Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

How early are the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity?

Here’s a great post from Tough Questions Answered.

The post describes evidence for the Incarnation and the Trinity in the writings of Ignatius, who was the third Bishop of Antioch from 70 AD to 107 AD.

Here’s the raw quote from Ignatius’ “Epistle to the Ephesians”:

But our Physician is the only true God, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.  We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.”  Being incorporeal, He was in a body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.

And TQA discusses the passage:

There are several aspects of this passage which demonstrate that Saint Ignatius held beliefs consistent with the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ.  First, he refers to two separate Persons, God the Father and Jesus Christ, yet he calls both of them God.

[...]Second, Ignatius refers to Jesus Christ as begotten “before time began”.  This is almost word for word identical to the Nicene Creed, which says, “I believe in. . . one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. . .”  Some today claim that the Early Church believed Christ’s being ”begotten” of the Father was in relation to His birth from Mary (specifically, this is an LDS claim).  However, Ignatius’ comment here demonstrates that the Early Church’s understanding of Christ’s nature as “only-begotten” was a relationship with the Father that was “before time began” and has nothing to do with His earthly incarnation.  It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated as “only-begotten” both here and in the New Testament is ”monogenes”.  Monogenes literally means “one of a kind,” and to the Church Fathers it connoted Christ being of the same nature as the Father. . . something that was entirely unique to Him.

In addition to calling Christ God and claiming Him to be the “only-begotten” of the Father “before time began”, Ignatius tells us that “afterwards” Christ “became man”.  Ignatius then goes on to point out some aspects that Christ’s becoming man added to His nature.  He says that although Christ was incorporeal, He was in a body; although He was impassible, He was in a passible body; although He was immortal, He was in a mortal body;  although He was life, He became subject to corruption.  These differing aspects of Christ’s nature, aspects that are polar opposites to one another, speak to Christ having two natures, one as God and one as man, and demonstrate that Saint Ignatius understood Christ in this manner.  As God, Christ was incorporeal, impassible, immortal, and life itself.   However, as man He was corporeal, passible, mortal, and subject to corruption.

Now I think you can pull the Incarnation and the Trinity right out the Bible, but it’s still nice to see such a prominent church father writing about it decades after the events.

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Review of evidential apologetics book by pastor shows where church needs to improve

There are basically two views of faith in Christianity.

The first view of faith is the Biblical view of faith as active trust in propositions we know to be true, because we have reasons and evidence to believe those propositions. This view is not only rooted in the Bible, but it extends through Augustine and Aquinas to the present day. I have written about this view of faith before, and quoted many theologians in support of it. I also showed how people in the Bible use miracles as a sign in order to convince skeptics. For example, Peter appealing to the resurrection in Acts 2. The Bible teaches that faith is active trusting based on evidence.

The second view is blind faith. This view is nowhere in the Bible, and this view asserts that becoming a Christian is a leap-of-faith in the dark against all the evidence. This view not only minimizes evidence, but it actually opposes presenting evidence to unbelievers and skeptics in the way that the Bible teaches. This view is nowhere in the Bible, and it was not the method used by Jesus or his followers. It is an unBiblical way of viewing faith, but it is very popular in some circles of Christianity. It is also popular among atheists, because this is what many Christian leaders and pastors tell them that faith is. Why would these Christian leaders reject the plain teaching of the Scripture on faith, and adopt a man-made view of evangelism that opposes the use of evidence?

Well, I have an idea why, based on my experiences trying to get apologetics into the church and university. Suppose a pastor or campus group leader wants to avoid having to learn physics and cosmology, or the minimum facts case for the resurrection, or how to respond to apparently gratuitous suffering, or the problem of religious pluralism. Suppose he thinks that Christianity, if it is about anything, is about his feeling happy and comfortable with a minimum of effort and work. So, he diligently avoids reading apologetics, because learning evidence is hard work. He avoids watching debates on God’s existence and the resurrection, because this is hard work. He avoids conversations with people who do study these things, and implies that there is something wrong with them for studying these things. He endeavors to conceal his laziness and ignorance and cowardice from his flock with much pious God-talk and fervent praise-hymn-singing.

Eventually, some member of his church asks him to go for lunch with an actual non-Christian family member. The pastor agrees and when he meets the unbelieving family member, he has nothing at all to say about typical challenges that unbelievers face. He has no knowledge of evolution, the problem of evil, the hiddenness of God, or the hallucination theory. He has never read a single atheist, and never read a single piece of evidence to refute them from Christian scholars. He lacks humility, refusing to admit that other Christian scholars may know more than he does because they have studied other areas. Needless to say, he fails to defend God’s reputation to the non-Christian. What will he say to the members of his flock about his failure? How will he justify his obstinate refusal to do what everyone else in the Bible does when confronting non-believers?

Well, consider this review of a recent book that defends the Gospels and the historicity of the resurrection by one such fideist pastor.

He writes:

There are, however, two significant shortcomings to the book.

First, Cold-Case Christianity places far too much emphasis on the role of extrabiblical sources. No doubt there is a legitimate role for biblical archaeology and extrabiblical writing from antiquity. Christianity is, after all, a faith firmly rooted in human history. But there is a grave danger when truth is suspended because of an apparent lack of corroboration from extrabiblical sources. And Wallace, I’m afraid, wanders too close to this dark side of apologetics.

All of chapter 12, for instance, is devoted to proving the Gospels have external corroborative evidence—“evidence that are independent of the Gospel documents yet verify the claims of the text” (183). Wallace then addresses the historicity of the pool of Bethesda and makes another worrying statement: “For many years, there was no evidence for such a place outside of John’s Gospel. Because Christianity makes historical claims, archaeology ought to be a tool we can use to see if these claims are, in fact, true” (201-202, emphasis added).

In other words, Wallace seems to suggest we cannot affirm the truth of the Gospel accounts without the stamp of approval from archaeology and other extrabiblical sources. Such reasoning is dangerous, not least because it cannot affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. But also, it places the final court of appeal in the realm of extrabiblical sources rather than of God’s all-sufficient, all-powerful Word.

That is a textbook definition of fideism – that belief is somehow more pious and praiseworthy the less evidence we have. And the best way to have less evidence is to study nothing at all, but to just make a leap-of-faith in the dark. Of course, a leap-of-faith can land you anywhere – Islam, Mormonism. Presumably this pastor is like the Mormons who eschew all evidence and prefer to detect the truth of Mormonism by “the burning of the bosom” which happens when people read the all-sufficient, all-powerful Book of Mormon. His view of faith is identical to theirs, and 180 degrees opposed to the Bible. He has made his leap-of-faith, and that leap-of-faith is not accountable to arguments and evidence. His faith is private and personal, based on his own feelings. He considers it blasphemous to have to demonstrate what he believes to those who disagree with him. Where is this in the Bible? It’s nowhere. But it is everywhere in anti-intellectual Christian circles.

There is a good response to this blind-faith pastor on Deeper Waters. Much less angry than my response.

Excerpt:

The dark side of apologetics? Did I somehow step into a Star Wars universe?

Yes. How horrible to show that the Bible is backed up by sources outside of it. How terrible to show that these events did not happen in a vacuum. Thankfully, no one in the Bible took this approach.

Except for the fact that when the gospel was being preached, there were no gospels per se and there were no epistles. Paul told Agrippa that the events done weren’t done in a corner. In other words, investigate the claims for yourself! The early testimony was eyewitness testimony. Sources like Tacitus and others show the eyewitnesses were right! This was not done in a corner! This was done out in the open! Archaeology helps us confirm the biblical writings and shows that unlike the pagan myths, these events were rooted in a place and time. Is there some danger that our faith will be destroyed by outside sources?

It really becomes a fideistic approach. If your worldview is true, you should have no problem putting it to the strictest scrutiny. If it is not, then you will have a problem. No Christian should fear further research into what they believe. No Christian should have a problem with extra-biblical sources. Now I do agree there is a problem with stating that EVERYTHING must be backed extra-biblically. I think this is a prejudice we too often have where nothing in the Bible can be considered historical unless it’s verified somewhere else. A gospel account alone could count as a historical claim itself that can be investigated, and indeed is in NT scholarship, but where we can get extra-biblical evidence, I’m all for it.

[...]Christianity is a faith that is rooted in evidences so we should be able to use evidences to demonstrate it. I have often been told by those of the presuppositional bent that the approach is used all the time in the Bible. The problem is I can’t find one. I get told passages like “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Yes. It is. Wisdom refers to godly living. It doesn’t refer to confirming the gospel to be true. When I look at the apostles in every case, I see them pointing to evidences.

I think that Christians are much better off following the example of authentic Christian pastors like R.C. Sproul, who, in a conference on evangelism, invited Dr. Stephen C. Meyer to present multiple lines of evidence from mainstream science to establish the existence of God. The only reason not to take this approach is laziness, which leads to ignorance, which leads to cowardice. And failure. It is pastors like Pastor Bungle above who are responsible for the great falling away from Christianity that we are seeing when we look at young people. Pastors who pride themselves in refusing to connecting the Bible to the real world, with evidence and with policy analysis, are causing young people to abandon the faith.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

J. Warner Wallace: how can you trust Christianity if you haven’t tested all the alternatives?

I heard Wallace talking about this on one of his recent podcasts, and it’s nice to see it in an article that I can blog on.

Here’s the objection:

I’ve had the privilege to speak on university campuses across the country, making a case for the reliability of the New Testament Gospels and the truth of the Christian Worldview (I’ll be at Rutgers next Monday night). One of the most common questions asked in the Q and A is something similar to: “Have you taken the time to apply the same approach with all the other religious worldviews?” Sometimes people ask this question because they are curious about how well other ancient religious claims (or alleged eyewitness accounts) hold up under investigative scrutiny. But many times this question is followed by a more pointed objection: “How can you trust Christianity is true if you haven’t examined all the alternatives?”

Here’s the answer:

In every criminal trial, the investigators and prosecutors are obligated to present the evidence related to one defendant. While the burden of proof lies with the prosecutorial team, the prosecution is not required to have examined every possible alternative suspect. If I am investigating a case in which the suspect was initially described as a white male, 25 to 35 years of age with brown hair, the potential suspect pool in Los Angeles County would be quite large; there may be hundreds of thousands fitting this description. As I make the affirmative case related to one of the men in this large group, I’m under no obligation to make the case against the others. In fact, when the jury evaluates the case and decides whether the defendant is guilty, they will do so without any consideration of the alternatives. If the evidence is strong enough to reasonably infer the defendant’s involvement, the jury will make a confident decision, even though many, many alternatives were left unexamined.

When an LAPD homicide detective can use his professional experience to answer a very relevant apologetics question, it’s a good thing.

Now for a general point about investigating religions. You can make a cut to rule out many of the main religious alternatives just by using cosmology. Of the major world religions, only Christianity, Judaism and Islam affirm a beginning of the universe, and time itself. So it’s not a very difficult thing to take those three live options and move on to a historical analysis. Islam is out because its holy book has obvious historical mistakes, like denying the crucifixion of Jesus in Surah 4:157. So you’re left with two live alternatives, and that dilemma can be decided by selecting the best explanation for the minimal facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. There are minimal facts, and there is a best explanation of those minimal facts.

The real issue is whether people are willing to put in the effort in the investigation, and be bound by what they discover. If they decide up front that their lifestyle / career / social standing / etc. cannot be impacted by their findings, then the whole thing becomes moot.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , ,

A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God

Here’s a must-read article  about the effectiveness of apologetics on college campuses in Christianity Today. (H/T Sanjay M.)

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

Now, I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I think that if you are a Christian and you are in a secular university, then you really need to have put in the effort to study the areas of science, history and philosophy that are relevant to the Christian faith. This is regardless of your personal abilities or field of study. We must all make an effort regardless of how comfortable we are with things that are hard for us to learn.

Granted, most atheists are not interested in truth, because they tend to jettison truth whenever it conflicts with their personal autonomy – their desire to seek pleasure apart from moral constraints. But there is another kind of atheist. This kind of atheist is honest, open-minded, and they just have never encountered any good reasons or evidence to think that God exists and that Jesus is anything other than a man. There are a lot of atheists like that who are just waiting to hear some decent evidence. Our job is to prepare for them and then engage them, if they are willing to be engaged.

I think that definition of love she cited – self-sacrifice for the true good of another person – is important. I don’t think that ordinary Christians like you or me spends time on apologetics because we “like” it. I know lots of Christians who are in tough, expensive academic programs trying to get the skills they need to defend truth in areas that matter. They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them. We need to be willing to serve God by doing hard things that work.

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Do people go to Hell just because they don’t accept Jesus?

From J. Warner Wallace at Please Convince Me. (Link is now down, I can’t find it anywhere else)

Excerpt:

A “just” God does justice, which means to punish or reward appropriately. In the Western tradition, we punish people for the actions they commit, but the extent of punishment is dependent also on the person’s mental state, and a person’s mental state is reflective of his or her beliefs. Premeditated murder is worse than manslaughter, and is punished more severely, and a hate crime is a sentencing enhancement that adds more punishment to the underlying crime. In both examples, a person’s beliefs are at play: the premeditated murderer has reflected on his choices and wants the victim dead; a hate crime reflects a belief that the rights of a member of the protected group are especially unworthy of respect. So, considering a person’s beliefs may well be relevant, especially if those beliefs have motivated the criminal behavior.

But the challenger’s mistake is even more fundamental. He is wrong to assert that people are condemned for not accepting the gospel. Christians believe that people are condemned for their sinful behavior – the “wages of sin is death” – not for what they fail to do. The quoted challenge is like saying that the sick man died of “not going to the doctor.” No, the person died of a specific condition – perhaps cancer or a heart attack – which a doctor might have been able to cure. So too with eternal punishment. No one is condemned for refusing to believe in Jesus. While Jesus can – and does – provide salvation for those who seek it, there is nothing unjust about not providing salvation to those who refuse to seek it. After all, we don’t normally feel obliged to help someone who has not asked for, and does not want, our assistance. So too the Creator has the right to withhold a gift – i.e. eternity spent in His presence – from those who would trample on the gift, and on the gift-giver.

The quoted assertion also demonstrates an unspoken belief that we can impress God with our “kind” or “generous” behavior. This fails to grasp what God is – a perfect being. We cannot impress Him. What we do right we should do. We don’t drag people into court and reward them for not committing crimes. This is expected of them. They can’t commit a murder and then claim that punishment is unfair, because they had been kind and generous in the past. When a person gets his mind around the idea of what perfection entails, trying to impress a perfect Creator with our “basic goodness” no longer seems like such a good option.

Here’s a related answer from CARM. This one answers the question about degrees of punishment in Hell.

Excerpt:

Yes, there are different degrees of punishment in hell.

[...]But, not all people are equally bad.  Though all deserve damnation because all are sinners, different people have committed different degrees of sin.

  • Mt. 11:20-22, “Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 “Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you…I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”
  • Luke 12:47-48, “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
  • John 19:11, “Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin.’ ”
  • Heb. 10:29, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

So, if Jesus speaks of greater condemnation for Chorazin and Bethsaida than Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 11:21-22), one slave received more punishment than another (Luke 12:47-48), the one who delivered Jesus to Pilate has the greater sin (John 19:11), and a more severe punishment is reserved for those who trample underfoot the Son of God, then does not greater sin mean that greater punishment will also happen in hell?  Yes it does.

Not only are there degrees of punishment in Hell, but there are degrees of reward in Heaven, based on what you do on Earth and what strengths you start out with.

Philippians 4:10-18:

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;

16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.

17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.

18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

Everyone who believes in Jesus gets salvation, but your experience in Heaven will be different based on what you do while you are alive. And that’s also the answer to another common question – about deathbed conversions. Both deathbed converts and William Lane Craig will get the same experience of being in the presence of God, but there are completely different levels of reward. One person has an empty account, and the other person has huge massive amounts of virtuous action on deposit. But I think the real reason that Christians are trying to do good things here on Earth is that they like God, and they want to be his friend. They want to work on the relationship, even if it means a little self-denial, and a little sacrifice. We all have things that we would rather be doing for ourselves, but sometimes we have to things that work – things that are effective – for someone else. My values are not his values. Sometimes it is good to do something based on what He values. I don’t always have to get my way, because then it wouldn’t be a real relationship.

I enjoy thinking about Bible puzzles like this… so often in church we just make Christianity a checklist of things that we are supposed to believe somehow, by brute force willpower. I think reflecting on these problems, asking questions, and making sense of them on our own, is a much better approach.

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