Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

William Lane Craig explains the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

Probably one of the most common questions that you hear from people who don’t fully understand Christianity is this question: “why did Jesus have to die?”. The answer that most Christians seem to hold to is that 1) humans are rebelling against God, 2) Humans deserve punishment for their rebellion, 3) Humans cannot escape the punishment for their rebellion on their own, 4) Jesus was punished in the place of the rebellious humans, 5) Those who accept this sacrifice are forgiven for their rebelling.

Are humans rebellious?

Some people think that humans are not really rebellious at all, but it’s actually easy to see. You can see it just by looking at how people spend their time. Some of us have no time for God at all, and instead try to fill our lives with material possessions and experiences in order to have happy feelings. Some of us embrace just the parts of God that make us feel happy, like church and singing and feelings of comfort, while avoiding the hard parts of that vertical relationship; reading, thinking and disagreeing with people who don’t believe the truth about God. And so on.

This condition of being in rebellion is universal, and all of us are guilty of breaking the law at some point. All of us deserve to be separated from God’s goodness and love. Even if we wanted to stop rebelling, we would not be able to make up for the times where we do rebel by being good at other times, any more than we could get out of a speeding ticket by appealing to the times when we drove at the speed limit, (something that I never do, in any case).

This is not to say that all sinners are punished equally – the degree of punishment is proportional to the sins a person commits. However, the standard is perfection. And worse than that, the most important moral obligation is a vertical moral obligation. You can’t satisfy the demands of the moral law just by making your neighbor happy, while treating God like a pariah. The first commandment is to love God, the second is to love your neighbor. Even loving your neighbor requires you to tell your neighbor the truth – not just to make them feel good. The vertical relationship is more important than the horizontal one, and we’ve all screwed up the vertical relationship. We all don’t want God to be there, telling us what’s best for us, interfering with our fun. We don’t want to relate to a loving God if it means having to care what he thinks about anything that we are doing.

Who is going to pay for our rebellion?

The Christian answer to the problem of our rebellion is that Jesus takes the punishment we deserve in our place.

However, I’ve noticed that on some atheist blogs, they don’t like the idea that someone else can take our punishment for us to exonerate us for crimes that we’ve committed. So I’ll quote from this post by the great William Lane Craig, to respond to that objection.

Excerpt:

The central problem of the Penal Theory is, as you point out, understanding how punishing a person other than the perpetrator of the wrong can meet the demands of justice. Indeed, we might even say that it would be wrong to punish some innocent person for the crimes I commit!

It seems to me, however, that in other aspects of human life we do recognize this practice. I remember once sharing the Gospel with a businessman. When I explained that Christ had died to pay the penalty for our sins, he responded, “Oh, yes, that’s imputation.” I was stunned, as I never expected this theological concept to be familiar to this non-Christian businessman. When I asked him how he came to be familiar with this idea, he replied, “Oh, we use imputation all the time in the insurance business.” He explained to me that certain sorts of insurance policy are written so that, for example, if someone else drives my car and gets in an accident, the responsibility is imputed to me rather than to the driver. Even though the driver behaved recklessly, I am the one held liable; it is just as if I had done it.

Now this is parallel to substitutionary atonement. Normally I would be liable for the misdeeds I have done. But through my faith in Christ, I am, as it were, covered by his divine insurance policy, whereby he assumes the liability for my actions. My sin is imputed to him, and he pays its penalty. The demands of justice are fulfilled, just as they are in mundane affairs in which someone pays the penalty for something imputed to him. This is as literal a transaction as those that transpire regularly in the insurance industry.

So, it turns out that the doctrine of substitionary atonement is not as mysterious or as objectionable as everyone seems to think it is.

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Is belief in the Jesus of the Bible needed in order to be rightly related to God?

Here’s a good introductory lecture on the topic by Chad Gross, who blogs at Truthbomb Apologetics.

You can see the footnotes for his article on his blog.

For those who don’t want to watch the video, here’s a good thought from J. Warner Wallace at Please Convince Me.

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.

If you want to hear a debate featuring exclusivists versus pluralists, I’ve got a podcast and a summary of a good debate on this issue between Chris Sinkinson and John Hick. You can’t find a more prominent pluralist than John Hick, except for maybe Paul Knitter, who is featured in a debate with Harold Netland in the new “Debating Christian Theism” book that is just out with Oxford University Press.

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New study: children who grow up with single parents more likely to see domestic violence

Domestic violence least likely in married homes

Domestic violence least likely in married homes

This is from Family Studies. (H/T Brad Wilcox)

Excerpt:

In the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, conducted by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, parents of 95,677 children aged 17 and under were asked whether their child had ever seen or heard “any parents, guardians, or any other adults in the home slap, hit, kick, punch, or beat each other up.” Among children living with both married biological parents, the rate of exposure to family violence was relatively low: for every 1,000 children in intact families, 19 had witnessed one or more violent struggles between parents or other household members. By comparison, among children living with a divorced or separated mother, the rate of witnessing domestic violence was seven times higher: 144 children per 1,000 had had one or more such experiences. (See Figure 1.) These comparisons are adjusted for differences across groups in the age, sex, and race/ethnicity of the child, family income and poverty status, and the parent’s education level.

One might suppose that women who had never married would be less likely to get into violent arguments with the fathers of their children than separated or divorced mothers. Yet the rate of witnessing domestic violence among children living with never-married mothers was also elevated. It was 116 per 1,000, six times higher than the rate for children in intact families. (Some of these fights involved subsequent partners or boyfriends of the mother, rather than the father of the child.) Even children living with both biological parents who were cohabiting—rather than married—had more than double the risk of domestic violence exposure as those with married birth parents: 45 out of 1,000 of these children had witnessed family fights that became physical. Note also that a child’s family structure was a better predictor of witnessing family violence than was her parents’ education, family income, poverty status, or race.

Experiencing family violence is stressful for children, undercuts their respect and admiration for parents who engage in abusive behavior, and is associated with increased rates of emotional and behavioral problems at home and in school. For example, among children of never-married mothers who had witnessed family violence, 58 percent had conduct or academic problems at school requiring parental contact. The rate of school behavior problems for those who had not been exposed to family fights was significantly lower, though still fairly high (36 percent). Likewise, among children of divorced or separated mothers, nearly half of those exposed to family violence—48 percent—had had conduct or academic problems at school. Even among the small number of children in intact families who had witnessed family violence, just over half—51 percent—presented problems at school. This was twice the rate of school problems among students from intact families who had not witnessed domestic violence. (See Figure 2.) These figures are also adjusted for differences across groups in age, sex, and race/ethnicity of children, family income and poverty, and parent education levels. Children experiencing domestic violence were also more likely to have repeated a grade in school and to have received psychological counseling for emotional or behavioral problems. This was true in intact as well as disrupted families.

A good book to read on this topic is Theodore Dalrymple’s “Life at the Bottom“, which offered this memorable anecdote about about how and why women choose men who abuse them.

Introduction:

The disastrous pattern of human relationships that exists in the underclass is also becoming common higher up the social scale. With increasing frequency I am consulted by nurses, who for the most part come from and were themselves traditionally members of (at least after Florence Nightingale) the respectable lower middle class, who have illegitimate children by men who first abuse and then abandon them. This abuse and later abandonment is usually all too predictable from the man’s previous history and character; but the nurses who have been treated in this way say they refrained from making a judgment about him because it is wrong to make judgments. But if they do not make a judgment about the man with whom they are going to live and by whom they are going to have a child, about what are they ever going to make a judgment?

“It just didn’t work out,” they say, the “it” in question being the relationship that they conceive of having an existence independent of the two people who form it, and that exerts an influence on their on their lives rather like an astral projection. Life is fate.

Chapter one:

All the more surprising is it to me, therefore, that the nurses perceive things differently. They do not see a man’s violence in his face, his gestures, his deportment, and his bodily adornments, even though they have the same experience of the patients as I. They hear the same stories, they see the same signs, but they do not make the same judgments. What’s more, they seem never to learn; for experience—like chance, in the famous dictum of Louis Pasteur—favors only the mind prepared. And when I guess at a glance that a man is an inveterate wife beater (I use the term “wife” loosely), they are appalled at the harshness of my judgment, even when it proves right once more.

This is not a matter of merely theoretical interest to the nurses, for many of them in their private lives have themselves been the compliant victims of violent men. For example, the lover of one of the senior nurses, an attractive and lively young woman, recently held her at gunpoint and threatened her with death, after having repeatedly blacked her eye during the previous months. I met him once when he came looking for her in the hospital: he was just the kind of ferocious young egotist to whom I would give a wide berth in the broadest daylight.

Why are the nurses so reluctant to come to the most inescapable of conclusions? Their training tells them, quite rightly, that it is their duty to care for everyone without regard for personal merit or deserts; but for them, there is no difference between suspending judgment for certain restricted purposes and making no judgment at all in any circumstances whatsoever. It is as if they were more afraid of passing an adverse verdict on someone than of getting a punch in the face—a likely enough consequence, incidentally, of their failure of discernment. Since it is scarcely possible to recognize a wife beater without inwardly condemning him, it is safer not to recognize him as one in the first place.

This failure of recognition is almost universal among my violently abused women patients, but its function for them is somewhat different from what it is for the nurses. The nurses need to retain a certain positive regard for their patients in order to do their job. But for the abused women, the failure to perceive in advance the violence of their chosen men serves to absolve them of all responsibility for whatever happens thereafter, allowing them to think of themselves as victims alone rather than the victims and accomplices they are. Moreover, it licenses them to obey their impulses and whims, allowing them to suppose that sexual attractiveness is the measure of all things and that prudence in the selection of a male companion is neither possible nor desirable.

Often, their imprudence would be laughable, were it not tragic: many times in my ward I’ve watched liaisons form between an abused female patient and an abusing male patient within half an hour of their striking up an acquaintance. By now, I can often predict the formation of such a liaison—and predict that it will as certainly end in violence as that the sun will rise tomorrow.

At first, of course, my female patients deny that the violence of their men was foreseeable. But when I ask them whether they think I would have recognized it in advance, the great majority—nine out of ten—reply, yes, of course. And when asked how they think I would have done so, they enumerate precisely the factors that would have led me to that conclusion. So their blindness is willful.

The blindness is wilful, because the emotions cannot be corrected by evidence. And everything in the culture affirms women in this craziness, even after they fail over and over again with men – cohabitating with the bad ones for years, and then turning away from the good ones. They freely choose the wrong men, and freely pass by the good ones. And almost no one tells them that it’s entirely their fault. Everyone just tells them “follow your heart”. This emotional craziness causes harm to innocent children, and it needs to stop. We have to stop the man-blaming and hold women accountable for making decisions with their emotions and then expecting craziness to “work out”.

You can read the Dalrymple book online for free in this post.

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What is the meaning and significance of Christmas for Christians?

It’s the time of year when we explain what Christianity is about.

God exists

Basically, we know from a variety of scientific arguments that the universe was created and fine-tuned for life by an intelligent agent that existed causally prior to the beginning of the universe, because this agent brought the universe into being. Our purpose as humans is to enter into a two-way loving relationship with this Creator/Designer of the universe. This is the only way that we can ultimately be happy and fulfilled.

We avoid God

Now, when you look at human experience, none of us is interested in finding out about the character of this Creator/Designer, because we are afraid that if we find out too much about him then we will have our freedom to do as we please constrained by the demands of a relationship with an all-powerful, all-good being. Just knowing that such a person exists and has a character distinct from our own is enough to cause us to flee from him so that we can stay autonomous from the obligations of the moral law that he expects us to follow.

Christians believe that this universal desire to avoid an all-powerful, all-good God who will judge us is a result of bad behaviors inherited by us from the very first rebellion against God by our ancestors. Ever since that rebellion, the capability for relating to God has been lost, because we no longer have the ability to stop our rebellion against God. Christians call the first rebellion of our ancestors “The Fall of Man”.

What does this rebellion look like for us today? Well, we want to do whatever we want, in order to be happy, and to ignore God’s demands. We want to have happy feelings, including security, community and being morally good, all without a relationship with God. We want to acquire and rearrange matter for our selfish ends without acknowledging and honoring the Creator/Designer of that matter. And, of course, we would like other people to affirm, voluntarily or involuntarily, that our rebellion against God is really the height of moral goodness.

Additionally, some people imagine that God, if he exists at all, must desire our happiness. And of course when their needs are not met by this invented God, then they become even more bitter at God, and eventually decide that God could not really exist since their selfish needs are not being met by him. It never seems to occur to us humans that some pain and suffering may be permitted by God in order to turn our attention away from pleasure and security in this life, and back towards a relationship with him.

This is the mess we find ourselves in. This propensity for turning away from God and trying to pursue selfish happiness and security apart from a relationship with God is what the Bible calls “sin”. Every single one of us deserves severe punishment for refusing to pursue a genuine two-way love relationship with the God who is there. That is the mess we are in before Jesus appears to address this problem.

Jesus saves the day

I cannot say much about how Jesus solves the problem of rebellion against God, because that is really the story of Easter, and today we are dealing with the story of Christmas. But I can say that the solution to the problem requires that God step into history to communicate with his creatures and to perform actions in order to be reconciled with them. That is the message of Christmas: God is stepping into history to do something to end our rebellion. Easter is the story of what he does.

This is talked about in the Bible in John 1, for example.

John 1:1-5:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

You can substitute the word “Word” there for Logos, which really means logic or reason or wisdom. This is a person with a divine nature, identified with the eternal being of God, who exists causally prior to the creation of the universe, who is going to take on an additional human nature, including a human body. (Christians believe that there is one divine “what” being and three divine “who” persons). Software engineers, you can think of Jesus having two natures as multiple inheritance in C++.

And it continues in John 1:10-14:

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here the word grace doesn’t mean like a graceful ballet dancer. It means an instance of mercy received from a superior. A person (a “who”) identified with the divine being (a “what”) has decided to make us a top-down offer of mercy.

The same message of God stepping into history is found in the Christmas carols that people sing at Christmas.

Christmas carols

Here’s the best one, “O, Holy Night“, and it says:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

When we were in rebellion, we had lost our most valuable capacity – the capacity of being in a direct relationship with God. And if the newborn baby Jesus can accomplish his mission (and he did), then we are going to regain that capacity for a direct relationship with God.

Now look at “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing“, which one of my favorites:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

Basically, as I often say, there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are people who are willing to respond to the offer of a relationship with God, with all the little sacrifices and compromises that a relationship entails, and then there are people who are not willing to respond. For the people who are willing to respond, the appearance of Jesus is the best thing that could possibly happen, because now we are finally going to have a chance to deal directly with God, face-to-face, to find out what he is like, and change ourselves to be more like him, with his help.

And that is why people celebrate Christmas. It’s the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. It is the story of God stepping into history to be reconciled with his rebellious creatures. It’s the story of the divine Logos subjecting himself to the life of a creature in order to rescue us from our sinful, self-destructive rebellion. This love for undeserving creatures is above and beyond the call of duty. We didn’t love him, but instead he loved us first, and he loved us enough to come down here and suffer with us so that we could be reconciled with God.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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Are women naturally good?

Disclaimer: This post doesn’t apply to married women.

There is a common theme among pastors and church leaders that the Bible only applies to men, and women are justified in disregarding it because anything they do that is wrong or that backfires can be blamed on men.

For example, here’s Mark Driscoll explaining how men are to blame for single motherhood:

Part of it is the unintended consequences of divorce. Forty percent of kids go to bed at night without a father. Not to be disparaging toward single moms, but if you’re a single mom and you’re working 60 hours a week, and you’ve got a boy, and he’s home all by himself with no parents and no dad, he’s just going to be hanging out with his buddies, feeding himself pizza rolls.

The number one consumer of online pornography is 12- to 17-year-old boys. What that means is he’s home eating junk food, drinking Monster energy drinks, downloading porn, masturbating and screwing around with his friends. That really doesn’t prepare you for responsible adulthood. That’s a really sad picture, especially if you’re a single gal hoping to get married someday. You’re like: “Seriously, that’s the candidate pool? You’ve got to be kidding me.” That’s why 41 percent of births right now are to unmarried women. A lot of women have decided: “I’m never going to find a guy who is actually dependable and responsible to have a life with. So I’ll just get a career and have a baby and just intentionally be a single mother because there are no guys worth spending life with.”

The Bible says that premarital sex is wrong, but Mark Driscoll knows better – he thinks that it is only wrong for men. If women do it, then it’s not wrong – it’s actually men’s fault. He has also told women who have premarital sex that men should be expected to marry them. This man-blaming for the mistakes that women freely make is not an anomaly, this is the standard practice of most pastors and Christian leaders – who are otherwise perfectly fine. And then these leaders are perplexed about why men don’t marry women who have learned that men are to blame for everything. Men don’t like to be around women who blame them for everything.

So, here is a post was written by a woman – Lindsay from Lindsay’s Logic.

First the picture she posted:

Focus on the Family says: blame the man

Focus on the Family: blame the man for what the woman does

Note that the Bible does not qualify the command in Ephesians 5 that women should submit to their husbands by making it conditional on anything that a man has to do. A man has separate duties, and those are not conditional on anything a woman has to do first. But Focus on the Family doesn’t quote the Bible – they change what the Bible says in order to appeal to their predominantly female audience (Note: I agree with Focus on the Family on 99% of their views). And this is why men don’t touch Christianity with a ten-foot pole these days. It’s not manly Christianity they don’t like – they’ve never encountered it. It’s the feminized Christianity they find in the church, which blames them for everything, that they reject.

Now, the full text of Lindsay’s post:

Focus on the Family recently posted this meme on their page.

At first glance, many people might be tempted to agree with it. But the statement in the poster is actually false.

The truth is that there are plenty of loving, gentle men who are worthy of respect but whose wives are not responding properly to their love and gentleness. Plenty of women have fallen for the feminist ideas that they should never submit or let a man lead them and will be difficult to live with, no matter how wonderful their man is. Even among women who are not feminists, it’s difficult for many women to follow a husband’s leadership because our sinful nature is in rebellion against God’s plan.

Submission and following our husbands is something that must be learned, not something we’re born with or develop naturally. Women aren’t naturally good and kind any more than men are. We’re all fallen. We have to work to develop good habits and learn to do what God wants of us.

It certainly is easier for women to follow a loving, gentle man, but the poster is wrong in assuming that the only barriers to a woman following her man are his flaws. That simply isn’t true. Women also have to overcome their own flaws that stand in the way of the proper relationship they were meant to have.

Unfortunately, this attitude that women are naturally good and that men are the flawed ones that need to change is very prevalent, even among Christians. Imagine the outrage people would have if the scenario was reversed and the poster said something like this:

“Men are usually comfortable being kind and loving to their wives if their wives are submissive, keep up their appearance, and respect them.”

People would be up in arms over such a statement that assumes that men are always wonderful if women will just behave as they should. Why is it any different if the assumption is that women are always wonderful if men are behaving properly? Both are wrong. Both sexes are responsible for their own actions, regardless of what the other person in the marriage does.

So about the post.

Perhaps the best way to test whether a women has corrected her natural tendency towards selfishness is the same way you’d test a man. Show her how doing a particular act is good, even though she may not want to do it. Then encourage her to do it. For example, encourage her to sacrifice her time to volunteer at the church when she’d rather be at home. If she always makes up excuses and never puts in any sacrifice, then that’s a bad sign.

Men are also not naturally good, but everyone knows that already. No blog post needs to be written on what everyone knows and accepts already. And I’ll go even further than that and say that a good man should take responsibility to help a woman to grow and be better for God’s purposes. But if he does everything he can to lead her and she still prefers self-centeredness, then he is not responsible for the outcome. This is important. We are responsible – practically-speaking – to help other people grow. But we are not responsible for whether they actually do grow. In fact, that goes for men and women. Both sexes should take responsibility for helping Christians grow – especially spouses. But do it right – it if works, then you’re doing it right. The goal here is to take responsibility and to do what works. Not to make excuses.

Note: Lindsay almost certainly does not go as far as I go on this issue. My opinions are my own.

UPDATE: Lee sent me this The Resurgence post to provide a balanced view of Mark Driscoll. Please check out my quote above in context and then check out her link, too. I like Mark Driscoll on almost every issue except this one issue.

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