Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity. Part 7

What does it mean to have faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done Zuersher’s book, which is mainly because having to review stuff like this after awhile feels like pulling teeth, but I think we need to get into it again. Today, we’re going to be looking at one of the favorite topics. Faith. This is one new atheists and internet atheists always get wrong. It won’t be a shock that that happens again.

We’re not disappointed. Right at the start Hebrews 11:1 is quoted and then we’re told that this is a substitute for evidence and admittance to Heaven. This is interesting because first off, heaven isn’t even mentioned in Hebrews 11:1. One could say the rest of the chapter does speak about looking for a heavenly city and such, but the notion is not equivalent to our whole going to Heaven when you die idea. Second, I faith is not seen as opposed to evidence and this is something I have written more about elsewhere.

Zuersher says the definition above means accepting something as true despite their being insufficient grounds. Of course, Zuersher could have bothered doing some actual research on the topic, but alas, that is too difficult. It’s better to just place faith in the new atheist mantra.

For Zuersher, this means faith is arbitrary. A person can have faith in anything and no one person’s would be better than another’s. Of course, this only happens to work if the claim is true about what faith is. It is not. One wonders that if this was what faith is, why do we even have the New Testament at all?

When asked what determines faith, Zuersher points to where we’re born. There’s no doubt that if you’re born in Iran, you’re more likely to be a Muslim or if you’re born in India, you’re more likely to be a Hindu, but there are also noted exceptions. Many people do convert even at the threat of death. Do they do so with no reason whatsoever?

What about what we believe scientifically? If you are born in a third world jungle that is pre-scientific, you might think the sun goes around the Earth and that evolution is bogus. You’re much less likely to think that if you are born in America. If you are born in Alaska as an Eskimo, you’re much more likely to think that blubber of sea animals is part of a healthy diet. We could go on and on.

We have the quote of Tertullian on how it is to be believed because it is absurd, but it is bizarre to think that Tertullian was opposed to evidence. His claim was rather that this is believed because no one would make up something this ridiculous. It was a turnaround on Marcion thinking that the claim was ridiculous.

Zuersher also says that according to John, Jesus was with the disciples for three years and yet needed better evidence to believe in the resurrection and asks “Do we not deserve equally compelling evidence?” Well, no. Why should you? What is so special about Zuersher that he deserves a personal appearance from the Almighty? (One is sure he’d chalk it up as a hallucination anyway.) Zuersher instead discounts the account as hearsay, despite the claim being from an eyewitness in John 21, something Bauckham makes a compelling case for in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. (Don’t expect Zuersher to go look for counter-evidence. It’ll challenge his faith too much.)

Zuersher also says faith is a problem because it elevates belief over conduct. As long as you believe, that’s all that matters. Has he never read the book of James?! Has he never read the condemnations of wicked practice in Paul, the one who would be seen as the great apostle of faith? In fact, Zuersher in this very section quotes James and yet ignores what he says about works and faith together. Zuersher paints apologists as saying that no one is good enough, which is true, but then that means that good and bad conduct don’t really matter. Where is the apologist that is arguing this please Zuersher? Please show him to me.

Zuersher then says that to turn belief into a salvific credential while denying a person’s conduct is morally repugnant. I agree. Would he please point me to the apologist who is saying otherwise? I know hundreds if not thousands of them. I don’t know a single one who would disagree.

Naturally, Zuersher does not understand Pascal’s Wager which he goes after. Pascal is not presenting this to the person as a reason to believe without evidence. He’s talking about the person who’s sitting on the fence and could go either way and just isn’t sure. Pascal says if you’re just not sure and think there’s evidence on both sides, go with Christianity! At least you have a gain there. We see he does not understand this because the wager does not tell you which god or goddess to believe in. It’s not supposed to. It’s for a specific kind of individual in a specific situation. I may not really agree with the wager, but I can easily wager that Zuersher has never read Pascal.

Sometime soon we will return to Zuersher. As one can see, it is difficult to read someone like this who actually thinks he’s informed enough to write a book on the topic.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does Jesus Make A Difference?

Why should anyone trust Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As readers know, I’m all about here establishing the truth of Jesus’s resurrection and Christianity. That is important and needs to be done. My concern today is that we are too often not showing any reason for anyone to even bother to take Christianity seriously. Many Christians are indistinguishable from their non-Christian neighbors, which should be disappointing if Scripture tells us we are a peculiar people and about how we are to live among the pagans. While we don’t have many pagans today, though there are a few, we do still have people who we can say are unbelievers.

For too many Christians, the reason that this is so is that they just don’t really know much about Christianity. Why should they? Too many churches have it just as if Christianity is self-help that gives good advice to help you in your life, instead of about the radical announcement that God is reclaiming this world and building His Kingdom. If we were really to go to church in appropriate dress, it would be combat fatigues realizing we are on a mission to reclaim the world.

Too many Christians are what I call regurgitating Christians. They go to church and hear what their pastor says and when the time comes, they just puke it right back out again. They may have the right answers to the questions, but they don’t know why those answers are true. Your pastor could very well be a great guy, but he is not infallible. Scripture is, but his interpretation is not. Check out what is said.

We also have a view in our lives that the purpose of Christianity is that we can go to Heaven when we die. You can hear an altar call that doesn’t say a single thing about the resurrection of Jesus, serving God for life, or the Kingdom of God, but it will sure mention going to heaven when you die. Yes. The very purpose of Jesus coming to Earth and defeating sins was just so you could be happy for all of eternity. Surely God would not expect something bizarre from us, such as lifelong service.

Christianity is not just a get out of hell free card. Christianity is a worldview that is supposed to encompass everything you believe. It’s great that many of us have the right answers, but do we really understand them. Are we just being students who study before an exam so we can know the right answers without bothering to figure out how someone can know those are the right answers and what difference they make?

So Jesus rose from the dead. Why? Was God just showing off what He could do with Jesus, or could it be He was actually showing that Jesus has conquered death? Could it be that He was showing the divine claims of Jesus were actually true and Jesus is the rightful king of this world?

What about our ethics? Too many Christians are doing what everyone else does. They will go along with the politically correct crowd. This is especially the case with sexual ethics. There are too many Christians that see no real problem with sex before marriage or even living together before marriage. Does Christianity have anything to say about sex?

If you look at your neighbor and the only difference you and your non-Christian neighbor have is that you answer the Jesus questions right and they don’t, then you have a problem. I’m not questioning your salvation here, but I am saying that you seem to have it but it makes no difference. Imagine winning the big powerball lottery and having access to all the money, but going home and living your life with your budget the exact same way and having the money just sit there. That’s what many of us are doing with Jesus.

In all of this we look at the world and ask “What has gone wrong?” It’s good to ask that, but if you want to know what went wrong, it’s us. We went wrong. We did not heed the Great Commission. We have not made Jesus the central passion of our lives. Many of us know more about our favorite TV show or sports team than we do about Jesus. I’m not at all saying don’t have any other interests and hobbies, but do prioritize.

Look at everything in your life. If people can look at how you handle things in your life and look at how the non-Christian handles things and see absolutely no difference, why should they think Jesus makes any difference to you? If they don’t think Jesus makes any difference, why on Earth would they really bother investigating?

Keep in mind, I’m not saying their skepticism is justified. Sure, the church is full of hypocrites and such, but that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. That’s established on its own. It’s my contention here that we could at times be placing an extra hurdle in front of people who could otherwise come to Jesus. Not only are we keeping them away, we are really missing out on a full Christian life that we could be having.

How do you do this? Go and get some good books on basic Christianity or go and listen to some Christian podcasts on the topic. Do more than just a couple of hours on Sunday. Christianity is not just a system of ethics for being a good person and then getting to go to heaven when you die. It’s a worldview that is meant to encompass and touch everything in your life. Many of us are sitting on a gold mine and living like paupers. There is far more for us if we will just take it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Are People Inherently Good?

Are we inherently good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to say at the outset that much of my thinking on this is influenced by Clay Jones’s book Why Does God Allow Evil? I would like to say the thinking was all mine, but it was not. I am near the end of Jones’s book and I do hope to review it when the time comes.

Saturday while I was out driving I heard the end of a radio talk show asking if people are good or evil inherently. I tried to call in and answer, but they never got around to me. Since I didn’t get to say what I think on the air, why not say it here?

After the flood, we are told that humans have their every inclination to evil. We all know that a child has to be trained to be good. Being evil is something that seems to come naturally to us. Why do we not often notice this? It is because we live in a culture that has been so Christianized that we no longer consider how radical the Christian ethic was at its time. Today, we look at slavery as something that is just obviously wrong. Go back to the first century Roman Empire and try to convince your average citizen of that. Good luck.

One point Jones brings out is about genocide. Who are the people who do genocide? We would normally think of these people, probably from watching movies and TV shows, as the classical villains who do nothing but think about evil all day long and delight in death and destruction. Not really. Many of the people who ran the concentration camps of the holocaust would be people who would go home and be excellent parents and spouses and be really kind to their neighbors. So what kind of people were they ultimately?

People like you and me.

Really. There is not a great gap separating people capable of genocide. This was found out even further by the Milgram experiment. At the instruction of an authority figure, ordinary people would do actions that could have in other circumstances led to the killing of an innocent human being. You can read about that here.

If you at this point in fact start to think that you are better than the person committing genocide or the person who gives the lethal voltage in the Milgram experiment, congratulations. You have already taken the first step in becoming that person who is committing genocide and capable of giving lethal voltage. You have already assumed that you are incapable of falling like that.

Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. We look at it and see the problem of the Pharisee saying that he is not like the tax collector. What’s the problem then? We go and say “God. I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee.” Oh, we might not explicitly say that, but that is a thought that can come into our minds. Most of us, as much as we don’t want to admit it, are more like the Pharisee than the tax collector.

In the video game Earthbound, at one point the party of heroes goes through a cave and the main character realizes his thoughts are being broadcast on a wall in written form for all to see. Most of us would want to flee out of such a cave as quickly as possible. Most of us I suspect know about the evil inside of us and the thoughts that come through our heads where we wonder “Where did that come from?”

In fact, our society seems to have lost the idea of virtue. I have been considering lately how so many books and such deal with feelings people have, and in a sense, that needs to be dealt with, but very rarely do we deal with the character of a person that can lead to those feelings. The problem we often have is not fixing ourselves, as in our character flaws and such, but fixing how we feel about ourselves.

So where do I come down? People can do good, but the example given on the show was would you pick up a $20 bill for someone if you saw them drop it and they didn’t notice? The sad reality is someone like Hitler might just do that and then go back and gas thousands of Jews and see no wrong in it.

When you see someone doing evil, realize that if it weren’t for the grace of God, you could be that person. This is what makes forgiveness such a key issue. We forgive because God has forgiven us and that could just as easily be us. We need to show mercy because were it not for grace, we could be that person. We need to be desiring that that person grow in character and virtue instead of being where they are.

This should result in humility in all of us. We are all capable of great evil and we must all watch ourselves and be building ourselves up to be the persons that we need to be so we don’t become those people who do evil. Never once do we need to say that we are above a certain sin. If we think that, we are far more prone to fall into it.

And of course then, we must all rely on Christ more and more. The cross is the demonstration of His love for us and to that we must return. At the foot of the cross, we all realize we’re fallen and evil.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 2

What are we to think of the Fall and Original Sin? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m almost done reading this book in the entirety. This is another book that I have to say that each page is better than the next. Zuersher follows in the great tradition of atheists writing books where they do not do sufficient research on a topic and stick to only their side for information.

Chapter two is about the Fall. After giving the account of what happens in a paragraph, Zuersher switches to the problems with it. First off, he says that there is no reason to believe the story is historically accurate. Well, I’m glad we got that out of the way! Just imagine all the time we could have wasted reading Old Testament scholarship. You could actually read such scholars who believe in a historical Adam and Eve and find out why they could but, nah, it’s easier to just make the assertion. Color me unconvinced.

Zuersher’s biggest difficulties are moral difficulties with the story. The first for him is why would a creator withhold knowledge of good and evil from humans? Isn’t this the basis of morality? Unfortuantely, Zuersher doesn’t recognzie that this is a Hebrew merism. This would be like saying North and South, East and West, Heaven and Earth. One lists two contrasting things in order to show all things in between them. This is not about knowledge so much as it is about wisdom.

There also is no problem with humans having wisdom. The question was “On whose terms were they going to have that wisdom?” The act of violating the covenant is a way of trying to usurp the giver and take His place.

So why place this tree in the garden? Zuersher says all manner of animals would eat this fruit. Would they gain the knowledge but humans wouldn’t? Of course, this assumes that the covenant was the same for animals and such a fruit would act the same way. No doubt, this is what he thinks since Zuersher refers to this as a magical fruit. (It’s really cute how atheists use the term magic over and over as if sticking that label on something automatically denigrates it. It’s like the word “magic” is magical for them.)

Zuersher also says that if the story is accurate, since Adam and Eve did not have knowledge of good and evil, they would not know that eating the fruit was wrong. This again is Zuersher not understanding the merism. Adam and Eve would have had basic knowledge of right and wrong.

He then asks why they were endowed with a nature incapable of meeting His standards. Who says they were? Adam and Eve did not have the fruit forced down their throats. They willingly chose. Zuersher strikes me as someone who says something like “There’s something I don’t understand about this” or “I wouldn’t have done it this way” and then concludes the whole thing is false. Unfortunately, in any worldview, there are going to be areas that are not fully understood and questions. One has to look at the major themes at the center. Raising a question alone is not a defeater.

We move on to original sin. Now I have no hard line on this one. Normally when people present Adam and Eve as a problem for Jesus, it doesn’t mean a thing to me. We’re told that if there was no Adam and Eve, there was no original sin and then Jesus didn’t have to die for sin. I just tell people to turn on the evening news. Even if original sin is false, there’s still plenty of sin to die for.

Zuersher says it is indispensable, but I would just say sin is what is necessary, and I don’t think anyone would deny in some sense what Christians call sin. It would be the rare soul around us who says no human being ever does anything that is morally wrong. Again, turn on the evening news or even better, look in the mirror and try to tell yourself you’re a perfect person.

Zuersher also says the Old Testament God doesn’t know about original sin. After all, he flooded the world, but Noah was a sinner too and would still have sin. What we could say the flood is God hitting a reset button at a certain point He thought sin had got so bad.

Zuersher also thinks a convincing argument is that God thinks humans are capable of living morally since He gives them the Law. How this is a problem is a mystery. It is not as if the doctrine means that no human being is capable of doing good things.

He thinks that when Jesus came, there was a problem. Why would the divine Son die? Then original sin had to be made up. Of course, this is fascinating since one would think that would be the big emphasis in the New Testament, but the emphasis is more on the Kingdom of God.

He also goes on to say the only real evidence of original sin is human nature itself. Even if I grant that, that would seem to be sufficient. Chesterton said years ago that if you see boys skinning a cat for fun, then you can either deny original sin or you can deny the objectivity of good and evil. Of course, he also added that some modern theologians have considered it a rational objection to deny the cat.

In conclusion here, I find Zuersher’s arguments unconvincing and again, he interacts with no serious theologians writing today on the topic. Zuersher is another person who seems to think “I have an opinion on the matter. Who needs to read contrary thought?” If one does not read the contrary, it’s no wonder what side they will wind up on.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Reply To Moe On The Gnostic God

Does Gnosticism explain Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A friend messaged me Wednesday about a game he was playing with a final boss named Yaldabaoth and how he looked him up and found some material on Gnosticism. This isn’t a shock. Many video games have gone to mythological references a number of times. (I remember my shock to find out that Gen-Bu, Sei-Ryu, Byak-ko, and Su-Zaku from Final Fantasy Legend were actually mythological figures.) He wanted my thoughts on a site that had information about Yaldabaoth.

This site is The Gnostic Warrior and I have seen him before. That was when he wrote a post asking if Jesus was the son of Julius Caesar. Of course, that tells a little bit about what we’re getting into, but at any rate let’s see what we have. The article can be found here.

We have a reference to Diodorus saying the Hebrews call their God IAO. I did some searching for this. The first major thing I found was several Gnostic web sites all saying the same things. No source was given. Fortunately, the Christian-thinktank has something on it.

“Having analysed the varied reception which Moses received from pagan Greek authors, I shall now focus on the question of whether these sources show any awareness of the name of Moses’ God. We have already come across three relevant instances. (1) First, in first-century bc Rome Alexander Polyhistor included information from Artapanus in his encyclopaedic ethnography, regarded Moses as iden­tical with Musaeus, and narrated at some length the story of God’s revelation to Moses. The account describes the powerful impact of the name of the Lord of the universe on the Egyptian king and his entourage as soon as this name was uttered or read from a tablet. (2) Secondly, Diodorus Siculus, a near-contemporary of Alexander Polyhistor, designates the name of Moses’ God as Iao, and consid­ers Moses to have ascribed his self-made laws to his God, in accor­dance with the general custom among ancient peoples. (3) Thirdly, Strabo interprets the Jewish God as ‘the nature of all that exists’, thereby probably alluding to the ontological meaning of his name. (4) Fourthly, like Diodorus Siculus, Philo of Byblos also mentions the name ‘lao’, this time in the form of Ieuo, whose priest Hierombolus is named as the source of Sanchuniathon’s history of the Jews, allegedly written before the Trojan War. (5) And fifthly, Numenius shows himself aware of the ontological meaning of Yahweh’s name.

Apparently, IAO was somehow a transliteration of the name YHWH. How that works, I do not know. Perhaps a Hebrew and/or Greek scholar could answer that question. Still, this part could be not totally off base.

From there, we get to the passage about the fiery serpent and here we take a leap. It is said that if this is the name of the serpent, then we see the name show up all over the world, then we can say Moses is the source. There are claims made here that are unsubstantiated, such as that the Phoenicians adopted this imagery and it became the Phoenix. It also became the harp and the lion of the tribe of Judah, though it’s not explained how this happened or even what is meant by the harp. I would take it to mean a musical instrument since it’s not capitalized, but I’m not certain.

We also have an attempt to tie this to Bacchus based on the names sounding similar. Of course, if this is all he has, then he needs a lot more to make his case. That “a lot more” would include some scholars of the ancient world who would back this.

Much of what is said next we have no need to argue against. Whether it is true or false does not matter. It could be a true account of the story. Yet he has a real howler later on. He speaks of this god as the archon and says

The word archon is composed of the words Ark and On. Ark meaning a conduit of energy that is the Hu-Man sacred ark, or ark of the testimony, represents the original spark of divinity and knowledge that gave us Sophia or wisdom. Yaldabaoth would be akin to an arc welder that is the power supply to create an electric arc between an electrode and the base material to melt the metals.

Or it could be this comes from the Greek word arche which refers to a ruler or first or a source. Moe is taking the term and going to English and then saying that is our reference for it. It’s statements like this that just make me roll my eyes.

He later says

Yaldabaoth and his creations are referred to as the serpent which I have discussed before was once written as worm before the Latin Church Doctors had doctored the original Greek texts that simply read worm. Therefore we know Yaldabaoth is a type of human parasite or worm who seeks to rule and or be the Chief Archon over humankind which is further discussed in the The Apocryphon of John where he is called ignorant darkness;

We would very much like to know how something like this happened. Were all the Greek texts changed? Are there any scholars of Latin or Greek that can verify this? If there are, Moe gives none. Moe goes on to say that.

Yaldabaoth now forbade the man to eat of the tree of knowledge, which could enable him to understand the Gnostic mysteries and receive the graces from above. But man had to be eventually be redeemed from the wrath of Yaldabaoth . Accordingly Christ descended from above on the one perfect man Jesus, who had been prepared by Sophia. Ialdabaoth seeing in Jesus Christ a power superior to himself, stirred up the Jews to crucify Jesus. Of course Christ could not suffer; and he withdrew himself from Jesus in whom he had worked on earth. Christ did not, however, forget Jesus utterly, but raised from the dead the spiritual body of Jesus, which remained on earth eighteen months. At first Jesus did not fully understand the truth, but Christ enlightened him and he taught his disciples the true doctrine.”

His source on this is Frederick John-Foakes Jackson. Why he goes with a source that’s early 20th century is a good question to ask. Is he just looking for anyone that will agree with him? Did he go to a library and research this, or did he just do a web search and pick the first thing that went with him? We can all be sure what the answer to that is.

The Christian Scritpre would equate the Goddess Sophia, with the consort of Adam in the Garden of Eden whose name is Eve. The word Eve is derived from the Hebrew Hevia of Evia which is interpreted as “female serpent” in Latin translations of the Bible. In earlier Greek versions, the word serpent would have simply read “worm.” This is where the Church Doctors come in at doctoring these ancient texts in order to hide the truth of man’s creation.

However, we don’t have to search far and or in difficulty to see that this worm God who is both the creator and destroyer had given birth to several God men over the course of human history. In the Scripture it is said, “And from these worms God made angels. We find this passage more correctly rendered in the Hebrew Bible: “Man that is a worm (rimmah), and the son of man which is a maggot” (tole’ah). “But I am a worm and no man. How much more is man rottenness, and the son of man a worm ? “First he said, ” Man is rottenness;” and afterwards, “The son of man a worm:” because a worm springs from rottenness, therefore “man is rottenness,” and ”the son of man a worm.”

It’s a wonder that someone should be taken seriously on literature who reads it like this. The language of Job is obviously metaphorical language and not meant to give an account of origins. It would be like saying because Jesus said the Pharisees were a brood of vipers that he thought their parents were actual snakes. As for the first part, we eagerly await some backing on this claim. Until we see it, there is no reason to accept it.

Madam Blavatsky had written in Isis Unveiled: “In this plurality of heavens the Christians believed from the first, for we find Paul teaching of their existence, and speaking of a man “caught up to the third heaven” {2 Cor., xii, 2). “From these seven angels Ilda-Baoth shut up all that was above him, lest they should know of anything superior to himself.

We wonder why Blavatsky should be someone we can rely on here. Her claims have not been backed by scholars of our day or her own day. The Jews did hold to a plurality of Heavens, but it would hardly match the Gnostic idea. The third one was after all the highest one where God dwelt. The first would be the sky you see every day and the second would be the regions of what we call outer space beyond.

Moe goes on to say about the Sabbath that

The Roman emperor Constantine, a sun-worshiper, professed his conversion to Christianity, although his subsequent actions suggest that the “conversion” was more of a political move than a genuine change of heart. Constantine proclaimed himself Bishop of the Catholic Church and then enacted the first civil law regarding Sunday observance in A.D. 321.The Catholics state; “The Church substituted Sunday for Saturday by the plenitude of that divine power which Jesus Christ bestowed upon her!”

This is interesting since Justin Martyr spoke of gathering on the first day of the week and 1 Cor. 16 has a gathering on the first day of the week. Moe could also look at the Canons of the Council of Nicea and see if he can find anything about the Sabbath. As for Constantine’s conversion, he could do what I did and talk to a scholar like Peter Leithart on this.

From there, we get into several claims about Abraham and such, but there is no backing for the claims and I seriously doubt any Hebrew scholar would agree with them. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt this will be considered. Moe apparently prefers to use hack resources.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Could God Be Evil?

How do we know the ultimate is really good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, someone contacted me wanting to look at a claim about gnostic gods including the idea that YHWH is really the evil god of the Old Testament. This was a popular idea at the start when Christianity was on the rise. As I thought about it, I do plan on writing more about that tomorrow, but I think it’s important to start by going to our time for some good metaphysics. Philosopher Stephen Law has what he calls the Evil God Challenge.

It’s interesting to point out that the Evil God Challenge doesn’t rebut theism. Theism would still be true. The question to ask is how do you know that this ultimate being isn’t evil? Have you just assumed that He is good?

For some philosophical schools, this could be a problem. For someone who comes from a Thomist tradition, it is not. Often times many people have this idea about goodness that God is the standard of goodness and that the good is whatever corresponds to the nature of God or His will. The problem is if you don’t know what goodness itself is, then you’re just replacing an unknown with another unknown.

It also doesn’t make much sense. “This is a good pizza.” What does that mean? This is a pizza that matches God’s nature or will? What about a good book or action? The idea just doesn’t seem to fit.

If you’re a Thomist, you get your idea of goodness from Aristotle. The good is that at which all things aim. (By the way, this is also something that can be said back to the Euthyphro dilemma. It’s amazing that that dilemma was answered just a generation after Plato and so many skeptics still throw it out like nothing has been said about it.) Aquinas would take this a step further and say that all things aim for perfection. They aim to be. This is called actualization.

You see, for Aquinas, all created things have potential and actuality. Potential is some capacity for change. Actuality is when they do change and describes how they are now. I am sitting as I write this. I have the potential to stand. If I stand, I actualize that potential.

For Aquinas then, goodness is being. Insofar as something is, it is good. We are good when we act according to the nature God meant for us to have. That is why an evil act is considered inhuman. It is the misuse of good that results in evil. This would apply even to the devil for Aquinas. He has being, intelligence, and will. These are good things. The devil is said to be evil, and rightly so, because of how he uses them.

So what about God? God is being without limits. He describes Himself as “I AM.” If you want to know what it means to be, you look at God. He has no potential for change. He is pure being. Everything else is dependent on Him. Even an eternal universe would be dependent on Him.

If you want to know how this makes sense, picture how it would be if you had an eternal existence. Now you also have an eternal existence in front of a mirror that is eternally existence. You have been living for all eternity in front of this eternal mirror. Does the image in the mirror exist eternally because of you or would it exist there if you moved away?

This also means that ultimately, God is good since He doesn’t possess any lacking in His nature. If He does, then He is not God and whatever does possess that is God. The bottom line is that when you reach the end of the chain of being, well you find God right there.

This is why the Evil God Challenge doesn’t make much sense to me. I’ve only given a brief snapshot of this of course. For those interested in more, I recommend reading a more sophisticated Thomist like Edward Feser’s Aquinas.

Tomorrow, we’ll see how this works with Gnosticism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Bernie Sanders and Religious Exclusivity

Is it wrong that Christianity is an exclusivist religion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In a hearing for Russell Vought recently for office, Senator Bernie Sanders expressed some hostility towards Vought for his position on Christianity. Apparently, Vought holds this really bizarre position. He thinks Christianity is actually true and not only is it true, it’s the only true religion and thus all other religions are wrong and will not get you into the grace of God.

Now to Sanders, this might be news. It’s not like this is a new development in Christianity. Christians have held to this belief since the very beginning, even when it led to them being outed by the Roman government and put under all manner of persecution and had them branded as atheists. We have to wonder if this is the first time Sanders had heard about this.

He’s right that while Christianity would be the majority religious belief in America (Or at least claimed) that there are numerous other believers in other religions and no religions here in America. Does this mean that Christians are automatically meant to treat them as lesser citizens. Sanders seems to think this, but on what grounds?

Let’s start with establishing something. Every religious belief is exclusive on some areas. Even a universalist would say that a person who thinks only one way to God is true will still make it to God, they are wrong in holding an exclusivist position. A pluralist will have to essentially change every other religion out there in order to make his pluralist religion true.

This includes Judaism and Islam as well. Try going to a regular synagogue and saying you’re a Jew who accepts Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. See if you’re treated as a Jew like everyone else. While there might be some exceptions, many Jews who embrace Jesus as the Messiah are excluded. Islam is often violently exclusive as is seen by many of the terrorist attacks we have going on today.

This is simply because of logic. All Christians give claims that are truth claims and those claims by nature exclude anything that contradicts them. This is no different from every other field out there. All truth claims do this. If Christianity has it essential that Jesus is the Messiah, then if the claim is true, all religions that disagree are wrong. If Islam were right in that God is a monad and only one in person, then all religions that disagree, like Christianity, are wrong.

One of the great freedoms we have in this country is the freedom to come together and worship as we see fit and to discuss our religious differences. In the practice of true tolerance, we have it that you can disagree very strongly ideologically, and yet still leave in a spirit of peace and even friendship. These are the discussions we should be having. I have no desire for us to try to establish a theocracy here because it would not be God ruling. It would be some men claiming to rule in the name of God.

The problem for Sanders is that he’s doing the exact thing he condemns. He is saying that if you hold X religious belief, you are not fit for public office. This is a rather exclusionary position and is saying that someone is wrong to hold the religious belief that they do, yet all the while complaining that it’s wrong to say another religious belief is wrong. It can’t be had both ways.

Naturally, a Christian who holds public office should care about the freedom and well-being of all of his constituents. This is part of our religion as well. We are not to show favoritism. If a Muslim and a Christian come to trial and the Muslim is in the right, the Christian should back the Muslim. He can disagree with his religion all day long and should, but in this area, the Muslim is in the right.

Sanders is, unfortunately, being an example of someone who doesn’t really understand religions and doesn’t see them as truth claims but more as personal preferences. Sadly, a lot of Christians might take the same attitude, but it’s not one Christianity has had historically. Part of this is also an example of the great problem we have of religious illiteracy here in the West where many people talk about religion and religions, but they don’t really understand them.

What are we as Christians to do then? We are to teach our people that Christianity is not just a flavor of ice cream that you happen to really like, but making really serious divine claims about everything in reality, and that we are to go and live out those claims. We are to uphold the Kingdom of God in all things, but also to uphold the great love of our neighbor that we are commanded as well. Who knows? Sanders might find that living in a society like that isn’t as bad as he thought.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Resurrecting The Trinity

What do I think of M. James Sawyer’s book published by Weaver Book Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Trinity is something that many people do not really pay attention to in Christianity. Sawyer is certainly right that for many Christians today that if the Trinity was proven false, their church services and worship style would be little changed if any. We are often mere monotheists, confessing Trinitarians but practicing Arians.

Of course, we do lip service to the Trinity, but that’s where it usually ends. The only other time we open up the Trinity box is when Jehovah’s Witnesses come by so we can beat them up with it and win in a battle that we don’t often see the importance of and then the Trinity goes back on the shelf. Sawyer wants us to see the Trinity as a life-changing doctrine.

In our modern secular world, we can often view God through a scientific lens where He often plays no active role in our universe except for an occasional miracle. This is why deism is such a possibility for so many people. The universe can run on its own power with laws of nature being active. God is not really necessary. The universe is just a big machine.

Go back to the past and in fact to many other traditions today like the Orthodox church and the Trinity is a living reality to them. We can make many statements about God that would be easily agreed to by a Muslim or a Jew. To some extent, this is understandable. There is no philosophical argument that can prove the Trinity. If we have just reason alone, we can get so far, but the problem is we often act like reason alone has got us as far as we can go.

Instead, the Trinity is to show us what God is like mainly through Christ. Christ doesn’t appease an angry side of God. Christ shows us what the Father Himself is like. If we think the Father is eager to judge us, then we have to ask why Jesus doesn’t seem the same way. There is no dark side of God. What you see is what you get. When you look at Jesus, you see what God is like.

Sawyer also shows that we can have those false views of God such as the kind of name-it, claim-it God or the God who is eager to smite us all. To some extent, we all have these ideas of God at some time in our lives I suppose. It has been rightly said that whatever your idea of God is, it is inadequate. Still, we should strive for as truthful a view as possible.

Sawyer also says that this has often led to a certain moralizing in our walk. Holiness can become a burden when it needn’t be because we are trying to appease the angry God. There is no problem with being moral, but the issue is did Jesus really come to establish a new morality, or did He come to give us God? By all means, He showed us a better way, but did He not show God as well?

When we look at our theology, it is too easy to not have it really be informed by Jesus. The God of the philosophers is tempting to stick with, but the God revealed in Christ is a huge step forward. Too many of us are too tempted to stick with all the omni traits, which we should not deny, and just leave it at that instead of interacting with the whole theological picture.

There isn’t as much in defense of the Trinity here against objections, but that’s fine. There is some grounding of the idea and how it contrasts with Rabbinic thought and about what happened in the Arian controversy, but I think the whole of the work doesn’t seek to defend the Trinity as much as it seeks to show why the Trinity matters. This is indeed something that we need restored to the church today.

The only major area I think I’d disagree with is that Sawyer does seem to hold a higher view of The Shack than I would like. It’s quite interesting that one of the main reasons I didn’t like that book was because of the way it treated the Trinity. If you are like me, you can still get a lot out of this as it doesn’t play a major role in the book.

I hope a book like Sawyer’s is appreciated. The church needs to reclaim the revelation that has been given in Christ. Our doctrine has become largely about morality and such instead of really about a revelation of who God is so that He can often seem just as distant to us as He would have been before the revelation of Jesus. There is a better way.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does Religion Make You Stupid?

Does your brain improve if you get rid of religion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was recently sent this article by Caroline Beaton about religion and what happens to one’s brain when they stopped believing in God. Of course, Beaton describes it as an improvement. Does her argument hold water?

It’s interesting that Beaton begins this with a personal testimony. She talks about losing her virginity at 16 and then living a life of disobeying the rules. I find it amazing that many skeptics of religion who used to be Christians always seem to start with a personal testimony. It’s like they can’t get away from their upbringing.

It also looks like for parents and throughout this article, that much of Christianity in particular is all about morality. Christianity has things to say about morality, but the purpose of Christianity is not to be a moral philosophy but a historical faith with moral implications. On a related point, the word true, or some variation of it, never shows up in the article. Apparently, that question didn’t really seem to matter.

Beaton says that 35% of youth show no religious affiliation. These are called the nones, but it’s a misnomer to think they’re necessarily non-Christians. Many people in a higher power. Many pray. Many have high views of the Bible. They just don’t care for something along the lines of “organized religion.” I recommend anyone wanting information on that read this book.

She quotes a radiology professor who says that religion acts like a drug. For some people, that is no doubt true. There are many people who will use their religion as a way to get spiritual highs. The goal of the religion then is to feel good about one’s self or to feel that one is close to God. In that case, the idea that religion can act like a drug is certainly true. That’s also part of the me-centered aspect of Christianity today. It’s my contention that true Christianity at times can make you feel good, but it can also make you feel miserable. In fact, it should make you feel miserable at times. You should feel sad about the suffering of humanity or the realization of your own sin or knowing that your friends and family are lost.

Beaton also says she believed in young-earth creationism and evolution for awhile both. At this, it never seems to occur to Beaton that maybe she was the problem and not the religion. Had she ever really thought deeply about her religion? She talks about losing interest in a picture Bible. What did she expect? Of course it wouldn’t bring the same interest. We can’t all be children forever and we need increasing awareness of our religion.

Beaton goes on to say

As I tried to reconcile my belief in God with my growing knowledge of the natural world, I drew arbitrary distinctions. God couldn’t see me poop but he could hear me pray, I decided. Eventually I couldn’t figure out how, physically, he could do either.

Absent is any mention of doing any real research. Instead, the lines are arbitrary. What were the grounds for this? You don’t want God to see you poop but you want Him to hear you pray? It sounds like Beaton had her religion for personal comfort. Beaton goes on to say

This scientific descent from religion is common. Pew’s 2016 survey on why now-unaffiliated Americans lost faith yielded explanations such as, “Rational thought makes religion go out the window,” “Lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator,” and “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.”

Part of the problem here is a scientism that has taken over much of our thinking. In fact, I would say the fact that we have debates on if the Bible teaches YEC or OEC is a demonstration that we read even the Bible through a scientific lens. It never seems to occur to some people that maybe science isn’t the best place to go to for this question. I also notice the idea of rationality. Let’s say something about that.

There are stupid Christians and there are stupid atheists. There are genius Christians and there are genius atheists. It’s not the point that you “become rational” and suddenly you change your worldview. One of the big problems I have with many atheists today is that they deem automatically that anyone who believes in anything religious is automatically irrational. This contributes nothing to a good debate.

She continues

When we get to college, however, cultural testimony changes. An analytical, scientific view reigns, and there’s little room for God. We staggered home from parties pontificating on the pointless evil of Western religion. We made friends by cynically confessing our doubt. College is “very likely to challenge the more conservative belief systems we have in our brains,” Grafman says. It deflates our adolescent faith.

Of course, parties where you stagger home, no doubt from drinking too much, are the perfect places to be thinking on Western religion. Apparently, the college library isn’t of much use. Beaton is accurate when she says that an adolescent faith is deflated. Perhaps it needs to be. Perhaps they need to look at these doubts and move onto an adult faith where they actually think about what they believe.

When we finally break up with religion, we rebound. Eventually, non-religious people who once had religious epiphanies get those same feelings from being in nature, or from seeing profound scientific ideas expressed, Anderson says. “The context changes but the experience doesn’t.” Most non-religious people are “passionately committed to some ideology or other,” explains Patrick McNamara, a neurology professor at Boston University School of Medicine. These passions function neurologically as “faux religions.”

And once again, there you have it. It’s all about the feelings. You could have feelings and emotional experiences with a religion based on your own temperament and such. For me, they don’t happen often because I am not a man of emotional passion like that. That’s okay. Still, if the purpose of your religion is to make you feel good or have pleasurable sensations, you’re doing it wrong. Your religion is meant to inform your life about who you are and the way the world is and your place in it.

Ultimately, Beaton doesn’t really give us anything here. There is no question of truth. There is no question of research. All we have is really a long personal testimony with some scientific statements thrown in. It’s good to know that just by entering college Beaton thought she had all that she needed. Hopefully, Beaton will in the future visit a library and learn something about these systems she has been freed from. Until then, I do not know what happens when your brain gets freed from religion, but I know what happens when it gets stuck on your own experiences and doesn’t understand religion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Salvation By Allegiance Alone

What do I think of Matthew Bates’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Matthew Bates has written a book with a certainly interesting title. One can expect based on that that people on both sides will be tempted to go after him. (Cue James White having a twelve part series on his show about this.) That would be a shame if it happened because a lot that needs to be said is in this book.

Bates is not wanting to undermine grace, but he is wanting to get rid of a sort of system that is more centered on getting people to get saved instead of getting them to realize Jesus is their king, which would include salvation. We are at a point where we want to get people to sign on a proverbial dotted line and then lo and behold, our work is done. A church group will go out and witness in the streets and get one person to commit their life to Jesus, most likely to get his evangelists to shut up, come back to church shouting success, and that person will never ever darken the doors of a church. Discipleship is not a part of the process.

Bates starts with going after the term faith and that we really shouldn’t use it. I agree with him on this. Faith is a term that has been so misunderstood in our day and age that it leads to more problems. Bates looked at some bad definitions of faith. He wrote about Mormons who wanted someone to believe on faith based on the burning in the bosom. I would have liked to have seen in this section of bad usages of faith the fact that new atheist writers regularly describe faith falsely. People like Dawkins and Harris call it belief without evidence. Peter Boghossian called it pretending to know things you don’t know.

Another good one to look at would have been the Word of Faith movement. Bates looks at this some with saying some people think faith is positive thinking, but this is certainly that and going beyond in a more twisted way. This faith results in the death of children because, hey, you’re not supposed to go to a doctor. Have faith.

With this, it’s time to return to the full Gospel. The Gospel is not me-centered. It is Jesus-centered. It depends on what God has done in Jesus. He gives the Gospel eight parts. Not all have to be explicitly mentioned, but they are all part of the story. Jesus pre-existed with the Father, took on human flesh to fulfill the promises to David, died in accordance with what Scripture says, buried, raised on the third day again as prophesied, appeared to many, sits at the right hand of God as Lord, and will return to judge. This is indeed much more thought out than “Jesus died for my sins.”

It’s also important to realize Jesus taught this Gospel. Too many times when we want the Gospel, we jump straight to Paul. The Gospels pretty much tell us about how Jesus lived, but if you want to know about salvation, you really need to go to Paul. This is not to be anti-Paul or to say that Paul and Jesus contradict, but it is to say we should look at what Jesus said about the Gospel.

Bates then goes on to say that true salvation is allegiance. This is not to make people think of works salvation, as he gets into when he answers questions. We could say one does works not to earn salvation, but because one has sworn allegiance to Jesus as king.

Some of this part to me is still unclear. We do know that John wants us to know we have eternal life (1 John 5:13) and we don’t want to have people living in fear of their own salvation. At the same time, we don’t want to undermine obedience to Jesus. As someone in a ministry position, I do know for instance of many men who come to me and who want to be good Christians, and yet have the struggle of dealing with pornography. Bates does recognize we still have entangling sin and he himself has some sins he is struggling with, but I wonder how this would be handled in a pastoral situation, but more on that later.

The next major section is on new creation. Bates says we have too often made Heaven the goal of Christianity. I couldn’t agree more. Some of my biggest problems with funerals today has been the emphasis on Heaven. Don’t get me wrong. There is a glorious after-death waiting for us. The problem is that the grand coming of it is not until the resurrection and it’s not in a place far far away. It’s right here on Earth. God is going to recreate this world and it will be better than ever before.

Bates then says we need to restore the idol of God. Some people might wonder what he’s getting into with a chapter like this, but he’s entirely correct. Bates says that in ancient Hebrew terminology, we being in the image of God would mean we are the idol of God. We represent God. No piece of wood could ever do that. The main example of this is, of course, Jesus.

When we restore humanity to its rightful place, we will also treat one another better. Each of us is someone who bears the image of God. To treat your neighbor unjustly is to treat God unjustly. To love your neighbor rightly is to love God rightly.

The final chapters are much more theological and the systematic theologians will love it. This is looking at the ideas of righteousness and atonement. Those who are curious about the New Perspective on Paul will find an interesting look here at the material.

I would liked to have seen more on the pastoral side in the book as it is written for the lay audience. I could picture a mother reading this and saying “So does that mean when my son accepted Christ at a young age that it was illegitimate because allegiance was not sworn?” I do not think Bates would say this, but I think there needed to be something like that there. I do agree that we need allegiance brought in. We said the pledge of allegiance to the flag every day in school. Why not to our Lord every Sunday in church?

While there are points of clarification that will be brought out later, Bates book is full of good material that needs to be learned. It is a call to return to discipleship. It is a call to remember Jesus is indeed your friend and you have a relationship with Him, but He is your king and deserves no lesser treatment.

In Christ,
Nick Peters