make sense to the other person. So, yeah, good luck (I'll save my thoughts on how to do apologetics well for later).

Also: I do not see why God's existence is so much more unlikely than, say, living in a world where there is matter and energy (and they can be converted into one another--that is weird) and your senses can actually, rather reliably, tell you what that matter and energy is doing. (I'm sure there are numerous other things of the same sort)