April 30, 2014

My Thoughts On The Ignorant

So last week I put up a post responding to John MacArthur's video on Inclusivism. However, I did not include my actual beliefs in that post, and I thought it might be good to write a seperate post describing what I personally think.

First, I want to state that I am not a Pluralist. I strongly reject the notion that all beliefs are created equal, and I believe that a response to the gospel in particular is soteriologically important. However, I am also not an Exclusivist, so I do believe that there are some who will be in heaven who had not heard the gospel in this life. Therefore, I will fall somewhere in the middle, making me an Inclusivist. However, I try to balance out a lot of different truths in the full development of my belief.

  • That God desires all to be saved (I Tim 2:3-4)
  • That God is lenient on those who are ignorant (Acts 17:30)
  • That evangelism brings salvation to those who hear it (Rom 1:16)
  • That faith in Christ is necessary for election, justification, and regeneration
So how do I compile this. First of all, there is a difference between election, justification and regeneration over against final salvation. Final salvation is an end state. When we are referring to that, we are referring to something that will happen in the future. When I say that I am saved, what I mean is that the good work which has been done in me is such that it guarantees salvation (given that I do not abandon it). 

Election, justification, and regeneration on the other hand are contemporaneous acts that God does on me which take place here and now.When I say I am elect, I mean that right now I am part of God's people. When I say I am justified, I mean right now I am legally in right standing with God. When I say that I am born again, I mean right now God is revived my dead spirit and that the Holy Spirit resides within me. All of these acts are necessary for salvation to ultimately be completed, and it is these acts which guarantees my salvation (not anything I do). 

So how does this apply to the ignorant? Well it seems to me that there is no way that one who is ignorant of the gospel can be regenerate, justified, or elect. Without the gospel, they cannot be in Him, and thus enjoy the benefits and the calling of representing God in the world through His people. However, it does strike me as possible that they can be confronted with the gospel upon death, and that in accordance to that response, be justified, regenerated, and elected. 

This would imply though a well tilled soil. I don't want to suggest that all ignorant persons will ultimately be given eternal life. Indeed, I would think that it is less likely, or else what is the point of evangelism other than giving them the Spirit within this life? But if a person was in fact responding to the drawing of the Holy Spirit, and lacked only exposure to the truth, such exposure would come in death.

After all, faith is about trust and submission to God. It is not about doctrinal affirmation. Doctrine is a sign of maturity; it is not a sign of salvation. So this would raise the question, what signs would we expect from such persons? Well I would suggest that it is not the same signs as a Christian. The fruit that we usually discuss from Christians are the fruits of the Spirit, but an ignorant person wouldn't have the Spirit since they would not be regenerate. Mostly, I would think we would expect a dissatisfaction with what their society says. In other words, they wouldn't be saved because they are a good Muslim for instance, but they would actually be a bad Muslim. Such persons would be responding to the internal draw of the Spirit, and would be lead away from the lies that are around them. They would be ready and willing to hear the truth, simply not knowing what the truth is.

This would be consistent with what Hebrews says, when it claims that someone who has never heard the truth would be better off than the apostate. This makes no sense with exclusivism, but it does with the position I laid out above.

Now I have had this basic view for many years. Generally the only argument I have heard against it is that it is the MacArthur kind. I don't think that I can prove this with Scripture, but I think it is consistent with Scripture and with what I know about God's heart. I am perfectly open to other theories though. 

April 25, 2014

John MacArthur on Inclusivism

So I recently watched this video:

There are a couple of things I would like to say in response, some positive and some negative.

First of all, MacArthur here is suffering from a confusion of terms. When he is responding to what the Catholic apologist and Pope said, and then goes on to define Inclusivism, what he actually defines is what is known as Pluralism. Pluralism is that doctrine which states that what one believes is irrelevant, but only how one acts or whether one is spiritually connected with God.

In this, I completely share in MacArthur's criticism. Truth matters. Pluralism fundamentally denies that there is any true gain in properly identifying and submitting to the one true God. Instead, it focuses on the individual's authenticity of belief and honesty. I do not think this is biblically defensible, nor do I think it is intellectually honest.

However, by calling this Inclusivism, he is able to avoid dealing with the claims of actual Inclusivism. We see this when he quotes the obviously Inclusivist quote from Billy Graham. MacArthur's primary argument against Graham's position is merely a guilt by association. But not only is such an argument fallacious on its face, but in this case the association itself is merely artificial.

Part of the problem of course is the actual definition of Inclusivism. Inclusivism is the belief that God will take into account the conditions and situations around those ignorant of the truth, and will judge them according. You may note a degree of vagueness in that definition. The reason for that is that Inclusivism is actually quite varied in its application, and often maintains a degree of mystery about how things work in regards to the ignorant. This variety makes it quite difficult to assess Inclusivism as a whole since some forms of it can border on Pluralism, while other forms of it border on MacArthur's own Exclusivism (that only those with full understanding of the gospel will be ultimately saved). Indeed, one can argue that unlike Pluralism or Exclusivism, Inclusivism isn't really a doctrine but an umbrella term for all those nuanced beliefs that fall between the two.

As such, it is easy for someone at the end of the spectrum, such as MacArthur, to conclude that all those who disagree with him basically believe the same thing. Indeed, this seems to be the only kind of argument MacArthur seems to know sometimes. However, it is also an erroneous conclusion.

April 18, 2014

A Good Friday

Let me rephrase what Jesus said to the rich young ruler: why do we call today good? I love Jesus. He comforts me, He takes care of me, and He defines my very existence. Yet today we celebrate the day that He died the most horrible and gruesome death ever known. So why do we call it good?

Let me share a bit of my life. A year and a half ago, my second son, Justin, was born. He had a beautiful face and unusually wise eyes for his age. However, even though he looked perfectly healthy from the outside, on the inside his lungs and heart were malformed. The Lord gave my wife and me 10 days with him, and then he left us. Out of all of the experiences of my life, it is the most painful and difficult experience I have ever had. And I will treasure it always.

There is only one word to describe those days we had with Justin: good. There is only one word for the anticipation of him being born even though we knew he would be sick: good. There is only one way to define the feeling of being able to hold him in my arms as he passed away: good. There is only one thing to say to explain what Justin’s short life was: it was most certainly good.

Good is not the absence of pain, or the immensity of happiness. It is the fundamental value of something. Justin’s life, though short, will forever be cemented in his mother’s and my hearts, and it is that which makes it good. When we look to the cross – the epicenter of human history, the suffering to end all suffering, the King of Kings carrying the guilt of the world – we look at something of immeasurable worth. It was not just another Friday, but for humanity it was the best Friday of history. And though it was a difficult time for Christ that day, I am certain He looks back on it and calls it good, for it was the day He bought His people.

So let us celebrate in mourning. Let us express our joy for the day of sorrows. And let us look up that hill and know that what was done was done for you, for me, and for the whole world. May you have a truly Good Friday. Amen.

April 14, 2014

Cosmic Software

I was thinking about the question of how does God's omnipotence work? Often Atheists attempt to challenge the notion of His omnipotence which such things as, "Can God create a square circle" or "Can God create a rock so heavy He can't lift it", but both of these arguments, apart from being sophomoric, assume a 1st grade definition of omnipotence as "God can do anything". A more scholastic definition would be closer to an inexhaustible reservoir of power implementable on both macro and microscopic scale.

But thinking about this, I wondered if there was a way to explain why this inexhaustiveness is true. Note how I am not saying infinite, for that would assume that it is quantitative (and a quantitative infinite is impossible). Instead, omnipotence is usually understood as a quality and is therefore not measurable or watt not.* It is often explained as being the result of His nature and His relationship to the cosmos.

So I thought of this analogy. Consider a computer programmer. This programmer designs a game where the characters in it have AI. This world that they live in would also have certain well regulated physics that they would be bound to. However, the programmer would not be bound to such physics. He would probably develop some kind of standard medium of interaction, like some kind of interactive HUD. However, this medium will have its limitations, and if there is something that he wants to do which is part of the standard medium, then he would still be able to go to the code level and change things.

So how would this appear to the simulated persons? Well, certainly his power would seem infinite. After all, it would take the same amount of energy for him to move a pebble as it would for him to move a mountain. Second of all, the universe would appear regulated, since there is a standard physics in the world. Also, the programmer would seem less active than his power would imply. This is because the standard way he interacts with the world is the HUD, and only goes to the code level when he has good reason.

This description strikes me as being very similar to how we experience God. Now I am not saying that our world is mere illusion, and this is merely a simulation. The analogy has to do with a creator vs creature relationship. But it seems to me that it is reasonable that God has same standard means of interacting with this world that He goes outside of in rare circumstances. Additionally, the power is similar in its unquantifiable nature. So I think this is a good way of looking at the question, and understanding how God relates to our world.

*Get it? "Watt not" instead of "what not"? It's a pun! No, not funny? Fine. Wattever.

April 5, 2014

A Call To Explaining Order

One of the things that I have been thinking about lately is the accusation of "God of the gaps". Now, I don't think that this is true of theism in general. Theism concludes that God exists for philosophical reasons. I also do not think this is true of Christians in general either, for we usually conclude that God exists for personal reasons. However, I think this might be true of the ID movement, and I also think that it is a fair accusation of Creationism as well. Let me explain.

There are generally two types of causes*. The first is agent causation. This is when an intentional being decides to do or makes something. The other is process causation. This is that set of things and actions that are necessary (or simply that were used) to bring about a desired end. First instance, if I wished to talk about the agent cause of the Mono Lisa, that would be Leonardo Da Vinci. This is important since it can answer questions in terms of the Mono Lisa's purpose and influence. However, if I wished to talk about the process cause of the Mono Lisa I would have to discuss Leonardo's painting techniques, palette, model, etc. This is important if we wish to replicate the Mono Lisa or its style. The first question is of minimal importance to the forger, while the latter is of minimal importance to the historian**.

When we say that God created the cosmos, what we are proposing an agent cause, not a process cause. Meanwhile, science is only capable of asking about process causation and has no input in regards to agent causation. This is fair enough. So where is the accusation of God of the gaps?

I think it is with the lack of concern of process causation that I find in many Creationists and some ID people. It is certainly true that once we have God as an explanation, there is little need to have process causation because we can simply say that God did it. Atheists complain that this leads to scientific laziness on our part. And here is where I think at least anecdotally they have a point. In my experinence, Creationists and IDers (and no they are not the same thing) tend to be content with merely criticizing the alternate position. Even the YEC tend to be content with finding evidence which supports their position with little interest in exploring deeper issues and answering unanswered questions. And yes this is a problem.

But where I disagree with the atheists is that it doesn't have to be this way. I think the fundamental reason for it is because we tend to be on the defensive, so I don't think it is laziness. But it is something that we should think about, and actively avoid. Yes, OK, God made the universe, but how did He do it? We really don't know. Mind you, the atheist doesn't know how the universe came about either, so it is not like they are on better footing. But we should be interested not just in the agent causation, but also the process causation. How did God create the cosmos? What was His mechanism? Can we get more detailed than Genesis 1? I think if we are to be taken seriously, we have to start at least asking these questions.

* Here I am using the world 'cause' to mean something which exists outside of something else which brings that thing to be, whether it be an object or an action. I am not using the more general meaning of explanation of a thing. It is also important to note that my names here are informal, and not to be taken as typical.

**Note that I said "minimal importance" not "no importance".