Friday, May 29, 2009
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.The Enlightenment created a challenge for Christian philosophers to answer the evidentialist’s objection to religious belief. Philosopher William Clifford made the evidentialist objection famous by stating the following: "If a belief has been accepted on insufficient evidence, the pleasure is a stolen one. Not only does it deceive ourselves by giving us a sense of power which we do not really possess, but it is sinful, because it is stolen in defiance of our duty to mankind.That duty is to guard ourselves from such beliefs as from a pestilence which may shortly master our body and spread to the rest of the town. To sum up: It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." (Delaney, C.F. Rationality and Religious Belief. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), 10.
Many people attempt to apply Clifford’s objection to religious belief. However, as much as the skeptic likes to rely on the Clifford objection, it is nothing but a self-defeating statement. In other words, Clifford's objection can't meet it's own standard of acceptability. When a statement is included in its own subject matter and fails to satisfy its own standards of acceptability, it is self-defeating. Some examples of self-defeating statements are seen in statements such as “I cannot write a word of English;” “there is no truth;” and “there are no truths that cannot be verified scientifically, with the five senses."
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. It is during these types of debates where the "hard rationalism" of many skeptics and atheists rears it's ugly head. The evidential issue is sometimes seen as the need to find some sort of infallible “proof” for God’s existence. When a “proof” is given, it is many times given in the form of a deductive argument which includes two premises and a conclusion. For example, the horizontal cosmological argument is as follows:
1. Everything that comes to be is caused by another.
2. The universe came to be.
3. Therefore, the universe was caused by another.
The form or logical structure of an argument must be valid. A good proof is a sound argument that causes another person to accept its conclusion. While theists may present what they consider to be sound arguments for God’s existence there are always those who walk away disappointed. In other words, while the theist may find an argument to be persuasive and sound, the skeptic always finds what they think is a problem with the argument But why?
As Ronald Nash says, “What tends to be forgotten is the subjective nature of proof. First, proofs are person-relative. In other words, proofs are relative, which is simply to admit the obvious, namely, that the same argument may function as a proof for one person and result in little more than contempt for someone else. Second, proofs are relative to individual persons. A person’s response to an argument will always reflect varying features such as their past and present personal history. Proofs also may be relative to persons in particular circumstances. Therefore, proofs must pass tests that are not only logical but also psychological. No argument can become a proof for some person until it persuades a person.”
But what if an individual does not have the time to examine the arguments for God's existence? Following Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas set forth five reasons why we must first believe what we may later be able to provide good evidence for (Maimonides, 1.34):
1. The object of spiritual understanding is deep and subtle, far removed from sense perception.
2. Human understanding is weak as it fights through these issues.
3. A number of things are needed for conclusive spiritual proof. It takes time to discern them.
4. Some people are disinclined to rigorous philosophical investigation.
5. It is necessary to engage in other occupations besides philosophy and science to provide the necessities of life (On Truth, 14.10, reply).
Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.” Elsewhere, Aquinas lists three basic reasons why divine revelation is needed.
1. Few possess the knowledge of God, some do not have the disposition for philosophical study, and others do not have the time or are indolent.
2. Time is required to find the truth. This truth is very profound, and there are many things that must be presupposed. During youth the soul is distracted by “the various movements of the passions.”
3. It is difficult to sort out what is false in the intellect. Our judgment is weak in sorting true from false concepts. Even in demonstrated propositions there is a mingling of false. (1)
1. Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 1999, 242.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
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:
First of all, a worldview must be consistent: 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)
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). 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)
In relation to the creation account, two worldviews that make opposite truth claims are metaphysical 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. Biblical theism does acknowledge that while God is the primary Cause of all things, He also works through secondary causes. In other words, God acts in the world through direct intervention (a miracle such as creation) and natural casues or indirect actions (preservation).
In a Christian worldview, the universe was created from nothing (ex nihilo).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 of the same 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 will involve a commitment of the whole person: Since humans are subjective at their very core, a good worldview will emphasize a balance between both the objective and the subjective. As Paul states in Romans 1:18-21, the created order is one of the objective mediums that God chooses to reveal Himself to the human race. While it is an objective medium, it is still appropriated subjectively. 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)
Hence, a worldview will avoid the the rationalism associated with Enlightenment period which was what Francis Schaeffer termed "autonomous reason." This type of reason is the attempt to build a worldview without recourse to God.
Therefore, in relation to epistemology, we need to remember the following comments by author David Naugle. In his book Worldview: History of Concept, Naugle says the following: “Ways of knowing the world complementing the capacities of sight and mind should be also be embraced by believers in order to do justice to their complete God-given natures and allow them to comprehend the totality of reality in its rich multiplicity and fullness. Naugle goes onto quote what spiritual writer Palker Palmer calls “wholesight,” which fuses sensation and rationality into union with other, yet often neglected ways of knowing such as imagination, intuition, empathy, emotion, and most certainly faith.
In God’s epistemic grace, he has provided a variety of cognitive capacities which are adequate for and to be employed in grasping the diverse modes of created reality, and ancient concept known as adaequatio. All capacities ought to be well employed when it comes to apprehending the truth about God, humankind, and the cosmos, else one suffers from metaphysical indulgence. As E. P Schumacher explains: "The answer to the question, what are man’s instruments by which he knows the world outside him? is….quite inescapably this: “Everything he has got”- his living body, his mind, his self aware Spirit…It may even be misleading to say that man has many instruments of cognition, since in fact, the whole man is one instrument…..The Great Truth of adaequatio teaches us that restriction in the use of instruments of cognition has the inevitable effect of narrowing and impoverishing reality.”
Naugle goes on to say,
"Thus, the heart of any Christians worldview worthy of the name ought to be the lodestar of wholeness which offsets any form of epistemic myopia and reconnects human subjects and created objects into sympathetic relation which appropriately honors the diversity, unity, and sacred character of all aspects of reality."
It is the understanding of a wholistic commitment to faith that leads me to say there needs to be an entire paradigm shift in the way we view and explain the “knowing” process.The continual problem with atheists and skeptics who consciously or subconsciously accept what Schaeffer termed "autonomous reason," simply affirms the fact that they have fallen prey to an epistemic dualism. This comes from a deficient worldview or for that matter the lack of a proper “lifeview.”
Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.
Pearcey, N. Total Truth. Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2004, 25-28.
Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993, 85-86
Geisler, N.L. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 82-96.
Hoover, A.J. The Case for Christian Theism. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1976, 52.
Naugle, D.K. Worldview: The History Of A Concept. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans. 2002, 266-274.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
As of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.”
Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.(1) In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine. The scholars of the Third Quest have rejected the idea that the Jesus of the New Testament was influenced by Hellenic Savior Cults.(2)
Some of the non-Jewish scholars that are currently active in the Third Quest are Craig A. Evans, I. Howard Marshall, James H. Charlesworth, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn.
In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author N.T.Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.” (3)
As Philip Yancey says, “Is it possible to read the Gospels without blinders on? Jews read with suspicion, preparing to be scandalized. Christians read through the refracted lenses of church history. Both groups, I believe would do well to pause and reflect on Matthew’s first words, “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The son of David speaks of Jesus’ messianic line, which Jews should not ignore; a title without significance for him.” Notes C.H. Dodd,"The son of Abraham speaks of Jesus’ Jewish line, which Christians dare not ignore either." As Jaroslav Pelikan says:
"Would there have been such anti-Semitism, would there have been so many pogroms, would there have been as Auschwitz, if every Christian church and every Christian home had focused its devotion and icons of Mary not only as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven but as the Jewish maiden and the new Miriam, and on icons of Christ not only as Pantocrator but as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph, Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth?" (Philip Yancey. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1995, 55.).
New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has also made some significant comments in relation to Jesus and His relationship to Israel. He says the following:
Scholarship is now recognizing that Jesus' mission was directed toward the nation of Israel. This means that his understanding of God himself must be oriented toward an understanding of God that emerges from the covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, which guided the history of the nation to the time of Jesus. The God of Jesus, accordingly, is the God of Israel, who is now restoring the nation and renewing its people as he had promised long ago. (A New Vision For Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1999, 19).
The Jewish Aspects of Jesus’ Life:
Jesus and the Name of God:
As Scot McKnight says, " At no place have Christians been more insensitive to Judaism that when it comes to what Jesus believes and teaches about God. In particular, the concept that Jesus was the first to teach about God as Abba and that this innovation revealed that Jesus thought of God in terms of love while Jews thought of God in terms of holiness, wrath, and distance are intolerably inaccurate in the realm of historical study and, to be quite frank, simple pieces of bad polemics. The God of Jesus was the God of Israel, and there is nothing in Jesus' vision of God that is not formed in the Bible he inherited from his ancestors and learned from his father and mother.
Countless Christians repeat the Lord's Prayer. When Jesus urged His followers to "hallow" or "sanctify" the Name of God (Matt 6:9), many are unaware of what that may have meant in Jesus' day- in part, because Christianity has lost sight of God's awesome splendorous holiness. A good reading of Amos 2:6-8 discusses this issue. "Reverencing the Name of God" is not just how Israel speaks of God-that it does not take the Name of God in vain when it utters oaths or when someone stubs a toe or hits a finger with an instrument -but that God's Name is profaned when Israel lives outside the covenant and by defiling the name of god in it's behavior (Jer 34:15-46; Ezek. 20:39; Mal 1:6-14).
God's Name is attached to the covenant people, and when the covenant people lives in sin, God's Name is dragged into that sin along with His people. So, when Jesus urges his followers to “reverence," or "sanctify" the Name of God, he is thinking of how his disciples are to live in he context of the covenant: they are to live obediently as Israelites (Who Was Jesus? A Jewish-Christian Dialogue. Lousiville: KY.Westminster John Knox Press. 2001, 84-85).
Righteousness: When most Christians think of this term, they are faced with two problems: first, that the apostle Paul used this term so much in the sense of "imputed" righteousness and did so in an innovative, however, effective, manner; and second, that is what the cognate in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek is not so in English. Fundamentally, the term "righteousness" along with its cognates, describes an Israelites relationship to God and his Torah, and that relationship is conceived in its behavioral categories: the righteous Israelite is one who does Torah as a covenant member (Deut 6:25; Job 22:6-93; Ps 1:4-6; Ezek.45:9) Jesus teaches about such righteousness as did his Jewish ancestors, as well as John (Luke 3:7-14; Matt 21:28-32), to describe those Jewish followers of his who wholeheartedly conformed their obedience to Torah, as taught by him (Matt 5:17-48), in the context of renewal of the covenant taking place though his offer of the kingdom (Copan and Evans, pg 87-88).
Some other aspects of Jesus' Jewish life:
Jesus participated in Mikvah: (Matt 3:13-16)
Circumcision (Luke 2:21): Jesus’ parents are obedient to Mosaic Law by having him circumcised on 8th day
Mary’s Purification (Luke 2:22-24): Mary follows purification law (Leviticus 12)
Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem every year at Passover: (Luke 2:41)
Jesus’ model prayer bears resemblance to typical Jewish prayers:(Matthew 6:8-13)
Jesus wore “tzit-tzit” or fringes: (Matthew 9:20)
Jesus revered the Temple and ceremonial worship:(John 2:16)
Much of Jesus’ teaching is done in context of Jewish Holy Days: Sabbath (Matthew 12); Feast of Tabernacles (John 7); Feast of Passover (Matthew 26); Hanukkah (John 10)
Jesus taught in the synagogue: (Luke 4:14-20; John 18:20)
Jesus gathered disciples:(Matthew 8:23)
Paul says Jesus became a servant to the Jewish people: (Romans 15:8)
Jesus settled disputes: (Mark 9:33-37)
Jesus debated other rabbis:(Matthew 12:1-14)
Jesus viewed His mission to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matthew 15:24)
Jesus commissioned the seventy to go to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matthew 10:5-6)
Jesus viewed himself as being revealed in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms, (Luke 24:44); (John 5:39)
Jesus taught Scripture was authoritative: Jesus quotes passages from the Torah in the temptation in the wilderness: (Matthew 4:1-11)
Jesus discussed how Scripture (The Tanakh) is imperishable in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:2-48)
Jesus also discussed how Scripture is infallible: (John 10:35)
1. Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 240-241.
3. Sheller, Jeffrey L. Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 191.
Monday, May 11, 2009
The Actions of Jesus: Ontology is a branch of philosophy that examines the study of being or existence. For example, when Jesus says, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9), ontology asks questions such as,” Is Jesus saying He has the same substance or essence of the Father?” Ontology is especially relevant in relation to the Godhead since Orthodox Christians attempt to articulate how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same substance or essence.
Within the Tanakh, there are Messianic texts such as Isaiah 52:13-53; 61:1-3, that focus upon the Messiah’s "works" rather than his essence or being. Perhaps this is a good indication that one of the starting points in Jewish-Christian dialogue is to understand the issue of Jesus' identity is not only about who He is, but also what He does.
In his classic book,The Christology of the New Testament, the late Oscar Cullman suggested that while the Greeks were more interested in nature or an ontological Christology, the Jewish people were more interested in a functional Christology. In contrast to ontological Christology, functional Christology places a greater emphasis on the "deeds" or "actions" of the Messiah. Some of the visible actions of Jesus included the healing of the sick (Mark 1: 32-34; Acts 3:6; 10:38), teaching authoritatively (Mark 1:21-22; 13:31), forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13), imparting eternal life (Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:12-14), raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40), and showing the ability to exercise judgment (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:19-29; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor. 4:4-5). These "deeds" or "actions" demonstrate that Jesus is able to perform the same functions as the God of Israel.
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?" 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) The Bible also speaks of a 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. As already discussed, the term "Messiah" is used of those who were of Davidic kings: past or present (Psalm 18:50;89:20; 132:10-17) but it is also used of Cyrus in Isa 45;1 and in Hab 3:13- it is used of a reigning king. The term “Masiah” cannot be limited to one of the aspects of one of the major factors, for instance a ruling king.
There are other examples in the Tanakh where God would annoint a priest or prophet for a specific task. 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. The prophet was to listen to God and then speak God’s words to the people. The priests in the Tabernacle were annonted in their service as mediators between God and the Jewish people. The priests had to make atonement (Lev 4:26;31,35;5:6,10; 14:31; etc).The act of atoning involved slaughtering the animal brought for sacrifice by the worshipers, the sprinkling of the blood (Lev. 17:6) and the actual offering on the alter (3:16). To make atonement involved intercession on behalf of the worshiper and the proclamation that was forgiven.
As already stated, in His role as a prophet, Jesus did not use the trademark formula, “Thus saith the Lord.” Instead, He spoke in His own aurhority. Also, Jesus goes beyond the function of the priests function in the tabernacle. Even though the high priest was consecrated, he was by no means sinless and could not offer up himself for the whole congregation. In Leviticus 4:3, if the priest sinned himself, the guilt was not only on the priest, but on the whole congregation. The priest was responsible for offering up a calf without blemish to make atonement. The shortcomings of the priest were a foreshadowing for the need for a better priest as stated in Hebrews 9:11-14.
In Isaiah 53, the Servant of the Lord is seen as a trespass offering, and one who takes the sin of not just a few, but the entire world. This was understood by John the Baptist who proclaimed in John 1:29 “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Furthermore, it is crucial to realize that the Tanakh does not explicitly teach that the Messiah comes once. In Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:3 it is evident that the Messiah is supposed to be a light to the Gentiles. Since Israel’s call was to be a light to the nations and the Messiah is the ideal representative of his people, it is no surprise that the He has the same role. Statistically, more Gentiles have come to faith in Jesus and continue to do so every day.These prophecies are still being fulfilled on a daily basis. It is imperative to read all the messianic passages about the Messiah.
In his book God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament, Richard Bauckham has asserted that an ontic/functional Christology distinction is not the correct approach to New Testament Christology. While some Jewish writers in the late Second Temple period consciously adopted some of the Greek metaphysical language, their understanding of God is not a definition of divine nature- what divinity is- but a notion of the divine identity, characterized primarily in ways other than metaphysical attributes. Bauckham suggests that in studying the relationship between Jewish monotheism and early Christology, it is imperative to understand the religious sects during Second Temple Judaism. The one God of Second Temple Jewish belief was identifiable by His covenant relationship with Israel. Various New Testament scriptures demonstrate that while the early Christians used titles to describe Jesus as God, they also clearly believed Jesus was God as evidenced by assigning attributes to Him which were clearly reserved for God. Moreover, they did so in a distinctly Jewish way that at the same time adhered to the monotheistic tradition of first- century Judaism.
While Greeks focused on philosophical matters of the nature of the divine, Jewish monotheism was more concerned with God's divine identity.The God of Second Temple Judaism was identifiable by three unique attributes: (1) The God of Israel is the sole Creator of all things (Isa. 40:26, 28; 37:16; 42:5; 45:12; Neh. 9:6; Ps 86:10; Hos. 13:4; (2)The God of Israel is the sovereign Ruler of all things (Dan. 4:34-35); (3) The God of Israel is also the only the only being worthy of being worshiped (Deut. 6:13; Psalm 97:7; Isa. 45:23; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).
1. Groningen, G.V. Vol 1 of Messianic Revelation In The Old Testament. Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers. 1997, 23-38.
2. Ben Witherington III. The Many Faces of the Christ: The Christologies of the New Testament and Beyond. New York. Crossraod Publishing Company. 1998.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Show Me A Sign!
I have lost track of how many times skeptics have told me the only way for them to trust in God or Jesus is if God gave them a specific sign or manifestation of His power or presence. It is God's responsibility to prove to them that He exists! Interestingly enough, Jesus had the same problem in His ministry. His Jewish audience demanded a sign or miracle from him on several occasions. They wanted proof of His Messiahship.
In his article, Jesus as Philosopher and Apologist, Dr. Douglas Groothuis of Denver Seminary carefully looked at the variety of approaches that were utilized by Jesus in talking to His audience. He notes that one passage that is quite helpful to this issue is Matthew 11:13. In this case Jesus showed no reluctance to affirm His identity to John the Baptist. John, who was languishing in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” In response to John, Jesus did not rebuke John’s question. He did not say, “You must have faith; suppress your doubts.” Nor did He scold, “If you don’t believe, you’ll go to hell and miss heaven.” Instead, Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry:Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 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. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me. (Matt. 11:4–6; see also Luke 7:22). Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:
1. If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.
A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. It is beyond the scope of this article to defend the philosophical basis for miracles. For an excellent treatment of this topic, feel free to read Norman L. Geisler. Miracles And The Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992). 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.
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).
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. (1)
A good study in the book of Matthew shows an interesting relationship between Jesus' miracles and His audience. He did the miracles for those who were Beatitude people. In other words, go study the Sermon on the Mount. Are you a Beatitude person? Are you poor in spirit? Do you recognize your poverty before God? Are you thirsting for righteousness? And are you truly interested in the Bread of Life ? (see John Ch 6). Or do you just want a sign so you can say, "Oh, I guess that God exists, but I have no intention of placing my faith in God." As I said, there is a tendency to forget God’s relationship with mankind is not to simply prove He exists to people. God is not simply after what is called justified true belief that He exists. It says in James 2:19, that the demons believe that God exists. Jesus began to see when his audience had no interest in following Him. He did not do miracles for entertainment. Rather, he did them to evoke a response. And that response is the willingness to not just praying a prayer to get into heaven, but a commitment to following Him (Luke 9:23). For many, that is asking too much.
1. Craig, W. L. Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaten, ILL : Crossway Books.1984, 233-54.
Monday, May 4, 2009
With the publishing of biologist Richard Dawkin's, The God Delusion, Sam Harris's The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Christopher Hitchens's How Religion Poisons Everything, atheists are becoming more vocal about offering a viable alterative to religious faith. Granted, these books are only one of the factors that are contributing to the skepticism in our culture. Furthermore, there have been several rebuttals to these books. The skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “Do we really know what we think we know-especially in religion- when our beliefs are not properly based on evidence?” And in the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? Now I know in this article, you may say attempting to use the Bible is begging the question. After all, how do we know we can trust the Bible? I am going to bypass that issue for another article. Anyway, we to remember that the Bible stresses that people are in the dark. In other words, since the Bible stresses that humans are blinded by sin, this has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Isa 6:9-10; Zech 7:11-12; Matt 13:10-13; 2 Cor 4:4).
Hence, the acceptance of revelation, therefore, is, of fundamental importance to our faith. 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 acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intensions. The problem we have in our culture is that many people cannot accept the limitations of the knowledge process. Furthermore, there is a tendency to forget God’s relationship with mankind is not to simply prove He exists to people. It says in James 2:19, that the demons believe that God exists. Objectively speaking, evidence for God may help someone believe that God exists. However, the individual still needs to place their trust in God. This can only be done with the help of the Ruach Ka Kodesh (John 16:12-15).
The Jewish people came to know their G-d predominately by His covenantal actions. As the late Jewish scholar Abraham J. Heschel said, “The God of Israel is a God who acts, a God of mighty deeds." And because of this knowledge, G-d called the Jewish people into active participation. According to the Hebrew view of knowledge, the opposite of knowledge is not always ignorance and error. Instead, it is often related to disobedience, rebellion, and sin. Just as the God of Israel revealed Himself by His actions, Yeshua continually appealed to His "deeds" or "actions" that testified to His Messiahship (John 5:36-5:36; John 10:37; John 10:38; John 14:10).
God has acted in our behalf by revealing Himself through the created order.
And as I said, in the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, we have to use induction. Induction is the method of drawing general conclusions from specific observations. For example, since we can’t observe gravity directly, we only observe its effects. We also can’t observe the human mind directly, but only its effects. Paul understood this issue when he writes in Romans 1: 18-21, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known of God is revealed in them, for God revealed it to them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse. Because, knowing God, they didn't glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened.” Paul lays out the basic principle of cause and effect. Paul says since God is the Designer, His “everlasting power and divinity” (this is the cause) are obvious, “through the things that are made” (this is the effect).
If we look at this Scripture, people do perceive general revelation. The problem is they do not receive it. I think Paul would be happy to see the following comments about Romans 1:18-21 by the following apologists and theologians:
1. The revelation of God in nature is mediate, but it is so manifest and so clear that it does not necessitate a complex theoretical reasoning process that could be achieved only by a group of geniuses. If God's general revelation is in fact "general," in that it is plain enough for all to see clearly without complicated cosmological argumentation, then it may even be said to be self evident. The revelation is clear enough for an unskilled and illiterate person to perceive it. The memory of conscious knowledge of the trauma encounter with God's revelation is not maintained in its lucid, threatening state, but is repressed. It is "put down or held in captivity" in the unconsciousness. That which is repressed is not destroyed. The memory remains though it may be buried in the subconscious realm. Knowledge of God is unacceptable, and as a result humans attempt to blot it out or at least camouflage it in such a way that its threatening character can be concealed or dulled. (Sproul, R.C, Gerstner, John and Arthur Lindsey. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.1984, 46-59).
2. Former atheist J. Budziszewski:
I am not at present concerned to explore Paul’s general claim that those who deny the Creator are wicked but only his more particular claim that they are intellectually dishonest. Notice that he does not criticize nonbelievers because they do not know about God but ought to. Rather, he criticizes them because they do know about God but pretend to themselves that they don’t. According to his account, we are not ignorant of God’s reality at all. Rather, we “suppress” it; to translate differently, we “hold it down.” With all our strength we try not to know it, even though we can’t help knowing it; with one part of our minds we do know it, while with another we say, “I know no such thing.” From the biblical point of view, then, the reason it is so difficult to argue with an atheist—as I once was—is that he is not being honest with himself. He knows there is a God, but he tells himself that he doesn’t. How can a person explain how he reached new first principles? By what route could he have arrived at them? To what deeper considerations could he have appealed? If the biblical account is true, then it would seem that no one really arrives at new first principles; a person only seems to arrive at them. The atheist does not lack true first principles; they are in his knowledge already, though suppressed. The convert from atheism did not acquire them; rather, things he knew all along were unearthed. ( Giesler, N. L. and Paul K. Hoffman. Why I Am A Christian. Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 2001, 49).
3. Our original knowledge of God and his glory is muffled and impaired; it has been replaced (by virtue of sin) by stupidity, dullness, blindness, inability to perceive God or to perceive him in his handiwork. Our knowledge of his character and his love toward us can be smothered: it can be transformed into resentful thought that God is to be feared and mistrusted; we may see him as indifferent or even malignant. In the traditional taxonomy of seven deadly sins, this is sloth. Sloth is not simple laziness, like the inclination to lie down and watch television rather than go out and get exercise you need; it is, instead, a kind of spiritual deadness, blindness, imperceptiveness, acedia, torpor, a failure to be aware of God’s presence, love, requirements. (Plantinga, A. Warranted Christian Belief. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2000, 214-215).
The amazing thing about our Lord is that He saw fit to reveal more of Himself through the person of Messiah. While general revelation manifests God as Creator, it does not reveal Him as Redeemer. Although general revelation shows man is under condemnation, they are all without an excuse" (Romans 1:20; Romans 2:12), it is not sufficient for salvation. As Heb. 1:1–2 says, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son." Yeshua did comment on how people respond to Him by saying, "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." But he who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God" (John 3:19-21). And finally, remember that we are agents of God’s revelation. As messengers of the Messiah, we are the normative way God communicates to humans. Therefore, it is imperative for all us to ask whether we are willing to be obedient to the Great Commission (Matt 28:19).