Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Resurrection and Christology/Early Jewish Monotheism

The Resurrection and Christology/Early Jewish Monotheism

The Tanakh: acronym that is formed from the first three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings). The Tanakh is referred to the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the New Testament writers also call the Old Testament “Scripture.” The reason the New Testament writers cite the Tanakh so often is that they understood it to be God’s authoritative Word to mankind.

James Charlesworth asserts that we must differentiate between Christology and messianology.
Christology is the study of the Jesus as the Christ (the Messiah) while messianology is the ideas that arose out of early Judaism about a variety of so-called messianic figures, including prophets, priests and kings.

When it comes to the Christian faith, there is no doctrine more important than the resurrection of Jesus. Biblical faith is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings. Instead, it is founded on the person and work of Jesus. No other world religion lays claim to its founder being bodily resurrected from the dead. From a soteriological perspective, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, we as His followers are still dead in our sins (1 Corinthians 15: 7). Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even of he dies.” Jesus could not have made full atonement for our sins without the resurrection. Also, through the resurrection, Jesus took on the role as advocate and intercessor (1 John 2:2; Romans 8:34).His resurrection also guaranteed us the opportunity of having a resurrected body’s like His (1 Cor. 15:20-23, 51-53; 1 Pet 1:3; Phil 3:20-21; John 5:25-29). If Jesus did not rise from the dead, he fails the test for a true prophet (Deut 18:20). The resurrection also marked Jesus as the one who will be the judge all men (Acts 17:31).

It has been said over and over that there many messianic figures in the first century.The term “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah ,”which appears thirty-nine times in the Old Testament. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was the official title for Jesus within the New Testament. Within the Tanakh, the term “Messiah” was used in a general sense in relationship to kings, priests, and prophets. The messianic expectation at the time of Jesus was by no means monolithic. However, just as in the first century, one of the contentions in the Jewish community is that Jesus cannot be the Messiah because he died. Within the first century, messianic movements tried to carry on after the death of their would-be Messiah. In relation to a crucified Messiah, Jewish people in the first century were familiar with Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “ If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

As N.T. Wright says, If nothing happened to the body of Jesus, I cannot see why any of his explicit or implicit claims should be regarded as true. What is more, I cannot as a historian, see why anyone would have continued to belong to his movement and to regard him as the Messiah. There were several other Messianic or quasi-Messianic movements within a hundred years either side of Jesus. Routinely, they ended with the leader being killed by authorities, or by a rival group. If your Messiah is killed, you conclude that he was not the Messiah. Some of those movements continued to exist; where they did, they took a new leader from the same family (But note: Nobody ever said that James, the brother of Jesus, was the Messiah.) Such groups did not go around saying that their Messiah had been raised from the dead. What is more, I cannot make sense of the whole picture, historically or theologically, unless they were telling the truth. (1)

But could a dying Messiah provoke a major shift in the devotional practice of first-century Jews? One of the most interesting and crucial debates in Christian scholarship is how Jesus’ divine status came to be in light of a strict adherence to Jewish monotheism. And how did the origin of Jesus’ divine status happen within the framework of Jewish monotheism and how could it have happened so suddenly? One feature that stands out about Jewish monotheism in the first century is that there was a refusal to accept and worship any other deities of a Roman religious environment. It was forbidden for Jews to commit what was called “apotheosis,” which can be defined as the refusal to accept human figures as divine. It was clear that Jews made a distinction between the God of Israel and any of the exalted figures who could be seen as prominent in God’s entourage such as Moses or Enoch. How important was the devotional practice in Jewish monotheism? As Richard Bauckham says, “In exclusive monotheism of the Jewish religious tradition, as distinct from some other kind of monotheism, it was worship which was the real test of monotheistic faith in religious practice.” (2) So do we see devotional actions that are to be taken to be as “worship” in the specific sense of reverence that devout monotheists would reserve for God alone? Jews in the first century were certainly familiar with the passage in Numbers 23:19 that says, ‘”God is not a man.” There are even Rabbinic commentaries that state that this passage was given “because Balaam foresaw that a certain man would lead mortals astray by claiming to be God.”

In his book, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion And Ancient Jewish Monotheism, New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado asks the following questions: Do we have a devotional pattern is open, corporate, and public? So what kind of devotional changes do we see in the early messianic community? Critics are correct to note that acts of veneration toward a specific individual do not always imply deity or deification. What needs to be asked is whether a specific figure can be identified as the recipient of honors that are reserved for God alone. If the first followers of Jesus expressed such honors in the context of religious activity or spiritual devotion to this figure, such honors can and do indicate that such honors regard him as God.

Within Jewish monotheism in the first century, there was a refusal to accept and worship any deities of a Roman religious environment. It was absolutely forbidden for Jews to commit what was called “apotheosis,” which can be defined as the refusal to accept human figures as divine. In light of this issue, how is it that a community of monotheistic Jewish people ended up giving Jesus the same honors and spiritual devotion that we reserved for the God of Israel alone? And furthermore, this transformation can be observed in a very short time after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hurtado notes that the devotional practice of the early followers of Jesus demonstrate the same devotion and honors that were revered for the God of Israel were given to Jesus Christ. What are some of these devotional practices? First, there are hymns to Jesus (John 1:1-18; Col 1:15-20; Phil 2:5-11; Rev 4:8,11; 5:9-10;15:14; and other passages that are hymnlike in form and function: Rev 5:13-14 (a doxology); 7:15-17;11:15. Second, there are prayers to Jesus: we see prayer to Jesus in prayer-like expressions such as “grace and peace” greetings at the beginning of Paul’s letters and in the benedictions at the end.

Examples in the former are seen in Rom 1:7; 1 Cor:1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3-4; Phil.1:2 and Philem. 3, where there is the liturgical-sounding formula “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the [or “our”] Lord Jesus Christ (Jesus the Messiah).” 1 Corinthians is dated between 50 A.D. and 55 A.D. which makes it one of the earliest books in the New Testament about the historical life of Jesus. One passage that stands out is 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha.” Maranatha means “Our Lord Come!” Because this liturgical expression was present at the worship gathering for Jesus to come eschatologically, it is evident that this was a plea that was a widely known feature of early Christian worship that started among Aramaic-speaking believers and had also become a part of the prayers among Pauline Christians. Hurtado says, “What is even more significant is that there is nothing in comparison to a corporate invocation to Jesus to any other group related to a Jewish tradition at that time period."

This indicates that for the early messianic community, the willingness to include Jesus into public devotional life is to place Jesus in a role attributed to God in Jewish expectation. Third, by observing that the first Christians were calling upon the name of Jesus as Lord (Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16;1 Cor 1:2; Rom 10:13), it can be noted that this is the same pattern that is used in the Tanakh where it refers to “calling upon the Lord”(Gen 12:8;13:4 ;21:23 ;26:25; Psalms 99:6;105:1; Joel 2:32). The heavy reliance upon the Tanakh should be no surprise since the first followers of Jesus were exclusively Jews. The book of Acts gives a reference to the early followers of Jesus as “the sect of Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).

Fourth, the Lord’s Supper is another significant part of the early worship practice of the first followers of Jesus.1 Corinthians 11:22-36 is proof that some sort of some sacred meal tradition goes back earlier than Paul’s commitment to becoming a follower of Jesus. Fifth, we see that there was a pattern of confessing Jesus in passages such as Matt 10:32; John 9:22;1 John 1: 4:2-3; 15. “Confessing Jesus” was applied to owning up before others who did not share it (Matt 10:32), and to affirming ones faith before the gathering of believers (Rom 10:9). In Romans 10:9-13, Paul makes “Confessing Jesus as Lord” the verbal mark of being a follower of the Messiah. In the New Testament Christians are called to fear or revere Jesus (Eph 5:21;1 Peter 3:14-16), serve him (Dan 7:14), and love him (John 14:15, 21; Eph. 6:24) just as we do with God. Therefore, what has the best explanatory power for the early devotional practice of first messianic community? Could it have happened without a resurrection?

1. John Dominic Crossan and N.T Wright. The Resurrection of Jesus. Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press. 2006, 71. 3.
2.Larry W. Hurtado. One Lord, One God: Early Christian Devotion And Ancient Jewish Montheism. Philadeplphia, PA. Fortress Press. 1988. 38.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Science and Faith

Science and Faith

Unfortunately, a good majority of people in our culture see no relationship between faith and knowledge. One of the contributing factors to this problem is the impact of scientism on our culture. While the Christian worldview is not opposed to science, it does recognize the limitations of science in relation to the discovery of human knowledge. After all, academic disciplines such as logic, ethics, history, and art cannot be shown to be true utilizing the scientific method.

Furthermore, many people forget that science cannot be done without philosophy. Philosophical assumptions are utilized in the search for causes. Therefore, they cannot be the result of them. For example, scientists assume that reason and the scientific method is the only reliable way to discover knowledge in the world around us. Unfortunately, there is a tendancy to forget that we can’t prove the tools of science-the laws of logic, the law of causality, the principle of uniformity, or the reliability of observation by running an experiment. These are the tools that have to be in place in order to do science!

Furthermore, apart from a Judeo-Christian worldview, there would be no science. Have you ever noticed why science did not originate in China, Russia, or Eastern cultures such as India, etc.? The reason is because these countries never embraced theism as a worldview. In order to embrace theism as a worldview, one must embrace the God of the Bible as the First Cause and Designer of the universe, life, and the laws of nature. Anyway, here are some of the first scientists who were theists:
Johann Kepler (1571–1630), celestial mechanics, physical astronomy
Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), hydrostatics
Robert Boyle (1627–1691), chemistry, gas dynamics
Nicholas Steno (1638–1687), stratigraphy
Isaac Newton (1642–1727), calculus, dynamics
Michael Faraday (1791–1867), field theory
Charles Babbage (1792–1871), computer science
Louis Agassiz (1807–1873), glacial geology, ichthyology
James Simpson (1811–1870), gynecology
Gregor Mendel (1822–1884), genetics
Louis Pasteur (1822–1895), bacteriology
William Kelvin (1824–1907), energetics, thermodynamics
Joseph Lister (1827–1912), antiseptic surgery
James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), electrodynamics, statistical thermodynamics
William Ramsay (1852–1916), isotopic chemistry (1)

In Ian Barbour's book Religion in an Age of Science, Barbour describes scientism's exalted view of the scientific method.

As Barbour says:
"Science starts from reproducible public data. Theories are formulated and their implications are tested against experimental observations. Additional criteria of coherence, comprehensiveness, and fruitfulness influence choice among theories. Religious beliefs are not acceptable, in this view, because religion lacks public data, such as experiential testing, and such criteria of evaluation. Science alone is objective, open-minded, universal, cumulative, and progressive. Religious traditions, by contrast, are said to be subjective, closed-minded, parochial, uncritical, and resistant to change."

In his book The Limits of Science, Nicholas Rescher offers a helpful comment about this issue. Rescher says,
"The theorist who maintains that science is the be-all and end-all –that what is not in science textbooks is not worth knowing-is an ideologist with a peculiar and distorted doctrine of his own. For him, science is no longer a sector of the cognitive enterprise but an all-inclusive world-view. This is the doctrine not of science but of scientism. To take this stance is not to celebrate science but to distort it. "

To read a great article on some of the limitations and issues of the scientific method click here: David J. Hill: Letting Some Air out of the Scientific Method

1. Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, 167-169.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Messianic Task

As of today, one of the main objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. For the Jewish community, the messianic idea is somewhat pragmatic. In other words,“What difference does the Messiah make in the world?" For the Jewish community, there are prophetic passages that discuss God manifesting his kingdom in the world by presenting himself as the King (Isa. 24:23; Zech. 9:9; 14:9). The Messiah is also supposed to enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Isa.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Micah 5:4-6) and usher in worldwide peace (Isa. 2:1-22; Micah 4:1-4). Hence, since the enemies of God and Israel have not been defeated, death is not destroyed and the world is in a state of chaos, the Jewish community continues to object to the assertion that Jesus is the Messiah that is foretold in the Tanakh.

The term “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah ,”which appears thirty-nine times in the Old Testament. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was the official title for Jesus within the New Testament. Within the Tanakh, the term “Messiah” was used in a general sense in relationship to kings, priests, and prophets. God would “anoint” people for specific tasks. In the context of kings and prophets, David was anointed by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 16:13), as well as the king of Judah (2 Sam 2:4).

Later, since God allowed David to be anointed as the king of Israel (2 Sam 5:3), David fulfilled both the role of both prophet and king. King Saul and Moses are two biblical figures that play a role in understanding the role of the Messiah. During his failed position as king, Saul had also been called the anointed one of the Lord (1 Sam 16:13). Moses, in his leadership role to Israel, was anointed by God in his role as a prophet and priest. He spoke as a prophet (Deut 18:20), but he also fulfilled the role of a priest or mediator for Israel in passages such as Numbers 11:11-21.
Furthermore, it is crucial to realize that the Tanakh does not explicitly teach that the Messiah comes once. Furthermore, it is imperative to read all the messianic passages about the Messiah. In the first century, the messianic expectation was by no means monolithic.

In looking at the messianic task of Jesus, His work is broken up into a series of stages:

1. The Messianic King was presented at John’s baptism (Matt. 3:1-17). In other words, this is when He was consecrated for the messianic task.

2. The actions of Jesus/His Miracles: A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are supernatural but not anti-natural. If a miracle occurs, it is not the violation or contradiction of the ordinary laws of cause and effect, but rather a new effect produced by the introduction of a supernatural cause. Natural law describes naturally caused regularities; a miracle is a supernaturally caused singularity. Miracles in the Bible are connected directly or indirectly with “truth claims.” They are ways to tell a true prophet from a false prophet (Deut. 18:22). They confirm the truth of God through the servant of God (Heb. 2:3–4). A miracle is the sign that confirms the sermon. Message and miracle go hand-in-hand. Miracles have a distinctive purpose: to glorify the Creator and to provide evidence for people to believe by accrediting the message of God through the prophet of God. (1)

The book of Matthew records that some Pharisees and teachers of the law still demanded a confirming sign: “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” Jesus refused on this day, not because miracles did not constitute a sign of his identity, but because the question was asked in contempt and unbelief. Instead, Jesus announced that soon they would have the greatest confirming sign of all: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt. 12:38–39). Just as Jonah was in the fish’s belly three days, so Jesus was in the grave and then returned to life. He offered the miraculous sign of his resurrection as proof that he was the Jewish Messiah. John sent messengers to ask Jesus whether he was the Messiah. “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor’ ” (Luke 7:20–22).

Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “ ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (John 3:1–2). In his great sermon on Pentecost, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22).(2)

As Howard Kee, specialist in the study of Gospel miracles says, "The OT Judaism God is the one who heals all of Israel's diseases. Jesus in effect takes God's place as the healer of Israel." Jesus' authority is evident as his role as an exorcist. He said, "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, than the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20). This is significant for 3 reasons:(1) it shows that Jesus claimed divine authority over evil; (2) It shows Jesus believed the kingdom of God had arrived; in Judaism, the kingdom would come at the end of history; (3) Jesus was in effect saying that in himself, God had drawn near, therefore He was putting himself in God's place. (3)

Also, in the Tanakh, God is the only one to master the forces of nature with His word alone. God is the one who threatens the stormy waters, in passages such as (Ps 104:7; 29:3; 77:16). It also says in Psalm 89:9, "You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them," and in Psalm 65:7, "You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves." Just as the God of Israel, we see that Jesus demonstrates the ability to have power over nature. We see this in passages such as Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8: 22-25.

Within the context of first-century Jewish miracle workers, how much weight should be given to Jesus’ miracles? As Ben Witherington III says,"The miracles themselves raise the question but do not fully provide the answer of who Jesus was; what is important from an historical point of view is not the miracle themselves, which were not unprecedented, but Jesus’ unique interpretation of the miracles as signs of the dominion’s inbreaking, and also the signs of who he was: the fulfiller of the Old Testament promises about the blind seeing, the lame walking and the like." (4)

3. The Messianic King was crucified. He then rose from the dead and ascended (1 Cor.15:1-17; Acts 1: 9-11). In relation to a crucified, atoning Messiah, The Shottenstein Talmud, a comprehensive Orthodox Jewish commentary states the following about Isaiah 53:
"They [namely, those sitting with Messiah] were afflicted with tzaraas- as disease whose symptoms include discolored patches on the skin (see Leviticus ch. 13). The Messiah himself is likewise afflicted, as stated in Isaiah (53:4). Indeed, it was our diseases that he bore and our pains that he endured, whereas we considered him plagued (i.e. suffering tzaraas [see 98b, note 39], smitten by God and afflicted. This verse teaches that the diseases that the people ought to have suffered because of their sins are borne instead by the Messiah [with reference to the leading Rabbinic commentaries]." (5)

As it says in Isaiah 53:10, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. In order for the Servant to make full expiation, he made his soul an “asham” i.e.,” a propitiatory victim for sin on which the guilt and penalty being laid, ceases to be imputed to us.

4. His current messianic work is a priest-advocate (1 John 2:2; Rom 8:34). In the New Testament, Hebrews 7:1-27 goes to great length to explain the typological connection between Melchizedek and the Son of God. The author of Hebrews uses Melchizedek as a picture of Jesus because both Melchizedek and Jesus do not have to rely upon descent as Aaron’s sons did in order to operate their priesthoods. Jesus did not belong to the priestly tribe of Levi, but instead came through the kingly tribe Judah. While the author of Hebrews portrays Melchizedek as a priest who abides forever in a pictorial sense, Jesus abides as a priest forever in an actual sense.If Jesus’ intention was to perform the role of a priest in an eternal sense, He would have to be sanctified, or consecrated for the purpose of atoning for the sins of the world. Jesus comments on this issue in John 17:19, “For them I sanctify myself, that they may too be truly sanctified.”

Also, as for the “Son of God” term, a crucial passage is in Romans 1:4 where Paul says Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Therefore, the resurrection plays a pivotal role in understanding how Jesus is the “Son of God.” Skarsaune concludes that “God’s Son” is not an ontological description of Jesus’ status, but instead a messianic title: he entered his messianic office by being raised and exalted from the dead. Hence, the ultimate “work” of the Messiah is the resurrection. In order for Jesus to function as a priest forever according to Melchizedek (Psalm 110:1-4), He has to be resurrected from the dead. (6)

5. One day, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God (Isa. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Isa. 11:11-12; 24:23; Micah 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).


1. Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, 454. See Geisler, N.L. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 82-96.
2. Ibid.
3. Craig, W. L. Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaten, ILL : Crossway Books.1984, 233-54.
4. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 12.
5. Tractate Sanhedrin, Talmud Bavli, The Shottenstein Edition (Brooklyn, N.Y.Mesorah, 1995), vol 3 98a5, emphasis in original; cited in Brown, M. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol 3. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 2000, 224.
6. Skarsaune, O. In The Shadow Of The Temple: Jewish Influences On Early Christianity, 307.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Is God Hiding?

Apologetics: Why Isn't God More Obvious? The God Who Hides and Seeks

One of the most important debates going on in our culture is the debate between atheism and theism. In the area of philosophy of religion, there is a topic called “The Hiddenness of God,” which asks questions such as, does the God of Bible hide from people? Is God simply interested in proving He exists to people? These are the kind of issues that are discussed in the following article by Christian philosopher Paul K. Moser.

Faith and Reason

Faith and Reason

Semantic Issues: Is there a relationship between faith and reason? For starters, there needs to be a definition of our terms.

Reason denotes the human function of using rational criteria to evaluate ideas. Or it can mean the relatively neutral human function for assessing evidence and arguments. Reason assesses knowledge claims; it does not generate them. Hence, to say humans only know things by reason is a circular argument.(1)

In relationship to reason, it is imperative to understand biblical anthropology (the study of humanity from a Christian/biblical perspective). As Norman Geisler says:
"God is a rational Being, and man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Since God thinks rationally, man was given the same capacity. Brute beasts, by contrast, are called “irrational” (Jude 10). The basis laws of human reason are common to believer and unbeliever; without them, there would be no writing, thinking, or rational inference. Nowhere are these laws spelled out in the Bible. Rather, they are part of God’s general revelation and special object of philosophical thought." (2)

In their book 101 Key Terms In Philosophy And Their Importance For Theology, authors K.J Clark, R. Lints, and James K.A. Smith define rationality as the quality of an individual who has done her best to acquire true beliefs. The goal of being rational is to acquire true beliefs. Rationalism as a philosophy stresses reason as the means of determining truth.We are truth seekers and reason is a means to that end. Rationality is a matter of how one believes, not what one believes. In a negative sense, rationalists who share the same attitudes of Enlightenment skeptics tend to stress that all knowledge claims must have an extremely high level of certainty (including the knowledge of God).

The rationalism associated with Enlightenment skepticism can be labeled as what Francis Schaeffer termed "autonomous reason," which is the haughty human attempt to build a worldview without recourse to God. This form of reason claims priority and ultimacy for itself. (3) While the Christian is called to use good reason (hence, he is called to be rational), which the Bible commends to discover truth (Isa 1:18; Matt 22:27;1 Peter 3:15), he is also called to avoid the rationalism of the Enlightenment.

Part of the debate about reason and rationality in relationship to faith centers around evidentialism, which maintains that one must have evidence and arguments for one's beliefs (in God) to be rational. Therefore, in the case of God, who isn't a physical object but a invisible divine being, it is imperative to clarify what qualifies as evidence. Clark, Lint, and Smith define sensible evidentialism as the view that belief in God is rational because someone in the theistic community has evidence for God's existence.

According to sensible evidentialism, is it realistic to think that God would require people to become specialists in a variety of academic disciplines such as philosophy, history, linguistics, theology, biology, cosmology, etc. before they make a commitment to follow Him? After all, is God playing hard to get?

Rationality is not identical with truth since a person may hold a belief for "good reasons" and yet believe what is false. Suppose Sam believes the testimony of an otherwise reliable person about an event. Unknown to Sam, the person is lying, though Sam has no good reason to believe that person is lying. Sam believes what he is told and appears to have followed rational procedures and yet believes falsely. So a person may rationally hold a false belief. Rationality is also person- and situation-specific. That is, what is rational for one person at a particular sociohistorical time and place might not be rational for another person at a particular time and place. For example, it used to be rational for most people to believe the earth is flat, but that is no longer acceptable.(4)

Biblical faith is belief, trust, or commitment in God through Jesus the Messiah. Biblical faith involves an objective element (the existence of God, Jesus' resurrection), and the subjective appropriation, moved by the grace of God, of those truths. (5) For example, in James 2:19, it says that the demons believe that God exists. Objectively speaking, the Holy Spirit works in conjunction with the evidence for the truthfulness of the Christian faith to enable us to understand that God exists. However, from a subjective perspective, we also must place our trust in God, which can only happen with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 16: 12-15). A good example of this is seen in Acts 17:1-4, “And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ. And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women." In this passage, we see that the Holy Spirit worked through the objective evidence (the Tanakh), which caused some of Paul's audience to place their trust in the Jewish Messiah.

In the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings), the Hebrew word for heart is "leb," or "lebad." While the word "heart" is used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a biblical standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the seat of the person's intellectual, emotional, affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the word “heart” (Gr.kardia) came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements. Therefore, biblcial faith involves a commitment of the whole person.

Faith and the resurrection: In 1 Cor 15: 1-17, Paul discusses the truth of Jesus' resurrection. It is important to note that a Christian's faith in the resurrection of Jesus will not change whether Jesus objectively rose from the dead in the context of time, space, and history. In other words, a Christian's faith cannot change the history of the past. The first followers of Jesus had a clear understanding about the relationship between faith and history.

As New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III says:
"Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it. " (6)

In relation to faith and reason, one passage that is misunderstood is Matthew 18:3-5 when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” In interpreting this passage, it is important to note that Jesus challenged his followers to be like children morally, not intellectually. Christians are called to exhibit childlikeness in being sensitive to evil and sin, in being humble and contrite in spirit. Jesus contrasts the need for humility with tough-mindness in Matt. 10:16, when He says, " Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." (8)

Another passage that causes the confusion between faith and reason is 1 Corinthians 1: 19-21:" For it is written, I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." I have heard many people use this passages as a proof-text that God is against reason. Is this correct? It is important to note that Greek orators prided themselves with possessing “persuasive words of wisdom,” and it was their practice to persuade a crowd of any side of an issue for the right price. So, since Paul is most likely condemning hubris (which is the Greek word for a form of pride that is arrogant, self-confident and overbearing), Paul is against false pride, or prideful use of reason, not reason itself. (9)

Religious fideism argues matters of faith and religious belief are not supported by reason. Religion is a matter of faith and cannot be argued by reason. One must simply believe. Faith, not reason, is what God requires (Heb. 11:6). Fideists are skeptical with regard to the nature of evidence as applied to belief. Since there is very little discipleship about the relationship between faith and reason, most Christians fall into the mindset of fideism. (10)

Reason and Revelation- Why God Expects His Children To Use Reason

Reason also utilizes the laws of logic (the law of non-contradiction- A is not non-A; the law of identity- A is A; the law of excluded middle- either- A or non-A). When speaking about logic, most of Western culture appeals to formal logic which is the study of the principles and methods of argumentation. This method of logic finds its origin in the ancient Greek philosophers Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. In Greek logic, we use the methods of valid thinking that enable us to draw proper conclusions from premises. In many cases, this kind of logic it is very helpful.
One objection may be that logic makes God subject to human logic. Is not God beyond logic? This objection confuses the source of logic; logic flows from the nature of God, not from humans. God determined logic; Aristotle discovered it and put it into writing.

Since we see in Scripture that the God of Israel is a rational being, principles of good reason do flow from his very nature. For example, “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18), and God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13). (11) Furthermore, since humans are created in the image of God, logic is not opposed to revelation; it is part of it. Learning the rules of clear and correct reasoning play an integral part in our service to our Lord. (12)

There is another aspect to logic that Marvin Wilson talks about in Our Father Abraham: The Jewish Roots of Christianity. The Jewish people often made use of block logic. That is, concepts were expressed in self-contained units or blocks of thought. These blocks did not necessarily fit together in any obviously rational or harmonious pattern, particularly when one block represented the human perspective on truth and the other represented the divine. This way of thinking created a propensity for paradox, antinomy, or apparent contradiction, as one block stood in tension—often illogical relation—to the other. Therefore, we see that a polarity of thought or dialectic often characterized block logic.(13)

As we look to the Scriptures, do we see anywhere where Jesus utilized critical thinking methods? After examining several passages about this very issue, Douglas Groothuis concluded:
"Our sampling of Jesus’ reasoning, however, brings into serious question the indictment that Jesus praised uncritical faith over rational arguments and that He had no truck with logical consistency. On the contrary, Jesus never demeaned the proper and rigorous functioning of our God-given minds. His teaching appealed to the whole person: the imagination (parables), the will, and reasoning abilities. For all their honesty in reporting the foibles of the disciples, the Gospel writers never narrated a situation in which Jesus was intellectually stymied or bettered in an argument; neither did Jesus ever encourage an irrational or ill-informed faith on the part of His disciples. " (14)

Reason also includes systematic criteria. In using systematic criteria, an individual appraises the truth of a system of thought. These criteria do not produce systems of thought; instead they judge them. David Wolfe has identified four ways in which one may judge a system of thought: consistency (meaning ideas do not contradict each other) and coherence (the ideas have a positive fit). These are the rational criteria. Comprehensiveness (a system of thought that incorporates the broad range of experience) and congruence (the idea fits human experience) are part of the empirical criteria. (15)

The Bible calls for a balanced view between reason and revelation. In relationship to a Biblical worldview, the word “revelation” comes from the Greek word “apokalupsis” which means “an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is infinite and transcendent while man is finite, God takes the initiative in revealing himself to mankind. Therefore, the rationalism of the Enlightenment is nothing more than what philosopher Paul Moser calls a "cognitive idolatry." (16)

Furthermore, the Bible stresses that humans are blinded by sin. This is sometimes called the noetic effects of sin. This phrase denotes the damaging consequences human sin has on the knowing process (Isa. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13; 2 Cor. 4:4). (17). Also, in the Tanakh and the New Testament, knowledge involves active participation. According to the Hebrew view of knowledge, the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance and error. Instead, it is often related to disobedience, rebellion, and sin. (18)

As the late Jewish scholar Abraham J. Heschel said, “The God of Israel is a God who acts, a God of mighty deeds."(19) God has taken the initiative to reveal Himself to mankind through general revelation (the created order, the conscience), as well as special revelation (miracles, theophanies, the Messiah, the Bible, and messengers who share the Messiah with others). We see how the rationalist theologian Jonathan Edwards made an important distinction: All truth is given by revelation, either general or special, and it must be received by reason. Reason is the God-given means for discovering the truth that God discloses, whether in his world or his Word. While God wants to reach the heart with truth, he does not bypass the mind along the way. Therefore, in the example of Edwards, there is great value in Christian rationalism. (20)

There are reasons as to why the the “revelation only” view has some criticisms. There are several faiths that claim to be founded on divine revelation. After looking at the following religious claims, it is evident that it is impossible to not use the law of non-contradiction which states that two opposite views cannot be true at the same time. Without the law of non-contradiction, we could not say God is not non-God (G is not non-G). Regarding the deity of Jesus, here are the claims about Him from various faiths.

Orthodox Christianity/ Messianic Judaism: Jesus is both God and man/Jesus is an uncreated being. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah as foretold in the Tanakh.

Islam/Traditional Judaism: Jesus in not God and man.Traditional Judaism says Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah as foretold in the Tanakh. Islam's founder is Mohammed who was forty years old when he began having visions accompanied by violent convulsions during which he received his revelation from Allah. His writings are called the Koran, which he claims were dictated to him directly by the Angel Gabriel. Islam states Jesus was never crucified, and therefore, never risen.

Mormonism claims to be founded on divine revelation. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed to have received personal revelation from God on the basis of two visions, (the first allegedly given to him in 1820, the second one in 1823). The Bible asserts that Jesus is that He is uncreated (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17) while the Mormon claim is that Jesus is a created being.

The Watchtower Society/Jehovah Witnesses: Jesus is not God and man/Jesus is a created being.

Buddhism/Hinduism-are not theistic faiths, they are pantheistic (all is God). Therefore, they are already different from Christianity. Buddhism teaches that Jesus was an enlightened man, but not God. Hinduism says that Jesus was a good teacher and perhaps an incarnation of Brahman who is an impersonal, supreme being. Therefore, it does not take a rocket scientist to see that it is impossible to not use reason in evaluating contradictory religious claims.

As John P. Newport says,
"No sane person tries to accept as authoritative revelation from God all writings which are self-declared to be such. However eager we may be for harmony and tolerance, we cannot be intellectually honest unless we face the fact that there is a real contradiction between conflicting truth claims. As we reflect on how we are created in the image of God, we need to remember that we are creatures of both will and mind, of faith and reason. We are called to think as well as act and feel; therefore our faith will always have a rational element to it." (21)

1. Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993,84-87.
2. Geisler, N.L. Systematic Theology: Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers. 2002, 91.
3. Clark, 14.
4. Clark, K.J., Lints, R., and James K.A. Smith. 101 Key Terms In Philosophy And Their Importance For Theology. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, 78-79.
5. Ibid, 26.
6. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 167.
7. Clark, Lints, and Smith, 79.
8. Clark, 20-21.
9. Moreland, J.P and Craig, W.L. Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 2003, 18-19.
10. Geisler, N. L.: Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 1999, 634.
11. H. Wayne House and Joseph M. Holden. Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2006, C
12. Geisler, N.L. and Brooks. R. Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.1990, 5.
13. Wilson M. Our Father Abraham: The Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B.Eerdmans Publishing Co.1989, 150-153.
14. Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist by Douglas Groothuis. Available at
15. Clark, 85-86.
16. See Moser, P. Why Isn't God More Obvious: Finding the God Who Hides and Seeks. Available at
17. Clark, 22.
18. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 440.
19. Heshel, A.J. The Prophets. New York, N.Y: 1962 Reprint. Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers. 2003, 44
20. Geisler, N. L.: Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 1999, 634.
21. Newport, 452-453.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Worldviews and the Election

Thoughts on this election

According to a Barna report, 9% of Christians have a worldview. How does a biblical worldview influence one's view of government and the election? If only 9% of Christians have a biblical worldview, it may make very little difference.

Do you have a worldview?

Worldview Apologetics

Do you have worldview? The term worldview is used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. (1) Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an "outlook" or an "attitude." Each person's worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience. (2) Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:
Creation: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
Morality: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong?
History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
Death: What happens to a person at death?
Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
Purpose: What is man's purpose in the world? (3)

Perhaps we may ask, how does one decide on a worldview? Here are a few guidelines:

Reason has to be utilized which includes systematic criteria. In using systematic criteria, an individual appraises the truth of a system or worldview.These criteria do not produce systems of thought; instead they judge them. David Wolfe has identified four ways in which one may judge a system of thought: consistency (meaning ideas do not contradict each other) and coherence (the ideas have a positive fit). These are the rational criteria. Comprehensiveness (a system of thought that incorporates the broad range of experience) and congruence (the idea fits human experience) are part of the empirical criteria.(4)

First of all, a worldview must be consistent: Reason utilizes the laws of logic (the law of non-contradiction- A is not non-A; the law of identity- A is A; the law of excluded middle- either- A or non-A). The laws of logic have to be used in evaluating a worldview. If contradiction is a sign of falsity, then noncontradiction (or consistency) is a necessity for truth. A real contradiction occurs when two truth claims are given and one is the logical opposite of the other (they are logically contradictory, not merely contrary).(5)

Two worldviews that make opposite truth claims are naturalism and biblical theism. The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are supernatual but not anti-natural. If a miracle occurs, it is not the violation or contradiction of the ordinary laws of cause and effect, but rather a new effect produced by the introduction of a supernatural cause. Natural law describes naturally caused regularities; a miracle is a supernatually caused singularity. Christian theism is not opposed to natural causes and certainly admits that God does work through natural causes. However, the Christian theist is open to the possibility of a supernatual, or intelligent cause. (6)

Remember, in a Christian worldview, the universe was created from nothing (ex nihilo). After all, something can't come from nothing since nothing does not even exist. One of the classical or traditional arguments for God's existence is the cosmological argument. While Christian apologist William Lane Craig has revived the horizontal form of the cosmological argument, Thomas Aquinas left the church with an apologetic for the vertical form of the cosmological argument. While the former centers on how the universe began in some time in the past, the latter focuses on how the universe exists at this very moment. In other words, the horizontal form is interested in originating causality or the First Cause of the universe while the vertical form defends the need for conserving causality or a Sustainer of the universe.

Secondly, a worldview must be comprehensive: A worldview should cover the whole world of reality. A worldview must provide adequate answers to the worldview questions mentioned above.

Third, a worldview must be livable: After all, a worldview is not just a philosophical system but something that can be attempted to live out each day. Thus, if some views are not livable, then they are not adequate. However, remember that what works is not always true. Lies work very well for many people, but that does not make a lie true.(7) Truth is determined by what corresponds to reality, not simply results. Therefore, while a pragmatic test is helpful, it cannot be the only test for the truthfulness of a worldview.

Fourth, a good worldview will have explanatory power: When examining how a worldview needs explanatory power, it is important to emphasize that a good worldview needs to avoid both extremes of being neither too simple or too complex. In his book called A Case For Christian Theism, Arlie J. Hoover uses the famous “Occam’s razor test.” William of Occam (1300-1349) supposedly said, “Do not multiply entities without necessity” which basically means to resist the temptation to make our explanations too complex. On the other hand, the worldview should not be so simplistic that it commits the reductive fallacy. In other words, it cannot be too simple. (8)

Fifth, a worldview is an issue of the heart: As worldview analyst David K. Naugle says, “The heart of the matter is that worldview is a matter of the heart. Thus, when “worldview” is reinterpreted in light of the doctrine of the heart, not only is its true source located, but it becomes a richer concept than its philosophical counterpart, being more than just a reference to an abstract thesis about reality, but an Hebraic expression of the existential condition of the whole person.”(9) The Hebrew word for heart is "leb," or "lebad." While the word "heart" is used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a Biblical standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the center of the person's intellectual, emotional, affective, religious and volitional life. In other words, the “heart” plays an integral role in how a man or woman sees the world. The heart establishes the presuppositions of life and, because of its life-determining influence, must always be guarded. (10)

To see an chart on the various worldviews- click here:

1. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.
2. Ibid.
3. Pearcey, N. Total Truth. Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2004, 25-28.
4. Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993, 85-86.
5. Geisler, N.L. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 82-96.
6. Ibid, 40-63.
7. Ibid, 110-124.
8. Hoover, A.J. The Case for Christian Theism. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1976, 52.
9. Naugle, D.K. Worldview: The History Of A Concept. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans. 2002, 266-274. 10. Ibid, 266-274.

What is Apologetics?

What is Apologetics?
What is apologetics? For starters, apologetics is not about apologizing for being a follower of Jesus. One of the primary passages that is used in discussing apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15 which says, "But in your hearts acknowledge Christ as the holy Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to every one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have yet with gentleness and respect.” In the context of this passage, Peter is writing to a group of persecuted Christians. The word “Lord” (Gr. kyrios), is an indication of Jesus’ divine status (Acts 2:34-36). Peter does not just suggest we be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us, but he commands that we do it! As Christians are called to give a reason for the hope within them, it is imperative to be both gentle and respectful. In defining apologetics, the word "Apologia" (in general, meaning defense), and its verbal form "apolgoumai" (make a defense) are words used in classical Greek, in New Testament Greek, and also in Patristic writings.

Jesus calls his people to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19). Within the context of Matthew 28:19, apologetics is part of that discipling or teaching ministry.

Apologetics plays an instrumental role in spiritual maturity. In relation to apologetics, Christian philosopher Stephen T. Davis says:

"In truth, faith needs apologetics. It needs it both to answer both the negative arguments of the resurrection and to construct positive arguments in favor of it. Apologetics will not create faith, but perhaps, for some, it will pave the way for it or make it possible. Evans goes on to say, What is destructive of genuine Christian faith, in my opinion, is not apologetics, but unfounded beliefs, unjustified commitments, unsound arguments, and “irrational leaps of faith.” It is the aim of apologetics to prevent Christian faith from amounting to anything like that."