December 24, 2013

O Holy Night


O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

(Yes I know that verse 2 isn't in the video. The video is still beautiful)

December 16, 2013

15 Things Christians Should Not Say to Atheists

I saw this video a couple of months ago: 15 things to NEVER say to an atheist by TheAtheistVoice (whom I will call AV from here on) on YouTube. I wanted to do a post about it because, A) lists are easy things to make posts about and B) I liked the tone within which the video was done. Some of these 15 things the guy has a point about, while others I think he misunderstands. So for each of the 15, I will include a reference in terms of when he starts talking about it. I recommend you listen to his comments on each, and then read my comments in turn. Here is the video:

  1. Where do you get your morality? (4 seconds) Here I think he clearly misunderstands the question. Perhaps this is due to some Christians framing it poorly (on YouTube this is highly possible), but ethically speaking this is a very reasonable question. Yes, of course atheists aren't evil, but atheism cannot account logically for the morality that they have.
    To understand this question properly, you have to not take it pragmatically, as AV seems to. Christians acknowledge that atheists have morals. But the more philosophical question is what are those morals based on. To some degree morality is instinctual but if as humans we have the ability to rise above our mere instincts and in doing so we have to ask these higher philosophical questions about the justification for those instincts. This is especially true since the exact codification of morality varies from civilization to civilization.
    Also, as a point of clarification, Christians don't define morality off of the biblical law, but off of the character of Christ and the holiness of humanity. But this is worth its own post.
  2. Your life must be so empty!(22 seconds) This is a really interesting one IMO. First of all, I agree with him that Christians shouldn't say this, at least not in this way. The kind of fulfillment that we find in Christ is usually not something that we can speculate on or feel is lacking if we haven't experienced it before. So to expect a non-Christian to miss something that they have not experienced is a major mistake, and likely to be misunderstood.
    This doesn't mean that the question of purpose is a irresponsible question to ask. As a philosophical question, it is incredibly relevant to point out that all of our works (if atheism were true) would come to naught. Take all of the things that he lists. All of those things will cease to be. While it may give him present gratification, it isn't the same thing as seeing that his life has true meaning. But if we fail to carefully separate the question of purpose from the question of personal satisfaction in life, we will come off as arrogant and out of touch.
  3. Why are you mad at God?(55 seconds) Though the unicorn bit is over the top, he certainly has a point here. This is an issue of stereotyping, and is something that us Christians shouldn't be doing. Different people become atheists for different reasons. Some are raised atheist; some became convinced for apparently logical reasons; some are angry at religious people; and some are angry at God for not coming through for them at some point. While it is reasonable to ask the question to the last person, it is unreasonable to ask it to the other three.
    And even then, let us consider that fourth option for a second. It is still unreasonable to ask this question unless they are expressing that anger in that moment. Remember we are not trying to win an argument, but win a soul. It is an entirely different thing.
  4. You can't disprove God.(1:10) Christians absolutely shouldn't say this. This is a retreat and empowers atheist argumentation (as you see here). What exactly is the value in believing in something that is unfalsifiable? I don't see that as productive in the slightest. What is more important is that we take the time to establish what is and is not good evidence for God, and yes we should demand evidence from the atheist as well.
    Writing this something occurred to me. Perhaps a Christian will say this as a polite way to end a conversation. Kind of saying, "You won't convince me, so back off". Even here, this isn't very wise. Instead of ending the conversation, you'll merely be starting a new one. So there is still no advantage to a Christian ever saying this.
  5. What if you're wrong?(1:58) This can be seen as a straw man of Pascal's Wager, and is therefore handled quite poorly. Pascal's wager is worthy of it's own post as well, and requires more serious reflection than this video gives it. Additionally, his answer is merely a straw man of how salvation really works within Christianity. God will not condemn someone for asking honest questions, but He is concerned with how you select those questions, and the attitudes that you hold.
  6. You just have to have faith.(2:53) Again I am in agreement with him here. This is a retreat, and there is no need for us to retreat. If you don't know an answer, than admit that, and point out that you are human and simply don't have all of the answers.
    A proper definition of faith is also in order here. Faith is trusting in God. Trusting in someone when you don't have sufficient answers is not only reasonable, but also necessary. No scientist redoes every single experiment to see for themselves if the conclusions that others reached were legitimate. There just isn't enough hours in your life. To some degree you have faith in others' research, and that's OK. But it is important to explain why that is, and frame it properly.
  7. Just open your heart to God.(3:34) This is a problem of Christianese, and yes, Christians shouldn't say this. As a Christian, you cannot assume that an atheist understands your terminology, or frames his life in the same way that we do. Yes, I would say that if someone is a committed atheist then they have in some manner closed off their heart. However, I do not know how, nor do I expect the atheist to simply fix the problem because I told him to. And frankly, why would you? It is your job as a Christian to instead build a relationship with the person, and participate in this examination. This strikes me more as a Christian being lazy than anything else.
  8. You were never really religious.(4:06) Seriously. How would you really know this? This demonstrates an evangelistic problem with OSAS, which is something I reject anyway. You will never get anywhere by explaining somebody's life to them. They are the ones who lived it, not you.
  9. What happened in your childhood?(5:12) Another that Christians really shouldn't say. Again, it is hubris to assume things about someone else's life, and when you do so, you destroy your credibility, and the credibility of other Christians after you.
  10. Have you read the Bible?(5:42) This one is interesting for a few different reasons:
    1. Asking if an Atheist has read the Bible only makes sense if you are checking to see if they understand Christianity. It doesn't make sense to say this if you are talking about their Atheist beliefs
    2. More interestingly, do we really want Atheists just reading the Bible? Do they have the appropriate hermeneutics training to read what it really is saying? Do they understand how to put things into historical context? Do they understand how different books relate to one another? Let's face it, if you tell an atheist who has never read the Bible to read it, they aren't starting in Matthew, but Genesis, Exodus and then Leviticus. Not really a good place to be to understand Christianity
    Overall, we have to be careful about non-believers reading the Bible. Remember what the eunuch said to Philip, "How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?"
  11. I'll pray for you(6:40)There are a few things to comment on here. Yes, instead of just saying that we will pray for him, we should also do something! Absolutely. But I disagree with him that saying that we will pray for him is something we shouldn't say. That said, we should be conscious of how we say it. We should recognize that they don't believe in prayer, and we can't use prayer as an argument or something. But seriously, us saying that we will pray is nothing more than an affirmation that we believe it, and it does mean more than simply saying, "you are in our thoughts." While I get what he is saying, I think it is completely fine to tell someone that you are praying for them, as long as you are not hitting them over the head with it, and you are prepared to basically deal with this kind of reaction.
  12. Do you worship the devil?(7:34) Sigh...
  13. You must be Agnostic(8:01) Flying Spaghetti Monster: something atheists should really stop saying to Christians. Truly a dumb argument.
    Anyway, I wrote a post on this issue a couple of weeks ago. The problem is that the line between agnostic and atheist is generally drawn on an individual level. For instance even here is he says, "To me, an agnostic is..." Well that's sort of the problem. That is not how the term was originally defined, and you can't just decide what a word means on your own. That said, there is a time and place for this conversation, and many make this point at inappropriate times. But this is legit if it is properly contextualized and actually serves a rhetorical purpose.
  14. Isn't Atheism a religion?(9:02)Ugh. This is annoying because he gets a lot of things wrong here, and so does the Christian who asks this. So just everyone is wrong here.
    First of all, let's look at his definition of religion: a belief in a higher power. The problem is that there are a lot of spiritualists who believe in higher powers and that can't really be termed a religion. Also, classic Buddhism is a religion and yet it doesn't believe in a higher power.
    Religion is a systematized worldview which is upheld corporately through ritual. Atheism isn't a religion because it doesn't naturally lend itself to corporate gathering and isn't ritualistic. (And being a Cubs fan isn't a worldview, so fails for other reasons).
    However, when Christians say this, what they are really saying is that Atheism is a worldview. It is not a non-position. It is not as simple as simply being "off" or whatever. There are certain epistemological and cosmological assertions which form the foundation of being atheist. It is a philosophy. It is a worldview. But no, it is not a religion.
  15. Why are you so angry?(9:40) Actually I think this is a good question if asked honestly. And this is the answer. To be honest, it is for the same reason why Christians get mad at atheists. Both of us address the public sphere and others based off of what we believe to be true, and when other obstruct that vision, it is frustrating because we care about truth and other people.
    What bothers me in the video on this last one is that he cannot see that his frustration is mutual, and his statement that he cares about truth and rights and we don't is simply hubris, and makes him guilty of the very thing he is complaining against.

These 15 things Christians shouldn't say to Atheists pretty much fall into two categories: Good arguments that are often presented poorly, and retreat statements designed to protect the Christian from criticism. For those of the first category, I encourage my fellow Christians to be aware that what we intend to say is not always what is heard, and therefore be sure you are communicating, not simply talking.

For those of the second category, don't say those things. We have no reason to retreat, and presenting Christianity as an amorphous belief that cannot be defeated makes it look fake. Don't do that. Admit when you don't know things, and focus on why you believe it. And lean on your fellow Christians to relieve some of the burden if you feel like you are being constantly attacked. God designed the church to be a body: a living organism that works together for the kingdom.

And yes, buy apologetics books, but also buy atheist books, and compare. Never trust someone who says to only read their side's work, but let the other side define themselves. I love William Lane Craig, but I trust his work because he defines atheism based on what other atheists say and have said. It is important that we do this, and not simply judge the other side based on what our side has said. But we shouldn't just read that side, and ignore the criticism that comes from our side. In other words, it takes work, and there are no short cuts.

But I would like to end on a more irenic note. One of the last things he says is that it is ok to say these things in good faith. I think that this is fundamentally my point throughout this: what these comments mean when said in good faith. There are of course many Christians who make these comments without trying to understand where the Atheist is coming from, and also without fully understanding the arguments that the they are based on. While it is also legitimate to ask questions, especially of friends and acquaintances, but when it comes to engagement in public or on the internet, make sure you were well-versed in the subject. Otherwise, you do more harm than good.

December 9, 2013

A Problem With Time

I've been dealing with a bit of an intellectual dilemma, and I want to get it out there. But this has to do with the technical ideas, so I have define some terms first.

First of all, there are considered to be two basic theories in regards to the nature of time: A-theory and B-theory. A-theory understands the past and the future to not truly exist. All that exists is the present moment which is a transition from the past moment to the future moment. B-theory views time as a dimension of space. Thus reality exists as a 4 dimensional block of space-time. 

Which theory of time one holds is important when understanding the nature of God's foreknowledge. First instance, if you have an A-theory of time, then how does God know the future, since the future does not exist? That would be like God knowing the anatomy of a unicorn. This is the fundamental reason why I have always held to a B-theory of time, visualizing God is basically existing apart from time, and being able to be in both the past and the future simultaneously.

Indeed, I have always seen God as omnitemporal. Seeing time as a dimension of space, His relationship to time would be the same as His relationship to space. Thus omnitemporality is nothing more than an extension of omnipresence. 

Now, I have been reading The Cosmological Argument by Dr. William Lane Craig. One of the consistent points that is made in the various forms cosmological argument is that a quantitative infinity cannot exist for it causes logical inconsistencies. This is the fundamental reason that philosophers have often given when arguing that the universe requires a beginning, since an infinite past is impossible since the past should be measurable. 

However, what I have recently realized is that the same goes for the future given a B-theory of time. If the full stretch of time already exists, and it cannot exist infinitely in the past, than it would have to relate to the future as well for from God's perspective the past would be equally measurable. If one end of a block can't be infinite, the other end can't be either. While some might not have a problem with this, it would be the end of eternal life on earth. I cannot be resurrected from the dead and exist forever on this earth if the B-theory of time is accurate.

I don't know how to escape the conundrum. If this is correct, then the B-theory of time is simply wrong. But if it is wrong, that leaves us with the A-theory of time. But I really don't like that option, for the concept of omnitemporality would no longer make sense. God couldn't exist both in the past and the future simultaneous since they do not exist. Thus He only exists in the present. This leaves us with determinism, Molinism, or Open-theism, none of which are options that I am particularly fond of (though if forced, I would go with Molinism). 

I can only see one option in terms of saving B-theory. I would call this the temporary temporal dimension. It would have to be that when Adam and Eve fell, the universe shifted into a different mode of time that is a B-theory organization. However, when God created the new Heavens and Earth, it would shift into a more A-theory of time. The fundamental problem with this is that it feels so ad-hoc.

Let me know if any one of you have a different way of salvaging B-theory considering the need to affirm an infinite future. I really do not want to shift to an A-theory of time, but I have to go with where reason and Scripture lead me. 

December 2, 2013

Does God Lament?

Recently I watched this video by a Calvinist who clearly isn't the sort to engage in intellectual discourse. In order to show the incomprehensibility of Arminianism, he performs a scene which he believes typifies God's perspective towards the world if Arminianism was true. Here is how it went:

There are a couple of things here that I would immediately object to. First of all, he attempts to make God sound impotent, which is of course incorrect in Arminian theology. God is constantly active and involved in each person's life. Second, he makes God sound whiny, which is clearly off. The reference to Jesus knocking is somewhat interesting, since the idea that He knocks is a biblical reference, so I don't really know what he is trying to get at there.

But more to the point, I think he is criticizing the Arminian position for giving God cause to lament: to be sorrowful that things don't happen the way He wants them to happen. Now I can understand that such a thing is impossible within the Calvinist position, but I fail to understand what the actual problem is, either biblically or theologically.

Well I guess maybe they have a point. Can you imagine God saying something like, "How long will they reject me? Even after everything I have to done to show to them that I am here and will care for them?" or perhaps, "What more could I have done? Why is it when I worked to see my people do good, that they have done evil?" Except the first is a paraphrase from Numbers 14:11, and the second from Isaiah 5:4.

The Bible is actually full of divine laments, such as Matthew 23:37 or Jeremiah 7:31. This idea that God gets whatever He wants just isn't there. Therefore there seems to be good biblical grounds to merely except this "criticism" (that is that God would be able to lament) to be biblically accurate, which raises the question, why does the Calvinist reject it?

But then there is the theological question: why is this even a problem? Clearly, the Calvinist feels that it would make God weak. But this seems to be mostly a human concern. Even if God isn't as "strong" as a Calvinist wants, He is still stronger than anything else. Indeed, why would an omnipotent being be concerned that he is seen as strong? Doesn't that sound more like insecurity than true strength?

Of course, the assessment is also completely inaccurate. Arminianism still teaches that God is omnipotent, however it is certainly true that God doesn't use His full power. I mean, I certainly believe that God is gentle, but that doesn't necessarily lead to the idea that he is weak. When I lament that my son disobeys me, is it because I lack the power to force him to do what I ask? No of course not. It is because the level of force necessary for me to get my way will break him. He's delicate. Indeed it takes strength for me to be gentle with him.

Thus, I don't see God not getting His way as a sign of His weakness, but our delicacy. And I recognize that as a loving Father, He is gentle with us, even when we disobey. After all, which is more important? Affirming that God is strong, or that He is good? Sacrificing goodness for a clearer demonstration of strength feels more like a high school jock than a good shepherd.

November 18, 2013

Atheism vs. Agnosticism

One of the interesting tendencies that I have noticed with the New Atheists is the penchant for using the term "Atheism" to mean "Agnosticism". Mind you, I don't mind this since I see little difference between the terms, but I think it is worthy of comment.

Classically, the term Atheism strictly meant that someone believed that God does not exist. It is synonymous with Naturalism or Materialism which are denials of the supernatural (only the natural or material exist). It was not understood as an absence of a belief, but as a belief.

Agnosticism by contrast was the recognition that we lack sufficient evidence for the non-existence of God or the supernatural, but that we also lacked sufficient evidence for God's existence as well. Therefore it is best to stay open minded, but assume non-existence until more evidence comes in.

However, lately I have seen very few true Atheists. Most who use the term now are technically Agnostics. Personally, I think this that Agnosticism is both rhetorically and logically a superior stance to Atheism (which is probably why it is now more popular). That said, I used the word 'technically' for a reason. Classically, Agnostics argued, "Since I can't know for sure, then I won't believe it." However, these modern day Atheist/Agnostic hybrids are saying, "Since we can't know for sure, then you shouldn't believe it." Thus they have the aggressiveness of the Atheist, but the epistemology of the Agnostic. This leads to some very special pleading. I plan on writing more about that later.

But why did this happen? I think it came about because of the public abuse of the word "Agnostic". Agnosticism (and Atheism for that matter) is not a non-stance. It is in fact an epistemology stance (one with many problems for that matter). This is to be compared with Atheism which is a cosmological stance. However, many began to use the word "Agnostic" for someone who is unsure what to believe or simply apathetic. That's not Agnosticism, but I believe this rampant abuse of the term has lead many to believe that it is unsalvageable. To be honest they may be right about that.

But this leaves us with this rather nebulous group who believe in the contradictory hybridization of Agnostic epistemology and aloofness with Atheist cosmology and passion.  Indeed, I would say that many of these are indeed Atheists, but use Agnostic epistemology as a rhetorical tool. But then there are others who seem to be legitimate Agnostics. As I said: nebulous.

To me, I just find this annoying. When ever you try to discuss anything with someone like this, they switch back and forth between the two positions as the need arises. I'm reminded of William Lane Craig's debate with the late Christopher Hitchens. Dr. Craig kept trying to pin down Hitchens's position, and Hitchens kept dodging, or he didn't fully grasp the distinction being made. What's more, it is just so silly. They clearly believe in something, but they pretend like they don't. I don't know if it is immaturity or rhetorical genius. Maybe a bit of both.

November 11, 2013

Human Consciousness and the Transcendental Argument

I was watching a video earlier in the week featuring Alvin Plantinga (which is always a pleasure). In it, he constructs an argument as to why he believes that the human consciousness exists. Unsurprisingly it is a modal based argument, but I'll attempt to summarize as best I can (Please refer to the above link if you think what I said doesn't make any sense).

His basic point is that one's consciousness is distinct from one's body. The fundamental premise of the argument is that if A is the same as B, and what is true for A is true for B. Likewise, if something can be shown to be true for A and shown to be not true for B, then this proves that A and B are not the same thing. He does this by way of the property of existence. Naturally, if A can exist while B doesn't, than A is different than B. This doesn't include a corpse, since one could argue that a corpse isn't really a body anymore. However, it does seem possible to have one's mind within a different body. He uses the example of a story where a man wakes up one morning to find himself in a beetle's body. This seems to be a perfectly feasible world to him.

All of that said, I think the example of the beetle actually undermines his point. He isn't really saying that there exists a possible world where someone can go to bed as a human and just wake up as a beetle, but because this is so fantastic, it is difficult to accept his point of it being a possible world.

I think a better allegory would be the transference of one's mind into either a computer or another's brain. If the naturalist is correct in terms of the nature of our consciousness, that is that it is essentially a really sophisticated computer program, then it should be perfectly feasible to download that program into a computer, assuming sufficient memory, computational abilities, and that the program was translated into a language the computer can read. However, if this is true, then my consciousness can exist apart from my body and is not simply reducible to my brain.

This got me thinking again about the transcendental argument. This argument is as follows:

  • Naturalism believes that there exists nothing that transcends physical reality (N -> ~t)
  • There exists some object t which transcends physical reality (t)
  • Therefore Naturalism is false (~N)
We can refer to many possible object "t"s as transcendentals. Many such instances have been suggested, including math, logic and morality. I also suggested information and thoughts as a transcendental some months back.

Now I believe that Plantinga's argument enhances my point about thoughts being a transcendental, especially since it would move it beyond mere thoughts to specifically consciousness itself. After all, Plantinga's intention is to demonstrate the logical possibility of the soul, and the soul is the ultimately what the transcendental is trying to demonstrate to begin with: the existence of the ultimate soul, God. Once one establishes the possible existence of the mind apart from the body, then the possible existence of a mind with no body at all becomes obvious.

A comparison of the mind/consciousness to a transferable program has another important philosophical ramification as well: the need of the body. All information requires a medium to influence the physical word. I may have a mediumless thought in my own mind, but in order for me to but that thought out into the world, it requires some kind of physical medium. An algorithm after all is not tied to a computer, but needs a computer for it to be executed. Likewise, our minds may require a physical medium to be present in the physical world, and rather than our minds being reducible to our brains, it is better to think of our brains as such a medium.

Indeed, I have often found it strange, upon historical reflection, when an atheist claims that our minds relationship to our brains disproves the biblical account of the soul. However, in ancient Mesopotamia which the the context of the ancient Hebrews, it was believed that the soul was part of the heart. While the Hebrews connected our consciousness to the wrong organ, they still connected it to an organ. Thus such a relationship is perfectly consistent with the Hebraic understanding of the soul (anatomy? No. Soul? Yes).

In conclusion, I think that the Transcendental Argument is a powerful argument for the Christian, and recognizing that one can demonstrate the reasonableness of a belief in the soul strengthens the argument even more. 

November 1, 2013

Happy All Saints Day!!!

Happy All Saints Day! Today is the first Christian holiday, the day that the church remembers those who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the gospel. We remember our fallen brothers in the Lord who are clothed in white robes (Revelation 6:9-11). As is my custom I offer you a story of martyrdom, this year from the book Jesus Freaks:

Seven Chinese guards surrounded Gao Feng, who was handcuffed to a chair. The guards took turns shocking him with cattle prods. "Eat!" they commanded. "And we will stop.
Feng had gone on a hunger strike to get back his copy of the Scriptures which the guards had taken from him. They were torturing him to get him to stop the hunger strike. At times, he thought he could no longer stand the pain, but he didn't give up. They never broke his spirit...  
Gao Feng, a 30-year-old worker at Chrysler's Jeep plant in Beijing, had tried to work within the Communist government system to get a Protestant church registered. Only government-sanctified churches are legal in China. All  others are illegal, their services are often disrupted by the police, and the pastors and congregations are beaten and imprisoned.  
Feng collected signatures for a petition seeking government registration for his church so they could meet legally,. For this "crime" he was arrested and sent to prison without a trial, his home and possessions confiscated.  
As a result of his hunger strike, Feng was sent to a northern province for "re-education through labor." While there, he lived in a 12 by 20 foot cell with sixteen other prisoners. They spent twelve hours each day working in the fields. At night, with so many in such a small cell, they had to arrange themselves a certain way so that everyone could lay down.  
When he was transferred back to Beijing, he refused to chant the pro-government slogans with the other prisoners, so his "re-education" was continued. This time, his brainwashing included being forced to watch the news every evening on government controlled TV. Finally, after more than two years in prison and in re-education camps, Feng was released on February 7th, 1998.  
To Feng, it was all worth it, and he would happily go to prison again. "I would prefer to be in prison for two years than to do nothing for God," he said. In fact, he feels lucky. As people wrote to the Chinese govenment demanding his release. Feng says the international attention focused on his case earned him better treatment from the Chinese authorities. "Others who are less well known are simply executed." 

October 28, 2013

Or "Speak Before You Think "

What Do I Mean By Equivocation

Equivocation is a kind of logical fallacy where two definitions of a word are used within an argument, and the conclusion is based off of confusing one definition for the other. For instance,
Socrates is a man
Man covers the globe.
Therefore Socrates covers the globe. 
In the first premise, 'man' means male, but in the second premise 'man' means humanity. By assuming the two words mean the same thing, you come to an illogical conclusion and one that in this case if obviously false.

Now, perhaps a more relevant example:
Nothing comes from nothing
But in quantum mechanics, elementary particles can pop into existence from nothing.
Therefore premise one is false.
However, the word 'nothing' in premise one refers to literal nothingness, as in non-being. However, in premise two the word 'nothing' refers to a quantum vacuum, which is a repository of energetic fields, not literal nothingness. Therefore the word 'nothing is being equivocated.

Equivocation is generally a kind of mistake. Unlike most of what I talk about in these discussions on rhetoric, we are not discussing a rhetorical style as much as a tendency that I've noticed within the rhetoric. No one equivocates intentionally, and it is generally a result of sloppy writing, miscommunication between disciplines, or simple ignorance.

Apart from the example given above, most of the equivocation that I see coming from atheists is generally based on theological terms. There seems to be a disinterest in trying to understand where the theist is actually coming from. While I understand that it is inappropriate for me to expect the average atheist to understand theological language, once that atheist attempts to become a critic of religion and theology, he then has the responsibility of knowing he's talking about. But the New Atheists seem to disagree. Theology, just like any discipline, has its jargon, and one cannot assume to understand what philosophers and theologians mean by terms like "omnipotence" or "faith" because you heard the terms the last time you were in Sunday School when you were 12. There have been centuries of discussion about these ideas, and many of them have been refined over the ages. It is every one's duty to interact with the best that a position has to offer (or, like I am doing here, admit you are dealing with only a sect).

Equivocation In Action


The examples that I have chosen are the ones that I feel are the most problematic in terms of  how atheists understand what they are dealing with. In this regard, their misunderstanding of what 'religion' means is quite important. When pushed, most atheists would define religion by a belief in a higher power or God. However, most Atheists would recognize Buddhism as a religion, even though classic Buddhism doesn't believe in God, and they would also recognize Deism as not being a religion but rather a philosophy. Sometimes, they would criticize religion as the belief in God, and other times they will emphasize that the problem with religion is the belief in a God who answers prayers, which is more of an recognition of 'religion' meaning something deeper. So what exactly is a religion?

A better definition of religion is an organized system of thought that incorporates a worldview and daily practices, especially ritual. Recognizing that atheism is actually a worldview, and not simply disbelief, some theists have referred to Atheism itself as a religion. This is actually untrue, seeing how there are no rituals connected to Atheism. Atheism is more of a philosophy. But the atheist is quite right is noticing that most religions tend to believe in gods, and belief in gods generally leads to religion. However, religious tenancy and actually religion aren't really the same thing.

But that said, Atheism isn't the antithesis of religion for religion isn't simply the belief in God. Atheism itself is a full and positively asserted worldview just like the philosophy of Christianity or any other religion, and an atheist cannot define religion in terms of that ritual in some arguments, and yet restrict the term 'religion' as a type of worldview other times.


This comes down to one simple argument that Atheists tend to use (though it comes out in a variety of ways). Often times they will say, "well Christians don't believe in the myriad of other gods that others believe in; we simply go one god further." However, inherent within this argument is an equivocation.

The term 'god' in this context is understood in ontological or taxonomical terms. In other words, the term is used to denote the type of being that we are talking about.This is sort of a correct definition since this is how monotheists tend to use the word. However, the God of the Bible is as different from Thor as a human is from an ant. When used across religions in this way, this definition clearly breaks down and ceases to make sense. Thor isn't a god in the same way as Adonai.

When we are dealing with the word in terms of inter-religious studies, it is better to define it in relational terms: a god is a being who is worshipped. A being is innately a god, would be a being is worthy of worship due to its innate nature (which would certainly apply to Adonai).

Thus in this argument, and its variants, the Atheist is equivocating the philosophical definition of 'God' with the inter-religious definition of 'god', resulting in a confused argument. There are other problems with the above argument, but those do not apply to the topic of this post.

The End Result

There isn't so much a result of equivocation as much as equivocation is a result. It is fundamentally what happens when someone doesn't bother to learn the position that they are criticizing. This is overall a good lesson for us Christians as well, because often we use arguments grounded in ignorance or misunderstanding as well. We cannot assume our position when talking to someone who isn't familiar with it. We need to speak truth in their language as much as we can, which means learning that language.

In terms of when atheists use such arguments, it is really our advantage. Ignorant arguments only convince the ignorant. We need to recognize how they are misconstruing things, correct them, and then challenge them on their ignorance. Simple correction isn't sufficient because if they are ignorant of this, then it is likely they are ignorant of other things.

And don't simply say, "Have you even read the Bible?", but it isn't reading that is important but understanding it. There are a plethora of people out there, both who claim to be Christian and those who don't, who have read the Bible from cover to cover. It is more important to encourage them to be inquisitive, to talk to experts, and to read commentaries and scholars if they are truly interested in engaging Christianity. Remember, it isn't argument that changes a person's mind. Arguments are designed to give someone the intellectual permission to consider Christianity, but it is ultimately the Spirit who convinces someone.

October 17, 2013

One Year

One year ago yesterday, my second son Justin was born. 10 days later on October 27th he died.* He is now buried in a family plot in my wife's hometown. We just came home today, and I am rather emotionally dead. Not tired, but I just am not feeling much right now.

That said, I've been thinking about the nature of pain and suffering in the life of a Christian. Many people have been impressed with how Esther and I have dealt with Justin's passing. Our story regarding Justin has encouraged and even helped many people who surround us. I don't think that this is why Justin died, for all death and tragedy is first and foremost tied to the fallen nature of the world, but I am happy that God has been able to use Justin's brief life for His glory, and for helping others.

I do not understand those who find solace in the notion that when bad things happen to them, that it was designed by God. Sure, knowing that something going on may have a good reason behind it may make me feel better when I don't get the job I want, or  maybe even if I get in a car crash. But when it comes to my newborn son dying? Not really. We have to remember that according to Scripture there are things which happen which God didn't want to have happen. The hope we have in Christ and security that we find in Christ are grounded both in the sense that He will help us in this life, but more in that in the end He wins.

In the end, I am comforted by knowing that I will see him again. He is OK. He might be disconnected from his body, but that is only temporary. That may not stop me from being sad, but I would probably be distraught without such assurance.

I remember an atheist who once commented that Christians don't really believe in what we say we do, because we are still sad when someone dies. Because, you know, no one cries when someone moves away. Not really the best example of reasoning. But I think it also underestimates the weight of empty arms. When you expect to be holding an infant, and there is no infant to hold, your arms... ache. It is not just about life vs. death, but the is vs. the ought. Sorrow, anger, etc... they come when the is and the ought don't line up. And though Justin is fine, it is still not the way things ought to be.

But one day, one day, the is will be the same as the ought, and on that day, we'll see Justin, and get to find out what his life has been like.

*Don't chide me about the math. It was 10 days.

October 7, 2013

You Always Liked Mom Best*

It is wonderful having a son. I love being a father. And what is really precious are those moments when you recognize that he's figured something out for the first time. Watching his mind really work, and seeing him learn is absolutely amazing. Not to mention the times where we just wrestle on the bed, and I throw him really high when his mom isn't looking.

However, you know what isn't fun? When he only wants his mom. And I don't mean when he is playing with his mother and he doesn't want me to interrupt. I get that. I mean when he wants absolutely nothing to do with me. It is as if the fact that I am not his mother is an affront to all things good and decent in the world.

Now this wasn't exactly surprising. I was often told that younger children tend to prefer their mother. What is more surprising is how heartbreaking it can actually be! It is my own emotional reaction to being rejected by my son that really shocks me. It is especially because I know how artificial his preference is at the moment.

No, I'm not really planning on making some theological point out of all of this. I'm really just venting. Fortunately, my wife is excellent at not simply submitting to my son's demands. At the end of the day though, it often balances out, and we often have great fun.

* Anyone who catches the Smothers Brothers reference gets 20 internet points.

September 23, 2013

Or "Instant Argument; Just Ad Hominem"

What Do I Mean By Ridicule

The Indelicate Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is on record for saying the following,
Mock them. Ridicule them. In public. Don't fall for the convention that we are all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe that need to be substantiated, and need to be challenged, and if necessary need to be ridiculed with contempt. 
I do not wish to take him out of context, so I have listened to this speech. The speech is actually about not being ashamed of one's atheism: not being afraid to stand up for what you believe. While that is commendable, it is rather interesting that he ends on this point. It shows exactly what his thinking is.

He does not believe that one should stand up for one's beliefs because discussion leads to better understanding. He does not believe that one should stand up for one's beliefs because one has a voice and has a right to be heard. He does not believe that one should stand up for one's beliefs because one's beliefs can be tested and refined by engagement with other ideas. And he most certainly doesn't believe that one should stand up for one's beliefs because human beings are innately fallible, and you never know if you need to be corrected.

Instead, he believes that atheists should stand up for their beliefs so that others can be silenced, for he assumes that atheism always wins. While I can commend Dawkins and the many atheists who are like him for their confidence, I cannot commend them for their hubris. They cross this line by not merely assuming that they are right, but by assuming that their position is so self-evident that the opposing view does not need to be seriously considered or listened to (and therefore should be silenced). While I consider the atheist position to incorrect, I do believe that there is value in understanding where atheists are coming from because they are fellow human beings. Even if there is no merit to their position, by understanding it I would be in a better place to showing them where they err and gain a better understanding of my own beliefs as well. It is perhaps this inability to listen that causes Dawkins to only be taken seriously by those who already agree with him.

But Why Ridicule?

All of that said, it doesn't really address the question of what is the rhetorical value of ridicule. One could say that is to revel in their sense of self-superiority, but A) I am hesitant to psycho-analyze an entire group of people and B) if this was the only reason, I don't think they would admit to doing it. So from the atheists' perspective, I think it is intended to serve two purposes.

First, I think the fundamental justification for it, and this is reading between the lines of Dawkins, is that they feel if they demonstrate the ridiculousness of our beliefs, they might just shake us of our delusion, like Simon Cowell tried to do on American Idol. However since this never actually works (because a belief in God isn't logically ridiculous and most of their insults are straw men), there must be another reason for why they would openly use it as a rhetorical strategy.

I think this strategic purpose is what rhetoricians call poisoning the well. Poisoning the well is attempting to discredit a particular side before that side is able to speak. In this sense, they are attempting to create in the public consciousness the belief that religious people are stupid or deluded and thus shouldn't be listened to. In other words, it isn't really about changing the perspective of the person that are talking with, but influencing the culture to disregard religion.

Ridicule In Action

Peter Atkins Vs. John Lennox

One of the more shocking examples of this that I have witnessed is a conversation between two Oxford professors, atheist chemist Peter Atkins and Christian mathematician John Lennox, which was called "Dueling Professors" (You can be find it on Youtube). John Lennox is one of my favorite people, period, while Peter Atkins has struck me as being quite pompous in previous things that I have read by him or watched of him.

But the level of malevolence and spite that came from Professor Atkins in this video is simply stunning. He makes incredibly few actual arguments throughout the conversation, and usually simply scoffs or belittles Professor Lennox. One definitely hears Atkins' raspy voice far more than Lennox's simply because Atkins constantly interrupts him. He even dips into racism as he reduces the fact of Lennox's faith down to him being Irish, which he follows up with "Get em' while their young".

While ridicule is fairly constant in atheist rhetoric, I must admit that this is the worst example I know. What is striking about it is that I don't think either of them come out of this conversation strong. It simply feels like Atkins bullying Lennox, rather than anything constructive. And this is how I feel about most of these examples: it makes Christians look weak, and Atheists look like jerks. I might add that Lennox has held his own against Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. It is simply difficult to present one's positions when one is not allowed to speak.

Richard Dawkins Vs. William Lane Craig

One of the more curious examples of ridicule is the interaction between Dr. Richard Dawkins and Dr. William Lane Craig, or should I say the lack there of. William Lane Craig is easily the most respected and formidable Christian apologist alive today, and yet Dawkins, who claims to be able to easily trounce any Christian and who claims that he has never received a good answer to his arguments, refuses to debate with him.*

To me, this is fascinating. I honestly don't care if Dawkins ever does debate Craig one-on-one, though I would certainly enjoy watching it. But what is interesting is how Dawkins justifies it. He usually does so by trying to debase Dr. Craig.

One excuse is that he doesn't debate Creationists, even though Dr. Craig isn't a Creationist. Another is that Dr. Craig had the audacity to morally defend Israel's invasion of Canaan, even though that is just a basic tenant of believing in the Bible. Also he has attempted to discredit his credentials, such as calling him Mister instead of Doctor (though he has two doctorates, on in philosophy and one in theology), and joke that he is a nobody, even though he clearly isn't.

Now personally, I think there is a good reason for Dawkins to not debate Craig, even if Dawkins would win (which I don't actually think he would). Dr. Craig's reason for debating is to demonstrate that it is possible to be an intelligent person and still be a Christian. Dr. Dawkins' purpose is try and demonstrate religion to be foolish. Even if Dawkins were to win a debate against Craig, Dr. Craig still wouldn't make a fool of himself, and I that is against Dawkins general goals.

Overall, I think Dawkins believes that win or lose, Craig would gain more prestige and would be more well known if they debated, and he doesn't want that. However, this doesn't excuse him poisoning the well whenever the subject arises.

The End Result

Well the goal of this rhetoric is to demonstrate that the atheist is intellectually superior, but it also tends to make them look like jerks. However, I think to them that is a reasonable trade-off. Part of the point after all is that facts are facts, and if we don't like them, we are just in denial. It makes us question our own offenses, thinking, "Am I offended because they are doing something wrong, or because I have a prejudice that they are exposing?"

I've come to the point where I have tested my prejudices enough to know the difference. Absolutely there are some things that they say that make me feel uncomfortable because they are good points, like the Bible justifying certain things that our culture doesn't like (and visa versa) or when a Christian person or group does something unChristlike. These are things which are uncomfortable for me to deal with, and it is frustrating to have to go over them multiple times.

However, there is also plenty that they say and do that is just plain childish and naive, like equivocating all religons, name-calling, or judging their opponents by the worst adherents while judging their own by the best. Sometimes the frustration to the first case can mask our proper indignation and annoyance at the second. This masking is something that they are relying on, disguising bad arguments as us having trouble facing the hard facts.

It is amazing how well this actually works, especially considering how childish it really is. It reminds me of mud-slinging in political campaigns, where everyone knows they are being manipulated by them, yet statistics show that they work! It is the basic fact that just because they are manipulating you, it doesn't mean they don't have a point. So you listen to them anyway, even though you know that a large chunk of what they are saying is mere posturing and propaganda.

As Christians, we combat this by sticking to core arguments and being well educated. They might be able to convince everyone that they are smart, but they need help from us to convince people that we are dumb. Having just a bit of intellectual chops can be enough to at least dispel the illusion of intellectual superiority enough for people to hear you when you point out that their arguments don't actually hold water. It also doesn't hurt to demonstrate how childish they are really being.
*In 2010 both Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Richard Dawkins were in a panel debate in Mexico on the question of "Does the Universe have a purpose?". This exception to Dawkins' general refusal to debate Craig seems to be connected to the fact that Dawkins was a last minute replacement of someone else. According to Dr. Craig, Dr. Dawkins didn't know that Dr. Craig was also on the panel until he arrived at the event. I haven't heard this from Dawkins' own mouth, but it seems probable.

July 29, 2013

Atheist Rhetoric: The Series

This is the index page of a new series that I am planning on doing. As the series progresses, I'll be adding links here to each installment. Like my series on Calvinist rhetoric, its length is not planned. I'll include new installments as I come up with them. The first installment will be up next week.

This series will be engaging in what is known as presuppositional apologetics (or in this case polemics) where the underlying assumptions of a position are considered as opposed to looking at evidence or surface level arguments. While I will be talking about some arguments in particular, that will not be my objective. Instead, I will be trying to assess why Atheists argue what they argue (even when it comes to decent arguments) based off of how Atheists tend to argue.

My current posts in this series are:

Each post has three sections: What I Mean By _____(where I explain the rhetorical phenomenon I'm talking about), ____ In Action (where I discuss briefly some Atheists arguments that use the rhetoric), and The End Result (where I talk about my analysis of rhetoric's effectiveness with Christians). You may also notice that each post has two titles: one which is silly and one which is serious. This is because I enjoy torturing people with my bad sense of humor. Please indulge me.

This series is meant to be neither comprehensive in terms of discussing all aspects of Atheist rhetoric, nor to be comprehensive in terms of each post applying to every single Atheist. Instead, this series is indicative of my experience interacting with Atheists and is meant to be representative of how, in general, Atheism is being presented.

July 22, 2013

How Being Anti-Abortion Is Like Being Anti-Slavery
An appeal to the Pro-Life movement

I am not the kind of person who is frustrated when my opponent makes a point that I am not prepared for. My reaction is usually, "Huh. I should research that." But what really grinds my gears is when an ally makes a really bad point.

I'm sure as fellow pro-lifers you can empathize with that. Here we are, trying to stop people from killing babies, and somehow we are treated as horrible people. With a vast majority of the media on one side, all they have to do is quote any pro-life advocate that misspeaks, or when a stupid person who happens to be pro-life... well speaks. This is why it is incredibly important for us to really focus on messaging, because there are millions of lives that count on us communicating our message well.

So I propose a two piece plan. First of all, we need to associate ourselves with a historical movement which was not only successful, but recognized as a good thing by the general public, as well as one that we have a legitimate association with. And lo and behold this isn't that difficult: slavery.

So similarities between Pro-Life and Abolitionism:
  • Both have to do with human rights. At the end of the day, that is all that we are fighting for: that the rights of a particular group of humans is recognized and respected. And not just the right to speak or anything like that, but the right to be treated as human beings.

  • Both have to confront dehumanization. I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not think that being Pro-Choice is anything like being Pro-Slavery. Abortion and slavery are very different institutions, and thus the defences for them are very different. That said, since both abolition and Pro-life are based on recognizing a group's humanity, opposition to us must include why that group isn't fully human. This means that we can look to how such dehumanization was combated in the 19th century, and see if any of it is translatable. And of course maintain the campaign of showing people how these children really are children through pictures and other such means.
  • Both are religiously motivated. I am not ashamed of this, but it is important to point out how religion plays a role in this debate. It is because the issue which really divides the two sides is whether or not an unborn child is human, and defining what a human is outside of religious circles is difficult. Indeed, the very notion of human rights was founded by religious circles, and it is questionable whether the concept can really survive when societies shift to secularism. But philosophy aside, when we are accused about being overly religious, we can look back and point out how important religion was to the abolitionists.

  • Both are driven by an uncompromising ethic. It is as difficult to compromise on the killing of children as it is to compromise on men, women, and children living in chains. Which means that we should be the first who are appalled by sex-trafficking, bigotry, and all denials of humanity that exist around the world. Don't let the liberals own those issues. Those should be our issues.

  • Both are movements championed by the Republican Party. Just saying. 
Right now the Pro-Choice movement gets a lot of distance by connecting itself to the feminist movement. We really should be using the same kind of rhetoric since we are really grounded in the same tradition as the abolitionists. So let us celebrate that heritage and proclaim it. 

The second piece of the plan is to stay on message. We are about human rights. The unborn child has rights. That's it. Any objection, and I mean "any", can and should be answered from that basic viewpoint. 
PC: What about in the case of rape?
PL: Does that justify killing the offspring?
PC: What if the mother's life were in danger?
PL: Yes, she also has the right to life. We don't ignore the women, and therefore there is not simple answer, but such a question should recognize that both lives are equally precious.
PC: It is the woman's body?
PL: There are two person's bodies in question here. Both should be respected
Just this simple rule would prevent us from saying anything dumb. Nothing more needs to be said. The argument stands for itself. If the conversation shifts to why is the child human, than that is exactly where we want it to go! Focus all of our energy on that one point. The Pro-Life movement stands or falls on that point. Therefore let it!

Thank you.

July 15, 2013

Abortion Is Not About Equality
An appeal to the Pro-Choice movement

OK, a couple of caveats. I don't want to be deceitful, so I'll come right out and say that I am Pro-Life and I am sure that affects how I view Pro-Choice rhetoric. But, to any Pro-Choice person out there, please don't reject my point here until I have actually stated it, because I may not be saying what you think I will be saying.

First of all, I completely acknowledge that it is proper to understand the Pro-Choice movement as defending rights, specifically women's rights. What I reject is the idea that just because we are dealing with women's rights that we are therefore dealing with equality. In reality, we are dealing with a moral issue that happens to only directly affect women.

Here is where I think you (that is pro-choice people) have a point. In most contexts, a person has the right to decide what medial procedures will and will not be done to them. The government should not have the right to say that a smoker who develops lung cancer should just deal with the cancer because it is the natural consequences of their choices. In fact, I think we pro-lifers actually undercut our message when our arguments seem to ignore this.

However, there are other notable exceptions to this: suicide and drugs for instance. I would also include prostitution here, though it isn't a medical procedure. But it is still true that there are exceptions to the idea that we are allowed to do whatever we want with our own bodies. It is also important to note that the above activities are illegal for both men and for women. It is not gender specific.

And, quite frankly, neither is the illegality of abortion. The fact that it only influences woman is a consequence of biology, not patriarchy. Any Pro-Life person would equally abhor a man killing a fetus if he were pregnant; it just only happens in movies. The morality of the thing falls on our belief that the fetus is a human being and thus should have human rights. I want the full rights and privileges of the mother to be maintained in tension with the full rights and privileges of the child.

But here is the Pro-Life position, and I'll wrap it up really tight so that there is no confusion: fetuses are children. To me, the distinction between a fetus and a newborn is no different than a newborn and a toddler. Morally they are equivalent. So in a nutshell, we want human rights for fetuses. That is it. Period.

I regret that making abortion illegal will force a long term medical situation on the mother, and that is not shallow regret. I really regret it. It is a horrible thing to force on someone, especially since pregnancy shouldn't be something horrible. It is the most beautiful thing in the world, and I hate the fact that it can become something ugly in a woman's life because it was forced on her. That is appalling to me. But so is killing children.

And that is what we are against: killing children whether by men or women. This particular means is only biologically available to women, so naturally restricting it would only affect women. Thus, it is legitimately a matter of women's rights: how should the mother's rights and the child's rights be resolved when they are in direct conflict? That is a very difficult question, but it has nothing to do with mean at all, and thus has nothing to do with equality or inequality. I believe that equality is a very important thing, and tying abortion into the category of equality both waters down the word, and can hinder legislation that is truly about equality under the law between men and women. This issue is a separate issue, and should be kept separate.

Thank you for your consideration.

July 8, 2013

Why I Am An Arminian
Part VI: Convinced by Scripture

In this final post, I'll look at the most important reason for believing any theology: why I think Arminianism is what the Scripture teaches. One thing that you may notice though is that I am not always using specific Scriptural passages, but rather looking at biblical themes. I have found that it is usually true for Arminians to argue thusly, and it is usually true that Calvinists focus on individual texts.

Personally, I find thematic arguments from Scripture to be far more important. Passages can be taken out of context, and as we saw in the last post, I believe that most of the "Calvinist" passages do exactly that. Scripture wasn't meant to be studied piecemeal like that. Most of the books in the Bible were meant to be read as whole works. Even the ones that are compilations (such as Psalms or most of the Prophets) have predetermined sections that should be treated as whole units. To focus in one portion is, to some degree, dishonest to the nature of Scripture. I recognize that we must do it for the sake of practicality in quoting, but it shouldn't be part of our theology building.

It is also important to note that the biblical themes listed here are not sufficient to develop the Arminian position. Arminianism is a theological system which attempts to balance several different themes in Scripture. No where does the Bible explicitly describe Arminianism (though all of its basic points are either explicit,such as universal atonement, or clearly implicit, such as the freedom of the will), so we need to keep that in perspective. In this post, I am not trying to construct Arminianism from the Bible, but I am demonstrating why I believe Arminianism is more consistent with the Bible than Calvinism is.

So here are the basic biblical themes and passages that I think point towards the Arminian position being more biblical:
Divine Laments

There are many divine laments in Scripture. The basic structure of it is that God proclaims that He regrets what it is that His people are doing. Inherent to the structure of most of the laments is the concept that God wanted one thing, yet His people did something else. A short list includes:

Calvinists argue that everything which happens, God wanted to happen. Indeed, He decreed that it would happen to establish His plans for creation. However, is that really biblical? Though there are many divine laments in Scripture, I would like to focus on a single set (a triad actually) of them from Jeremiah because not only does it cut directly to the heart of my point here, they also are firm proof against the Calvinist position IMO.

They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire--something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. -Jeremiah 7:31
See also Jeremiah 19:5 and 32:35 where Jeremiah repeats the same basic phrase. One question that I must ask is how much clearer does the Bible have to be that there are things which occur that God did not want? I have trouble with a theology that will take a verse like this and say "well it didn't enter into God's revealed mind, but it did enter into God's secret mind". The statement is pretty blunt: "in no way shape or form did I want this to happen." I know that Calvinists must interact with this text somehow, but I seem to just lack the imagination to think of how.

With that said, the entire collection of laments makes a similar point: there are things which happen which God does not want, i.e. God regrets. By regret, I don't mean to imply that God expected anything else, or that God didn't see things coming. He's omniscient. What I mean is that things happened that God didn't want to happen. This seems to me to be a consistent theme throughout Scripture, and especially the prophets. Calvinism must claim otherwise, and the only way to deal with these Scriptures is to argue that somehow God didn't really mean it (whether it be by accommodation theory, or the two will theory).

Imago Dei
What does it mean to be made in the image of God? Let us first consider the term in its original context:
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." - Genesis 1:26
It is interesting that the concept of being in God's image is directly tied to the idea of us ruling over the earth. It is very important to understand that God has given humanity responsibility over creation. We are charged with it. In this, we can understand that God's leadership style is that of delegation: He assigns responsibilities to various creatures.

This is not something which is in direct opposition to Calvinism, but it does stand in contrast to the Calvinist definition of Sovereignty (See link). We can see this basic delegation style of leadership in the parable of the vineyard. It is interesting that this seems to be the biblical model of divine sovereignty, yet Calvinist's insist that God must cause all things to happen in order to be sovereign. That simply doesn't make theological sense, and also has no biblical basis. I contend, as with my Arminian siblings in the Lord, that God is sovereign over His sovereignty, and can rule however He wants.

Potter Metaphor

Where does the concept of God being a potter originate from? Does it come from Romans 9? Actually it comes originally from Jeremiah, whose take on the metaphor is actually rather Arminian.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

5 Then the word of the LORD came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. - Jeremiah 18:1-10
What Calvinists have right is that the potter metaphor is about God being sovereign. What it is not about though is absolute minute control of all things (something which Calvinists confuse with sovereignty).
The point of the passage and the metaphor is that God is not bound to Israel (indeed, the reverse is true). In the Israelite/God relationship, Israel has all the real obligations. Just because God has established Israel doesn’t mean that Israel is somehow exempt from God's law (amazingly the same point Paul was making in Romans 9-11). This implies... correction: explicitly states, that Israel can go against the will of God. God intends one thing for Israel, and yet something else happens.

This is the principle of "contrary choice": that one can do other than what they are instructed or intended to do. This is also the basic definition of libertarian free will. For those who don't know, libertarian free will is what non-theologians just call free will.

Now, I know what Calvinists would say here: "But there are two wills in God, and just because Israel could go against God's declared will doesn't mean that they could go against His secret will." Now apart from this being one of the most unparsimonious theological ideas ever, I have a couple of problems with this. First, God's secret will is so secret that He has never bothered to tell us it exists, so how do you know it even exists? Second, where in the Bible does it talk about God having two wills? Yes, God keeps some things a secret, but where does it say that God has a secret will which contradicts that which He has told us He wants? Third, I say that if God tells us He wants one thing, and He secretly wants something else, then He is lying to us (since the secret will is always His true will, since that's always the basis for what He does).
Ultimately, the 2 will theory is sophistry: an attempt to avoid texts like this where we do something other than what God wants us to do. I know many Calvinists would disagree, but hey, that's why I'm not a Calvinist.

Universality of Call/Atonement

Ok, time for a bit of prooftexting:
Do me a favor and don't take my word for any of those. Go in and look at the context. A proof-text isn't proof unless you know the context, so please look it up before being convinced.

Now, this is why limited atonement is the 5th point in 4 point Calvinism. It is really really difficult to justify in the face of Scripture. Mind you, people manage to do so, but you should never underestimate the creativity of the aptly self-deceived mind (a little saying of mine).

Conditionality of Reward/Punishment (assumed responsibility to the law)

This is one of the primary arguments that all Arminians, indeed all non-Calvinists, use, and there's a reason for that. Calvinists seem to believe that we believe in free will because we want control. I guess this makes sense from those that build their theology on the theme of control. But that isn't the primary issue for Arminians. Instead it is a matter of us being responsible for our sins, and God being true to His word.

It is important to note that this is distinct from us being responsible for salvation, because we aren't. Salvation comes to undeserving sinners by the grace of God. Indeed, both Calvinists and Arminians agree on these two basic points: we are responsible for sins and God is responsible for salvation.

However, one basic quality that is necessary (though not sufficient) for responsibility is the ability to do otherwise. It is inherit within the definition of responsibility, and Calvinists believe that human sinners could not have done otherwise.

But when we look at how the law is phrased in Scripture, we get a clear sense that conditionality is built into the law. The Jews were expected to do right, and not to do wrong. This implies some measure of free will.
I'll give Calvinists the point that implication is not the same thing as the Bible actually saying it. However, the idea that God expects someone who He commands to do something to have the ability to do it... is just a common sense reading of the text. You can try and get around this by man-made philosophical ideas like Calvin's accommodation theory (God needed to dumb things down for us... because He couldn't predestine us to understand) or the modern day two-will theory (God really wants us to do good, but really really wants some of us to not do good so He can demonstrate how just He is by condemning us), but none of these theories coincide with the simple reading of the text.

This idea of "the plain sense of Scripture" is known as perspicuity. The most perspicuous reading is not always the most "literal" (whatever that means) but the one which conforms most easily to the common sense of text, especially how it would have been understood by its original hearers. So let us consider the perspicuous reading of the following verses:
  • Deut 11:26-28: See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.
  • Josh 24:15: And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
  • Jeremiah 21:8: And to this people you shall say: 'Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.
  • Ezekiel 18:30-31: Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?
(Again, please check the context of these verses. Do not take my word for it)

So, were the Israelites capable of doing other than what they indeed did? That is the question. In these cases, we see that God gives conditional demands, and then explains what He will do in one case, and what He will do in another. I don't see how someone can argue that the original hearers would understand this to mean, "Those who I preordain to do good, I will reward. Those who I preordain to do bad, I will punish." Anyone reading the plain sense of these texts will see this as a king's edict to His people, explaining how His government works. No king issues decrees explaining how and why he is doing things. He issues decrees on how he expects his subjects to behave.

It is interesting to me how the Calvinist definition of sovereignty fails to coincide with the common sense meaning of the word in English, or in any language for that matter. Likewise, they are forced to take such texts as these, and create some kind of interpretive framework within which they can be placed. However, as an Arminian, I can just take them as they are.

The Corporate Nature of Biblical Election

N. T. Wright and the New Perspective of Paul have done a lot in the area of election recently. It is important to note that election is a very minor theme in the New Testament (which raises the question as to why Calvinists focus on it). This means that it is rather inappropriate to try and form our understanding of election from a few isolated passages.

However, in the Old Testament, election is all over the place, if you take the time to remember that 'elect' and 'chosen' mean the same thing. In "My Basic Stances" (see top of page) I discuss my fundamental hermeneutical assumption (the basic idea upon which I base Biblical interpretation): that one should form a basic worldview from the Old Testament, and then allow the events and words of Christ to come in and challenge, reshape, and edify that worldview. Therefore, when building a biblical theology in regards to any subject, we are to first construct a basic understanding of that subject from the Old Testament, and then see how that subject is modified by the New Testament.

Election is no exception to this. It is interesting to note that there are no Old Testament passages on election that teach a concept of personal unconditional election to salvation. They don't exist (I don't really think they exist in the New Testament either, but I recognize that there are a couple that "sound" like they do [see last post]).

It is also important to note that within the New Testament, the concept of election is never explicitly laid out. Indeed, an understanding of election seems to be assumed within the texts, especially within Romans and Ephesians. As such, we must rely on the Old Testament to define the concept, and then see if it can be imported into the New Testament texts.

What results is some sense of corporate election: that God operates by choosing a singular man through whose line a people will be defined as God's people. In the Old Testament, this chosen one was Abraham; in the New Testament, it is Jesus. Thus, by being in Christ, i.e. the nation of Christ, we become part of the chosen: the chosen people of God.

More can be said on this of course, but if the biblical language of election refers to this corporate sense of election, rather then the defining tenant of Calvinism (individual unconditional election unto salvation) is void of any biblical support. Though I would not say that corporate election is a defining attribute of Arminianism, since it wasn't even held by Arminius itself, it is compatible with Arminianism. With Calvinism, though it does not contradict Calvinism, it does remove all sense of Scriptural support, making Calvinism nothing more than a free-floating man-made philosophy.

July 1, 2013

Why I Am An Arminian
Part V: Unconvinced by Prooftexts

Here I intend to go through certain Scriptural arguments that I have heard from Calvinists, as well as providing links to more extensive examination of them. In the post after this, I'll look at the Scriptural arguments for Arminianism which I think are quite solid:
Romans 9
Romans 9:8-24: This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son." 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls-- 12 she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory-- 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
First, may I offer the traditional Calvinist interpretation. In the interpretation, the offspring of God are God's elect. Isaac and Jacob are examples of God's unconditional election and Ishmael, Esau and Pharaoh are examples of God's unconditional reprobation, as made evident by the fact that Jacob was chosen before Jacob and Esau were born, and the quote from Exodus. The potter metaphor is then employed to show that reprobation and election are God's creative purposes for individual people. Therefore, this is a glorious example of the might of God's sovereignty.

In all of this, I have to agree with one thing: this passage is about God's sovereignty. Paul's argument indeed is that God has the right and the power to do what He will, and to elect as He will. However, the problem with the above interpretation is that it does not properly engage with the OT references being made, and it does not properly appreciate the passage within its greater context in Romans.

First of all, Paul's thesis in all of Romans is to be found in Chapter 1, verse 16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. " Paul's thesis is concerning what the gospel is: the means of God's saving grace. This thesis contains two parts. First, this grace is dispensed by faith, or belief. The second is that this grace is extended to everyone, both Jew in Gentile. Though he treats both sides of this thesis throughout the book, in Chapters 1-8, Paul is focusing on his first point. This is where you get the comparison's between faith and works.

But in chapter 9, and extending through chapter 11, Paul shifts topics and begins to focus on his second point: the inclusion of the Gentiles in salvation. If this is the case, why does Paul start with a discussion of God's sovereignty?

Well, he doesn't. Paul starts his argument back in verse 1, and it is verses 1-7 that provide the necessary context for understanding what Paul is saying. He starts with a beautiful description of Israel's elective status (verse 1-5) and then shifts gears, arguing that the present inclusion of the Gentiles by faith (his point from chapters 1-8) does not mean that God failed by choosing Israel. He is talking about what it means to be the elect people of God.

It is important here that we understand that by election, the Scripture is talking about the election of nations. This is evident if we assume that Paul is not taking these verses out of context. The first verse referring to Jacob and Esau reads: "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger." It is important to note that Esau never served Jacob, but Edom did serve Israel and it is only if we take this to be nations that we recognize that it was fulfilled. Additionally, the second quote from Malachi 1 is directly talking about God's historical commitment to Israel over Edom, not about the two individuals.

Thus it is important to note that the text is not trying to describe unconditional election, but is in fact denying election by lineage. The Jews thought that they were elect by birth and justified by works. In other words, the entered the covenant by birth, and maintained it by works. Paul's original thesis makes this clear. These examples are not examples of God choosing Isaac and Jacob, but examples of God not choosing Ishmael and Esau (as well as their descendants), even though they were sons of Abraham.

Thus, when we come to verse 14, this protest is not spoken by an Arminian or a Pelagian. These are not categories that Paul was familiar with (nor was Calvinism). Instead, this protest comes from the incensed Jew who was discovering that his lineage wasn't providing him with an in.

For more on Romans 9, view my thoughts and some links here and thoughts from Arminius here. Also, I found that one of the most fantastic and in-depth works I've seen on the subject is Brian Abasciano's doctoral thesis.

Back to top

Ephesians 1
Ephesians 1:3-12: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for we are blessed in all spiritual blessings, in the heavenly things, in Christ, seeing that He chose us in Him before the inception of the world to be holy and unblemished within His presence in love, thus predestining us into adoption to Him through Jesus Christ, according to the good judgment of His will in praise of His glory and His grace by which He favoured us in the Loved One.

In Him, we have redemption through His blood: the excusing of sins according to the abundance of His grace which He teemed into us in all wisdom and understanding having revealed to us the secret of His will, according to His good judgment, which, through Christ, was preplanned for managing the fulfillment of times in order to coalesce all things in Christ throughout the heavens and the earth.

Furthermore, in Him we have been chosen by lot (being predetermined according to the plan by which all things are worked out and according to the purpose of His will) to be who we are, for the praising of His glory; we who first hoped in Christ.
This is my own translation.

To be perfectly fair, I totally get why Calvinists find this passage so convincing. In fact, I will say that this is the strongest passage the Calvinists have. However, I remain unconvinced. Why? Because nothing uniquely Calvinist is actually stated here.

I mean, sure, Paul talks about election, but he never defines it as being unconditional. He talks about predestination, but he never claims that God predestined everything that ever came to pass. Most Calvinists I have interacted with seem to believe that the mere mentioning of either election or predestination is enough to prove Calvinism. However, Arminianism confirms both of these concepts, and thus has no problem with the text at all.

However, there are a couple of other factors why I believe that this doesn't, in the end, serve as a Calvinist prooftext. First, the context is not doctrinal but liturgical. Paul isn't trying to lay down a foundation on the doctrines of predestination and election. Instead, he is using the concepts of predestination and election to praise God for the inclusion (or predestining) of the Gentiles in election.

Second, this text does not apply directly to all Christians (though indirectly it does). The text above is directly talking about the election of the Jews. God predestined the Jews to be the sons of God on this earth, and to establish them to be who the are. This is evident in verse 13 where Paul directly contrasts the "we" in the above verses with the Ephesians themselves. The text only applies to us in the sense that we are now given something that we didn't have before: inclusion in the promises of the Jews.

Third, the central themes here are also not election and predestination. Instead, they are revelation, redemption, and the dominion of Christ. When you begin to try and make this text to be a proof-text for Calvinism, you lose sight of Paul's heart.

Finally, to believe in unconditional election undermines Paul's whole point in the book of Ephesians. Paul makes his point most clearly in 3:5-6: In former generation this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Remember the paragraph in chapter 1. Paul was talking directly about the promises and the inheritance. This is because this was something that belonged only to the Jews, and now such divisions have been cast down. That wall of separation between the elect and the reprobate has been torn down and the two peoples have been made one by faith. However, in the Calvinist system, the wall isn't brought down, but merely moved. There isn't now one people, but two simply defined differently. This is simply not what Paul was talking about.

I have more thoughts on Ephesians here, and I highly recommend this articles as well: The New Perspective and Ephesians and Divine Election and Predestination in Ephesians 1.

Back to top

Romans 8:28
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
OK, this is one of the silliest proof-texts that Calvinists use. First question, what does this text teach? It teaches that when bad things happen to God's people, God will take that bad thing, and turn it into something good. And an Arminian and a Calvinist both believe in this concept so this isn't a point of contention at all.

The difference is how we understand how God does this. For the Calvinist, they believe that when a bad thing happens to the elect, God caused it to happen in order to accomplish something good later on. In other words, all bad things have a good reason. This interpretation isn't in the text, but it doesn't contradict it either.

For the Arminian, we believe that though God punishes and chastises His people to correct them, no truly bad thing has an origin within Him. However, due to human sinfulness in the world, bad things do happen, but He is here with you through it, and ultimately He is in control and everything will turn out alright. It is also important to note that this interpretation also doesn't contradict the text. Thus the text cannot be considered a Calvinist proof-text at all.

I would also argue that the Arminian view is the plain sense interpretation of the text. If you look at the context, it is eschatological in view. The next couple of verses list all of the blessings that Christians receive from God (listed with a crescendo order, not a chronological order), ending in glorification which is the greatest in the list. Thus the basic sense of the text is that though bad things happen, we are going to be glorified, and that far exceeds any present pain or trouble. Any interpretation that doesn't have this sense as its base is taking the verse out of context.

Back to top

Ephesians 2:8
Ephesians 2:8 For you see it is from grace that you have been saved through faith; not from yourself. This is a gift of God, not from works so that none may boast.
Ah yes, we are all familiar with this verse. I think it is important to understand what Paul's theology is here really. It is important to note that the basic clause of the first sentence is "you have been saved through faith". Everything else in that first sentence, and even the entire above passage, relies on us understanding that this is the basic view that Paul has about the salvation process. Indeed, the fact of salvation by faith isn't even Paul's point; it is Paul's assumption.

Paul's point is that the fact that salvation is through faith instead of works is something worth celebrating. It is the fact that salvation is through faith instead of works that is a gift from God, and the cause of any boasting being void. When we remember that God has the sovereign right to decide upon what terms He is going to base salvation, and then realize that humans would expect it to be based upon works (hence every man-made religion doing so), we can then recognize how gracious it is for God to base it upon something as simplistic as faith!

And faith here doesn't simply mean mentally believing something. It is talking about utter reliance and trust on Christ. This is why it is impossible to boast about faith, because the very nature of faith is relenting our own power and abilities. It is saying, "I give up. Christ, You do it." Who can boast in that?

For more, please see this article on "the gift of God", and And I casually treat it in this article

Back to top

John 6:25-71
John 6:36-40 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:44-45 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.
I used an excerpt here because, although all passage is in purview here, these are the texts that Calvinists focus upon, and I am trying to be brief (though I know I am failing :)).

Quick run-down of the Calvinist interpretation (this is an oversimplification): The text is distinguishing between those that follow Jesus and those that do not. To be given to the Son implies that the Father unconditionally elected them and then gave them to the Son. Indeed this is emphasized with the word 'draw' in verse 44 which implies being dragged against your will and is thus a picture of irresistible grace. Therefore the point of the passage is the futility of these Jews trying to come to Jesus on their own, and Christ is telling them that they can't because the Father isn't drawing them.

The good thing about this interpretation: John 6 is one of the most enigmatic speeches that Christ ever gave, and most of us need some kind of model in order to even begin to understand what Jesus is saying here. The Calvinism interpretation, for all intents and purposes, works. It explains the oddities in the text while being consistent with itself.

The problem: While Calvinism easily answers many of our questions about John 6, it is purely eisogetical, not exegetical. In other words, Calvinism can be offered as a comprehensible explanation for the text, but one cannot claim that one can derive Calvinism from the text. The two terms in discussion here are never defined within the context, and are not even at the heart of what Jesus is saying. Therefore, it can't be a proof-text for Calvinism at all. There is a basic apologetic confusion here. Just because your position has an answer, it doesn't guarantee that your position is the answer.

Here's what the Calvinists get right. John six is absolutely differentiating between those that come to Jesus and those that don't. But the distinction being made is not one of unconditional election, but previous devotion. The disciples and others that are coming to Jesus during Jesus' ministry are doing so because they already are devoted to the Father and because of this recognize the Father in Christ. Those that don't come were never really committed to the Father to begin. Thus the call to them is repent.

If you think about it, it is kind of odd that Christ would waste this much time to convince the crowd that they didn't have a chance of coming to salvation. Saying that He said it so that it would be written and we could understand doesn't answer this either. He could have easily have explained things (clearer I might add) to the disciples when they were alone to accomplish that. Additionally, why did He say it so bizarrely?

This makes more sense if we see that Christ is trying to convince these people to look beyond their physical wants and needs and to focus on heavenly things. The entire rhetoric of the passage is Christ pushing them to go beyond their understanding, and to truly commit to God. Why would Jesus do this if they could not be saved?

Therefore, we understand the terms "be given to" to refer to the Father already having them in possession, and giving them over to Jesus. Indeed, "be given to" can only refer to this point in Jesus' ministry because of how Christ uses the term in John 17 (note the transition in verse 20). The term "to draw" doesn't refer to irresistible grace, but to the Father having taken possession of them. In other words, the Father must have them first. The resistibly is just never discussed.

For more details on John 6, I have a fuller breakdown of my thoughts here, Richard Coords has a good break down of the Calvinist argument, Daniel Whedon's commentary is a good read, and Eric Landrstrom's work.

Back to top

Acts 13:48
Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
Here I used the KJV because the source of this being a prooftext for Calvinism has to do with the KJV translating tasso as 'ordained'. This is also what makes this verse easy to counter. The word tasso doesn't mean 'ordain'. It means 'to set' or 'to position'.

That's not the only problem. It also completely betrays the construction of the Greek text. The Greek runs as follows:
kai (and) episteusan (believed[aorist {or past} tense]) hosoi (as many as[nominative {subject}]) esan (were [verb]) tetagmenoi (positioned [nominative particple]) eis (into) zoen (life[direct object]) aionion (eternal[adjective])
The word order doesn't work in English, so there's nothing wrong with it being rearranged, but when you are interpreting a sentence, you first look for the verb, and then the subject. This sentence has two verbs ('believed' and 'were'), and two subjects('as many as' and 'positioned').

Let's talk a little about the participle. In English the participle (-ing) usually is used as an adjective: "This is a boring book", though occasionally it can be used as a noun (such as "human being") or present tense verb ("I am going to the store"). In Greek, it is usually used as a noun, usually meaning a thing which is defined by the action ("For the asking will receive, the seeking will find, and the knocking will have the door open for them"- Matthew 7:8). It is important that the past tense participle form of tasso is being used here as a noun (tetagmenoi), meaning "those who are positioned".

Given all of this, the common sense reading will assign the first subject with the first verb, and the second subject with the second verb. Therefore we would get this: "And as many who believed; the positioned in eternal life were." Well, that doesn't really make sense. However, with the verb 'to be' in the Greek, if the verb is being used to equate two things as the same, both words can be in the nominative form (i.e. the subject). Therefore it would read: "And as many who believed were those positioned in eternal life" or "And ones who believed were the ones that were set in eternal life". This is really the best rendering.

As such, we can see that the text doesn't blatantly say whether the positioning or the believing came first. It merely equates the two things: if you believe, then you are positioned in eternal life. Additionally, belief being mentioned first makes it the primary point of the text. Considering all of this, I find it very difficult to believe that Luke was trying to argue that "everyone there who God had predestined to have eternal life began to believe that day". That is really not doing the text justice. The text is clearly arguing that "everyone who believed that day was set to live eternally". If anything, the text simply implies that eternal life comes by faith.

For more on this text see Joseph Benson's commentary (highlight here), Dr. Whitby's Discourses on the 5 Points (highlight here), and this nice commentary on Wesley's thoughts.

Back to top