Friday, September 2, 2011

I Have Moved.

I've started using Wordpress. Here is my new blog. I also blog for Veritas every week and it's where I'll mostly be updating. Check it out.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Is God Completely Unchanging?

I wrote a new blog for Veritas, a college ministry here at MU. Check it out here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Logical Problem of Evil

My new posts on the Veritas blog are coming up. It's a three part series on the logical problem of evil. I'll post all three parts here soon.

Here's part one.
The Logical Problem of Evil (1)

Here's part 2.
The Logical Problem of Evil (2)

Here's part 3.
The Logical Problem of Evil (3)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Meaningless Nonesense

I posted another blog on Veritas. Does God's omnipotence mean He can do absurd things?

God and the Absurd

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

God's Hiddenness (Rough Draft/Initial Thoughts)

Many find it hard to believe in God because, according to them, He's “hidden.” If God wanted people to believe in Him, He'd show Himself to us. Why doesn't He? It should be simple for God to appear in the sky where everyone can see Him or talk to us when we call to Him, but He doesn't. Some say God would make Himself and His intentions for man clear to everyone if He really existed, but since He's not doing that He must either not care or not exist. They can't imagine any good reasons why an all powerful God would hide Himself the way He has. Do they have a point here? Are there no good reasons for this apparent hiddenness?

This argument does have some force. God certainly isn't as plain to us as people or trees. Even believers struggle with God's apparent silence in this life. Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet, said “Oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Hab. 1:2). David cries out to God saying “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1). Sometimes it can make us doubt God's existence or His goodness. Still, I'm not convinced that God is as hidden as some say He is, or that He has no good reasons for not being plain to us.

First, a large chunk of people throughout history, perhaps even most people, have believed in God or something like god. Atheistic or naturalistic ideas and beliefs existed for thousands of years, but they didn't become widespread until the Enlightenment era. Even these days belief in God or gods doesn't seem to be going away. This doesn't prove that God exists, but if it is the case that most people have believed in something like God, then perhaps God isn't as hidden as some think He is. Romans 1:19-20 says “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived... in the things that have been made.” This in no way negates the natural processes and mechanisms that run the universe, but it shows that nature points to God. It doesn't give us exhaustive information about Him, but it does give us true information about Him.

Second, people are assuming that God is only concerned about belief in His existence. I don't think this is the case though. William Lane Craig once said that it's a matter of relative indifference to God whether people believe in Him or not. This might sound strange, but hear me out. God is interested in having a personal relationship with people, not simply getting them to believe He exists. Outside of Christ it doesn't matter whether you think God is real or not, you're still in the same position with Him. Even the demons believe in God, but they don't have saving grace (James 2:19). The Israelites after God freed them from Egypt saw His divine power, but still turned from Him and worshipped a false god (Exodus 32:4). It's through Christ that we actually enter a relationship with God and are given saving grace. Sure, we have to believe He exists to do this (Heb. 11:6), but we're going beyond mere belief and into actual trust and commitment. God can appear in the sky or audibly tell you how He wants you to live if He wants, but that doesn't mean you'll actually want a relationship with Him.

In fact, some people might be more resistant to God's love if He does this. People like their autonomy, and if God appears showing them without a doubt that He exists or starts telling them plainly how He wants them to live, they may see this as an infringement of that autonomy, and they'll dislike God even more. God wants children who love Him, not reluctant followers. If God's goal is to enter a loving relationship with people, it seems plausible that making Himself more visible or audible won't yield that result. It may help those who already are in that relationship, but for those who aren't it may make them believe in Him, but not enter a relationship with Him, or it may make them believe in Him, but be more resistant to Him because they want to keep their autonomy. So while I think God isn't as hidden as some say He is, I also think He has good reasons for not being as plain to us as we sometimes think He should be.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sovereignty, Freedom, and the Philosophers (pt. 2)

Another view that attempts to reconcile God's foreknowledge and human free-will is called Molinism (named after Luis de Molina) or Middle-Knowledge. Probably the best known proponent of Molinism is the Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig. Middle-knowledge states that God not only knows what we will do, but what we would do in any circumstance that we were in. So he not only knew in advance as a matter of fact that I would freely take a shower yesterday, He knew that if circumstances had been different (perhaps getting home late and going immediately to bed) I would have freely chosen not to take a shower. So since He knows what all human beings would freely do under any circumstance, He chooses to actualize (create) the world that goes the way He wants, perhaps the one that has the largest number of people getting saved. So this view keeps God's sovereignty, since things are going the way He wants, and it retains human free will, since He isn't causing humans to act in a certain way. If God knows that Sally will freely choose chocolate ice cream if she entered an ice cream shop on Tuesday, and He wants that event to happen, he will actualize the world in which Sally went to an ice cream shop on Tuesday and she'd freely choose chocolate ice cream. If Sally instead freely went to the ice cream shop on Wednesday and freely chose mint ice cream, God would actualize the world in which those circumstances to happen, if indeed that's the desired result He wants to bring about. Under the actual circumstances of the world right now, I have a truck. However, God knows that if I were richer, then I'd have a porsche. If His desired result was for me to have a porsche, then He would have actualized the world in which I was richer. I think you get the idea.

It's a very clever idea and one I like to play around with in my head. As far as I can tell, it seems to nicely fit together God's foreknowledge and my freedom to choose without making it look like God is the one causing all of my actions. My only issue is that it goes beyond what the Bible actually says. It doesn't seem to contradict the Bible, which is better than open theism, but I'm not comfortable endorsing the view myself since the Bible doesn't seem to say this is how God works. Does that make the view completely illegitimate? I don't think it does. This doctrine of middle-knowledge is simply a model that philosophical-theologians use to fit together the Biblical data on God's sovereignty and human free-will nicely. The doctrine of the Trinity is the same way. It fits together the Biblical data on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a coherent way that makes sense out of the teachings. The doctrine, of course, uses some terminology and descriptions that the Bible doesn't use, like saying that God is three persons but one substance, but otherwise it doesn't go into much speculation. I guess that's mostly my problem with middle-knowledge: much of it feels like speculation. After some research I'll probably get back into this topic.

So do I have my own view? I don't have any well formulated view of my own yet. As a philosophically minded person, I want to seek out knowledge in these areas, but I'm with the Psalmist when he says "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it," (Ps. 139:6). I'll continue to seek knowledge on this since I'm made in the image of God, but with the humility of knowing that I am "dust," and will not be able to fully understand most everything, especially God.

Here's the interview with William Lane Craig on his view and a few others. His website, Reasonable Faith, has articles on it as well.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sovereignty, Freedom, and the Philosophers (pt. 1)

When I told a couple of my pastors that I wanted to be a philosophy major, they gave me some helpful advice: let my theology critique my philosophy, not the other way around. Of course, philosophy can play a big role as a handmaiden of theology, but they meant that I shouldn't let my philosophical ideas contradict and judge Scripture. I think it's good advice.

One of my biggest interests- and struggles- is the reconciliation of God's sovereignty and omniscience with our moral responsibility and free will. How they can be reconciled has been a huge issue of debate amongst theologians and philosophers for centuries and probably won't end until the return of Christ. There are many intriguing ideas, but I honestly find some of them disturbing and irreconcilable with Scripture. I wanted to give my thoughts on some of these views that contemporary theistic philosophers have. This is just my initial thoughts and concerns over these views, not some exhaustively studied essay on the subject. Perhaps after doing more research I will post more thoughts. If I have in any way misunderstood these views, I will undoubtably be corrected in future readings on the subject.

First, there's a view called Open Theism, which is a view I got more interested in after listening to interviews with the philosophers Dean Zimmerman and Peter Van Inwagen. Popularizers of open theism are people like Greg Boyd and John Sanders. In open theism, God doesn't fully know the future. He knows the past and the present perfectly, but there is no way He can know the future actions of free creatures. God can make plans for the future and try to arrange things so that they go His way, but most of the future is open since humans have free will and his plans are contingent on those factors. Proponents of open theism would say that this doesn't diminish God's omniscience, they just define differently what kinds of things can be known by an omniscient God. Omniscience basically means that God “knows every true proposition and believes no false proposition” (1). According to William Lane Craig, there are also future tensed propositions, so God knows those as well. However, an open theist would say that since the future does not yet exist, future events have no truth value. Future events are neither true nor false, since the future hasn't happened yet. So it's no skin off God's nose if He doesn't know what the future actions of free creatures are, since it's not possible to know those. The notion of knowing the future actions of free creatures is like the notion of a four cornered circle, it's incoherent. Since most any philosopher of religion would say that God is coherent, it should be no problem for God's omniscience that He knows only what is possible to know, and much of the future isn't possible to know. It makes sense philosophically, but there are some questions on my mind. I'm no expert on the philosophy of time so hopefully my questions aren't too sophomoric. Is it really the case that future events have no real truth value whatsoever? If I say “World War I will not happen in 2020,” is that not clearly true since the notion of WWI happening in 2020 when it already happened back in 1914 is incoherent? I guess an open theist would say that the fact of the matter is WWI can't take place in 2020 when it already happened in 1914, but there's no fact of the matter to a scenario like “tomorrow I will wear an orange shirt,” and these are the kinds of propositions they're talking about.

Does it make sense Biblically? I don't see how it does. We see numerous passages showing that God knows what will happen in the future and I don't see how that can be reconciled with the open theist view. In Exodus he says “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.” (Ex. 3:19-20). God here seems to clearly know that the Pharaoh wouldn't let the people go if Moses told him and he wouldn't let them go until God did wonders. You also notice later on that when things happen, like the Pharaoh hardening his heart, it happens “as the Lord had said” (Ex. 7:13, 8:15, 8:19, 9:12, 9:35). It seems highly unlikely that God simply made a conditional prediction. Another thing Scripture teaches is that God uses certain tests to show that the gods of other nations are false gods. “Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods,” (Isaiah 41:22-23). He uses the god's lack of ability to see the future as proofs that they aren't gods at all. “How presumptuous and wrong, then, for some system of theology to come along and deny of God the very basis by which he asserts his own deity,” (2). The main idea open theists have when it comes to interpreting Scripture is that passages that seem to show God's ignorance of something, passages showing Him learning new information, or passages showing Him changing His mind should be read just as literally as any of the passages that seem to show Him knowing the future. The anthropomorphic or rhetorical interpretations of passages like Genesis 22:12, where God says to Abraham "now I know that you fear God", are too awkward and farfetched to be taken seriously. They should be read in a straightforward manner. As for the passages that show God knowing the future, open theists get around that by saying God knows some of the future, like the things He decrees or the things that are an inevitable outcome of what's already happened, but that doesn't mean God knows the future exhaustively. So they believe that God knows the past and present fully, but only the future partly. However, if open theists are adamant about reading passages that seem to show God's ignorance in a straightforward manner, why not passages showing God's ignorance of present events? In Genesis 18:20-21, God tells Abraham that He will "go down" to Sodom and Gomorrah to see if they are sinning! If this is read in a straightforward manner, then we'd have to conclude that God doesn't even know the past or present fully. Once more, we'd have to conclude that God isn't omnipresent! Yet open theists affirm that God is omnipresent and knows the past and present fully, so there seems to be a difficulty on their part. They may say that those passages are clearly to be taken anthropomorphically because of the Scriptural evidence showing that God does know the past and present fully, but traditional theists would say that the passages showing God fully knows the future is very powerful and, therefore, passages seemingly showing God's ignorance or change of mind should be taken anthropomorphically. If Scripture shows that God knows “the end from the beginning,” (Is. 46:10) and that He knows the words on our tongue before we even speak it (Ps. 139:4), and our philosophy contradicts that, perhaps there's something wrong with our philosophy. If there's any advantage to open theism, it's that it seems to be a less troubling explanation for the problem of evil since it doesn't run the risk of making God look like the cause of evil. Still, because of Scripture, I'm not willing to endorse this view myself.

I'm going to be learning more about this and other views of divine providence, so I'll probably expand on this issue at some later date. Until then, I hope my description of open theism was accurate.

Here's the interview I watched with Dean Zimmerman giving this view.

Here's the interview with Peter Van Inwagen.

Here's the book I'm going to buy to learn more about Open Theism and the other views of divine providence. Four Views on Divine Providence

  1. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, pg. 517

  2. Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God by Bruce A. Ware, pg. 37

Friday, February 18, 2011

You Exclusivists...

Here's another one of my posts from Veritas.

Intolerance and Exclusivity

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Colossians 2:8 (pt. 3)

The use of Colossians 2:8 elswhere in Scripture- This verse isn't quoted anywhere else in Scripture, as epistles tend not to be, but its themes can be seen almost anywhere. The reason God gives Israel the law and commands them to destroy the nations around them is so that they don't fall into their beliefs and practices (Ex. 23, Deut. 7:3-4). Paul warns Timothy to avoid the “irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge,' for by professing it some have swerved from the faith,” (1 Tim. 6:20-21). This is exactly the same concern that Paul has for the church in Colossae.

Relation of Colossians 2:8 to the Rest of Scripture- God's people are to guard their hearts and minds from false teachings so that they don't go astray and commit adultery against their Lord. This is why God had Israel destroy all of the cities and idols in the land He was giving them, so that they wouldn't adopt the ways of those other nations. Colossians 2:8 is an unequivocal reminder that we need to guard our minds from deceitful philosophies, since because of them some have “swerved from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:21). How to do that is spelled out more in 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Use of Colossians 2:8 in Relation to Theology- Everything about the human condition is fallen, even the intellect. We are prone to believing false doctrines because we are gullible or rebellious. This verse emphasizes the importance of Christ in our lives. Abraham Kuyper once said there isn't one square inch of creation about which Jesus doesn't cry “This is mine!” Christ owns the mind as well as the heart, and our minds are to be subject to Him and His truth.

Life Issues Present in Colossians 2:8- This verse reminds us that sin corrupts our intellect just as much as everything else, and we need to guard it. We're “prone to wander” from God, and we need to think clearly about the different claims we hear espoused throughout the world. We shouldn't just believe everything, but ask “Is this Christ exalting or diminishing?” “Does this contradict what the Scriptures say?” “Does this glorify God?”

Audience and Categories of Application of Colossians 2:8-

Audience- Paul was clearly writing this for the church in Colossae, but he also wanted it to be read to the church in Laodicea (4:16). Much of this letter applies to all Christians at all times. Even non-Christians can hear important truths in this passage, because they're already falling for these deceits and need a change of mind that will lead them to Christ. The message Paul espouses in Colossians can be very helpful for us in the modern world since we're exposed to opposing opinions and worldviews all the time. Many times the deceitful philosophies we see in books, movies, television, and video games are so subtle that we don't notice the effect they're having on us. The specifics may not apply to us today, but the principle will always be important.

Categories- Colossians mostly deals with the human tendency to diminish Christ in our minds through erroneous philosophes.

Time Focus and Limits of Application of Colossians 2:8- While Paul is responding to some specific teachings that we may not encounter today, the principles he teaches are timeless. We all have the capacity to fall away from the truth because we were persuaded away by false doctrines. We need to trust in the one from whom true knowledge and wisdom come, and that is from Christ (2:2-3). All who listen to His words are on the side of truth (Jn. 18:37)