Book Plunge: Walking Through Twilight

What do I think of Doug Groothuis’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This book is a sad book. It is a tragic book to read. It is a book that you should read, but it is not a book you will read because you enjoy reading it. If you do enjoy reading it, I think there is something wrong with you. There are some cute moments throughout you might smile at, but the tone throughout is very somber and depressing.

As it should be.

Groothuis’s book is an honest look at what happens when a Christian philosopher who is an apologist has a wife who has been a companion in every way throughout his marriage start to go through dementia. What happens when she can’t read anymore or use a phone anymore or do basic things? What happens when you know the person is going to get worse and worse until they eventually die from the disease? What happens when you go from being a husband to being a caregiver?

The book is entirely honest, which is what makes it so hard. Groothuis says some of the things that many of us going through suffering think but hesitate to say. Consider his talk about Misotheism. This is the idea that one knows that God exists and holds many orthodox beliefs about Him, but hates Him.

There are many times one can meet atheists who say people are Christians because it makes us feel really good about ourselves. I do not relate to those comments, but I think here we have the opposite. One wonders if at times Groothuis might wish he didn’t have the apologetics and philosophical knowledge that he has. Sure, God provides a great hope in times of suffering, but sometimes He does seem cruel.

A reader would understandably think of the idea of C.S. Lewis. Lewis wrote about how his great fear in suffering wasn’t that God didn’t exist. It was that God did exist and that this is what He is really like. The mask has come off. God has claimed to be a good God of love, but in the end, look at the suffering He allows His servants to go through!

Groothuis writes from that same perspective. He finds great comfort in the laments in the Bible and especially in the book of Ecclesiastes. He looks back longingly to happier times with his wife, Becky, and thinks that in the resurrection, things will be different, but for now, they are bad and they are not going to get better.

Groothuis won’t go into a prolonged argument as to why God allows evil. That doesn’t matter at this point and when one is suffering, it is actually rather hollow. Instead, Groothuis will just describe the suffering and point to passages of Scripture that give him hope. There is some light apologetics mixed in from time to time, but most of what we see is a man baring his soul to the world.

Some things I understood from my own experience. Groothuis talks about visiting his wife in a psychiatric hospital and wanting to kill a man who was talking too loudly on the phone. I know when my own wife has been hurt by others that I have had that kind of rage built up inside of me. I also have been there when my wife has had to be hospitalized and staying by her side. When he describes Becky being in a place where people feel like inmates and the prisoners are trying to escape, I understand it.

Groothuis tells about at times living in fear worried about what Becky would do. Normally in the past, her approach would have brought joy, but now it brings pain. What is it that is wrong? He admits that at times he gets frustrated and this must be a pain to live with as well. Perhaps at times he wants to get angry with her, but what would that do? She cannot help the way she is definitely. Then, one deals with the guilt of that afterward.

It’s hard to imagine that in all of this, he still goes out there wanting to defend Christianity. This is what it means to truly trust in Christ. It means that even when everything seems against you, you are still obeying. Lewis talked about a Christian who looked at the world that seemed to have no God there, who looks up to Heaven in response and asks why God is silent, and yet obeys anyway. These are the most dangerous Christians in the world to those on the side of evil because their Christianity is not controlled by momentary circumstances.

Ultimately, that is also the good news. Becky’s condition could last a few years, but in light of eternity, it is a momentary circumstance. It does not seem like it when one is in it, but that is what it really is.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean that we who are on the outside need to give stale sayings of peace that are meant to soothe. They don’t. Too often I think it’s like we think we’re on some TV show and we’ll say just the right magic words and the person will suddenly have an epiphany and feel better about everything. Real life isn’t like that. Real life isn’t scripted and the people we encounter are not actors acting in pain. They are real people in real pain.

It can be easier for those of us on the outside to diminish pain. For instance, people who know me very well know that I am extremely hydrophobic. It is a wonder I was able to get baptized by full immersion since I am terrified of going underwater. My own wife can get frustrated with me in the swimming pool at times, yet she knows that this is a real pain. This is an honest phobia. The last thing you need to tell me is that there’s really nothing to be afraid of. Even if you think it’s true and even if it is true, it doesn’t change the pain.

What is better is to come alongside of those who are suffering. Suffer with them if possible. Don’t just give words. Words can be good, but sometimes, they’re cheap. Of course, if all you can do is give a phone call or something, at least do that, but if possible, come over. Think of what you could do. Help clean the house. Bring over a meal. Get a gift card for them. Sometimes, just listening itself is enough.

We should all be praying for Dr. Groothuis in his time. His book is a poignant look at suffering. It is not an enjoyable book. It is a sad book. It is also a needed book. We need to read this to understand suffering from the inside. It’s easy to talk about the problem of evil when you’re an academic in a classroom and life is going well. It’s harder when you know the arguments, but you feel something else entirely as you’re going through the problem right there.

Get this book and read it and then be prepared to enter into suffering. Do what you can to help your fellow man out. Remember that people you meet are all either going through suffering, have come out of it, or are about to go into it. In each life a little rain must fall, but we can make the most of it if we live out what we believe are already principles of Christian living.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered, Chapter 6

Does David Wood have a good argument against evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look at the work of Glenton Jelbert and his book Evidence Considered, which looks at the 50 reasons for God in an edited book by Michael Licona and William Dembski. This time, we’re looking at the problem of evil again. David Wood has an essay here on responding to the argument from evil.

Jelbert rightly points out that the argument is a disproof of theism. In this case then, the burden of proof is on the atheist. The theist has the much easier task considering of just showing that something is possible. He does not bear the burden of proof.

He also rightly points out that good could mean something different to a theist than it does to an atheist. Indeed, I think many of the problems we have in the debate is we never really define our terms. Good is an idea that is left floating in the air, which is why I always prefer to ask someone what is meant when they say good.

In his response, Jelbert starts by saying that he notes four definitions of evil. I wonder if these are all definitions or rather different ways of viewing something. There is moral evil and natural evil for instance and both are talked about, but both are not the same.

Wood has gone also with the argument from design. With the problem of evil, the atheist says that it probably isn’t likely that there is a good reason for evil, so we shouldn’t accept that there is. When it comes to design, the problem is that it is not probable that life arose by purely naturalistic processes, so we shouldn’t think that it did. The situation is indeed reversed. Please note also I say this as someone who doesn’t use the design argument.

One difference I can see is that if theism is true, then we should expect that God’s knowledge will be vastly superior to ours. In any event that happens be it an atheistic or theistic universe, there is probably knowledge about most events that we cannot know because we do not know all things. Most of us have a hard time with truth about ourselves let alone truth about greater realities.

As I write this, it was not too long ago that we had a mass shooting take place here in Las Vegas in America. This was over a week ago, and we’re still picking together pieces of what happened. ISIS has claimed responsibility, but I have not seen anyone definitively say that ISIS is involved. Here we have numerous investigators working on something and we don’t have definitive answers and yet with much less investigation and skilled investigation at that, we expect to know about other kinds of suffering?

Jelbert says that if we cannot think of a moral justification for this suffering, then we should not quash our morality. The problem is that Jelbert then starts to just beg the question. Sure. I can’t think of a reason, but the burden of proof is on the atheist to show that there is no good reason. Unless this has been shown, then the argument has not reached its conclusion. If I throw in other arguments for theism, then the case is much more firmly stacked in my favor.

This also assumes that God is the efficient cause behind everything that happens. Even many Calvinists would not accept this. This would be akin to the idea that since God is the one behind the reproductive system, that He automatically guides every cell that goes into life. If it is the case that God is not the efficient cause, then God is not the one doing things directly.

Also, I think it’s just wrong anyway to apply moral categories to God. This assumes that God is an agent like any of us with responsibilities like any of us. He isn’t. God doesn’t owe us anything. God does not owe you or I a good life. If God wanted to just take my life right now, He could. He does not owe me anything.

If someone thinks God is wrong in taking a life, I want to ask on what grounds is it that God owes them life? The only thing God owes people is that which He’s promised to give them. No one can place an obligation on God that He has to give X to them.

Jelbert also has another argument that if God existed, He would help people develop virtues and seek God. Peopel do not do this, therefore God does not exist. Even if I granted the first premise, I can still say that this is true. God has done this. It’s called the incarnation. The life of Jesus has been the greatest impetus to virtue of all time. It has caused more and more people to seek God as well. To say God will help people will not mean that God is forcing people.

Jelbert also has an offhand remark about atrocities committed in the name of God from the previous chapter. Our look at that saw much of this lacking and don’t see why it should be expected that God will intervene every time. If Jelbert has a chapter later on on the Crusades or the Inquisition or anything like that, we will deal with it then.

Jelbert also says the argument of Wood is a call to distrust your moral judgment and senses and just trust God has it all worked out. I don’t see how. If one has prior grounds for believing that God exists, then one can indeed think justifiably He has it worked out. Furthermore, God has to remain in the paradigm in the objection and if there is such a God, then it is quite likely He knows more about the situation. The burden is squarely on the atheist. Jelbert even agrees that if there was good evidence for God, you would be forced to assume He has secret reasons for the evil we see. I would not say forced, but Jelbert here grants my point.

Yet how do I have to deny my senses? I can affirm that there is great suffering in the world. I can affirm that this is not the way the world is meant to be. I can affirm that there is something wrong here. In fact, Christianity demands that I affirm these. Jesus did not die because the world was perfect. He died because it is highly imperfect.

Jelbert says that this contradicts Copan’s chapter where our morality is a clue to God’s existence and here we are supposed to suppress our morality. Again, I still do not see how we are to do that. I can look at events and say that these are instances of evil, such as the Las Vegas shooting, or suffering that will be gone in the new Heaven and Earth, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. I don’t have to change my moral stance one iota.

Jelbert says that Wood says that humans are at war with God so that explains poor morality. Jelbert counters by saying that most of us do so purely out of selfishness. The problem here is, why not both? Wood’s definition works fine as does Jelbert. The difference is on Jelbert’s view, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be selfish. On Wood’s, I do.

Jelbert goes on to say that the problem of evil is a serious blow to the idea of God and any free-thinking person will acknowledge that. Sorry. I consider myself a free-thinking person. I don’t acknowledge that. I don’t find the problem of evil persuasive at all. In fact, this is largely seen as a Western problem. Go to other countries that aren’t as affluent as ours and you’ll find people rarely talk about the problem of evil.

I also note something else here I don’t think was said. Evil is a problem for everyone. How does Jelbert explain it and how does he hope to resolve it? For theism, we have not only an explanation for evil, but a hope that evil will be defeated ultimately based on the resurrection of Jesus. Can atheism give me anything comparable?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheism and the Case Against Christ: Chapter 9

Would God do miracles? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Keep in mind when we come to something like this and we’re asking if God would do miracles, we’re dealing with a question of theology. If this is theology however, where does McCormick get his information from? He rejects natural revelation as giving us knowledge of the existence of God so how could it tell us the attributes of God? What does he know about God that the rest of us do not?

Also, the question could have an odd answer. It could be that God can do miracles but has never done one. I don’t hold to this, but it’s possible. Whether God can do miracles is theology and metaphysics. If he has is a question of history.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but at one point as I go through this chapter, I notice McCormick talking about Job. Job supposedly lose his wife and his children to death. This makes me wonder if McCormick really has studied the Bible at all. I am to trust him on the extra scholarship when he can’t check to see that Job’s wife never died in the text?

McCormick more has a problem with what kinds of miracles take place. Christine Overall he says wants to know why Jesus was hanging out at a party turning water into wine when He could have been healing lepers. Of course, leave out that Jesus did do plenty of healings, though we can be sure these won’t be accepted anyway. Jesus had not yet really started a ministry and was at a party I think just to be a good guest and not shame the person who invited him and his disciples. Why would he turn water into wine? To keep a party going. More than that. This was a big event in the life of the family and the couple. Running out of wine would bring great shame to them that would last. Jesus ensured their honor.

McCormick tells us that many Christians familiar with the problem of evil point out that there could be some absolving reasons why God doesn’t do a certain miracle. McCormick says this is correct, but there may not be. Unfortunately, as long as there could be, then the problem of evil is not a necessary defeater for theism or Christianity. If all we had was the data on the problem of evil, it would be difficult to say, but fortunately the informed Christian has many more positive arguments for God, like the Thomistic ones I prefer.

McCormick also talks about evils of the kind that William Rowe refers to as intense instances of suffering that someone like God could prevent without losing some greater good or permitting something equally evil. Okay. Rowe wants to say there are instances like this. I have two questions. #1. What are they? #2. Can he demonstrate that he knows this?

This would be a difficult question. How could you demonstrate that if one evil did not occur, no greater good would be lost or some other kind of evil would not occur? Some may think I’m switching the burden of proof. I’m not. I’m just asking if Rowe could back his claim. If he can’t, then it’s a statement of faith and it could be true, but we can’t know it.

McCormick also says it’s a problem for omniscience if God does a miracle because He’s changing something. Of course, it could be God in His omniscience knew all along that He would do a miracle and God in His omniscience knew all along who would be praying about an event and took that into consideration. I’m not about to fully enter into such a discussion, but again, the positive arguments for theism and the resurrection still stand strong. McCormick hasn’t touched those and possible ignorance on one area does not overpower that.

Also of course, McCormick nowhere interacts with Craig Keener. If one miracle has happened in the past, then this chapter is defeated. It’s not a shock McCormick says nothing about that.

There really isn’t much to talk on in this chapter. McCormick does have an argument about God would not do something that would be able to be done by a magician, but we’ve seen how flimsy his resurrection argument is and he has no real counter-explanation of the data accepted by critical scholars. In fact, he has no knowledge that can be seen of that data. Until then, that is the only miracle to explain and if he wants to, he can try to show me a dead man who came back to life by his own power.

There’s also the question of could it have been another power that did a miracle. God doesn’t have to be omnipotent, omniscient, etc. Sure, but this is why I use the Thomistic arguments. They do end in a being that must be omni in everything. Of course, I have no problem with some miracles being by dark powers, but I think giving life to the dead is only in the realm of God. Only He could be behind the resurrection.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

What Shiro Taught Me About Trust

Can our feline friends have something to teach us? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you’re a reader of my blog, there are facts about me you might have noticed. One you might have known is that my wife and I recently moved to Atlanta where I could assist my father-in-law, Michael Licona, with his ministry. The second is that we are cat owners. Our kitty is a white ball of fur named Shiro, the Japanese word for white.

Shiro

Shiropose

We moved on Wednesday and the Tuesday night before, we cleared all the furniture out of our old house. We spent the night next door with my parents. We did, aside from our little Shiro since my parents have two cats already and Shiro up there would have been a recipe for chaos. Shiro stayed at the old house on Tuesday night. We stopped by to feed him on our way home from going out to eat of course.

When we went down the next morning, and we had been eager to check on him, he really wanted nothing to do with us. It took awhile to even get him to eat anything, but he looked at us entirely with distrust. From a cat’s perspective, it’s understandable. He had just had his world turned upside down. Unfortunately, to get him in his kitty carrier, we essentially had to trap him in a room and I had to just grab him and he had to be put inside it, and of course, he never likes that.

We had given him something from the vet meant to calm him down and we were pleased that he did not whine as much as we thought he would on the trip, but at the same time, I wondered if he had a defeatist attitude. Had he resigned himself to a negative fate? After all, we had rescued Shiro at an apartment complex where his old owners had abandoned him. What if he had thought that was happening again?

All the while I kept wanting to explain to him that he would like where he was going. We were doing this to him because we love him and we wanted to have him with us on our journey. We got him here and I had Allie go to a master bathroom connected with the master bedroom and just stay with him. When we got more furniture in the bedroom, we were able to let him out and let him stay in those two rooms.

He ran and hid under the dresser.

The next few days were concerning for us. It was like we couldn’t get Shiro to eat anything. He stayed hidden all day long. We talked to our vet back home and several friends who are cat owners who assured us that this was normal behavior. It was really hard on us that we did all this for Shiro because we wanted to have him with us everywhere and yet he hid and treated us like threats.

Already now, it looks like things are back to normal. As I sit here and write this, it is almost time to feed him and he is doing his best to make sure that I know that. I regularly hear him whining. He has a new cat tree now courtesy of my mother-in-law. He still hasn’t really explored it yet, but give it time. He sometimes still wakes us up at night, but he’s just getting used to the timing.

So what does this have to do with anything?

The difference between a human being and a cat is quite large. What difference is even larger? The difference between God and a human being. We’re talking with God about a being who knows everything, including all of the future, and He knows how everything will work out. We’re also talking about, if we’re Christians, a being who has done more than enough to demonstrate His love for us.

And yet as soon as something happens that we don’t understand, we’re just as prone to think that God has wronged us or is going to abandon us or isn’t looking out for us. It never occurs to us that things that seem painful and disturbing to us could be for our good. We just look at what we’re going through and then think only about that experience and don’t look at how God will use it.

We cannot literally do it, but in some ways we try to hide from God. We don’t go about our lives as we normally would when we think we have His favor. Oh when we think we have His favor we can tell everyone about the goodness of God and we can pray and read our Bibles and worship happily, but when evil strikes or even just something we don’t understand, we quickly change all of that.

A lot of times we might want an answer, but could we really handle one? What all might God have to explain about the future that we couldn’t possibly understand? I would have loved to have been able to talk to Shiro and tell him why everything was happening as it was, but he would not understand. If I cannot explain the ways of man to a cat, how much harder would it be to explain the ways of God to us, mere human beings?

What’s really sad is that with a cat, we could say a cat doesn’t know better, and in essence we’d be right, but we do know better. We as Christians do know all that God has done for us in the past. We know that He sent His son for us, and yet when evil strikes, we forget all about that.

In fact, this is often where our pride steps in. We treat ourselves like the exception. Oh sure, God will do that for everyone else and God loves everyone else, but not me. It’s like we go to John 3:16 and see that God so loved the world, except there’s that little asterisk that has next to it supposedly “Except Steve” or “Except Kim” or “Except Mark.” We read in Romans 5 that God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us, unless you’re John, Margaret, or Tyler.

Pride and shame are two sides of the same coin. In both cases today, we use them to treat ourselves as if we’re exceptional. We’re either exceptionally greater than we think or exceptionally worse than we think and we put whatever that is on God. Unfortunately, we are being just like Shiro. There is a world of good out there waiting for us and we refuse to come out and enjoy it because we do not trust in God.

You see, I can look at Shiro and think “Shiro. We do everything for you. We shower you with love constantly. We protect you from everything and give you so many good things. Why is it that as soon as we do something that seems different, you act like we’re out to get you?” Whenever I think like that though, I can often picture God looking at me and saying “Good questions. I’ve been asking you them for years.”

So right now, there’s a little white ball of fur in the doorway of my office here. I’m about to go feed him soon and he knows again that he can rely on my hand to take care of him. Will I not take this time to learn more that there is a hand greater than mine that is taking care of me even when it might not look like it?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

What do I think of Jerry Walls’s new book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

In the interest of fairness, I want it to be known that Brazos Press did send me a review copy and I consider Jerry Walls a friend.

When I first heard about Jerry Walls, I thought he was a Catholic.

Not because I’m anti-Catholic! Not at all! With my philosophy, I’m a Thomist in my philosophy and a reader of people like G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft. I’d just heard that he’d written a book about Purgatory and thought that was the case. I was surprised a bit when I found out he was a Protestant just as I am. I suspect with this book out, some people would be surprised to learn that this is a protestant view of the cosmic drama, as he describes it.

But yes, Walls is very much Protestant. Picking out his position I find is interesting. The book is not about soteriology per se, but yet his strong position against Calvinism is noted. It’s more really about eschatology, but he is one of those rare people that you can talk about his position in eschatology and you don’t mean the one we normally mean, such as what is the view on the rapture or the Olivet Discourse. This is all about our personal eschatology. What happens to us when we die.

Walls is familiar with this seeing as he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Hell, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to give a defense of your view that Hell is a justifiable doctrine. While I think it is, it is not the kind of position I would want to do a Ph.D. dissertation on, yet Walls did so and it looks like he managed to defend Hell in light of some of the best antagonism, so he has something to say.

Yet this time, he rightly starts with Heaven. What is Heaven. How will it be for us? Walls rightly shows that we Christians need to spend more time thinking about this doctrine. I do want to jump ahead to something he says at the end of the book about Heaven answering the question of if we will be bored in Heaven. I do that because frankly, hearing the way some Christians talk about Heaven, I think I would be bored endlessly if their descriptions were right. Too often we make Heaven sound like an eternal church service. (Never mind other baloney claims such as we become angels when we die) There’s a reason skeptics of the faith say that Heaven would be boring and if they’re in Hell, they’ll be with their best friends anyway.

Walls gets most of his information on Heaven from Scripture going to Revelation 21. He does not take it in a literalistic sense, but he does have it that this is powerful language. God who exists in Trinity is the central focus of our eternity. He is the basis. He is the one that makes Heaven, Heaven and he is the one that makes eternity to be eternity. Our origins are found in Him and our purpose is found in Him. As has been said, if you have a “God of the Gaps” mentality, you’re not really dealing with the God of Scripture.

Wells shows that this is not just pie in the sky nonsense to escape reality, but is facing reality head on. It is saying that all of our hopes and desires do point to somewhere. He does this engaging with numerous arguments from the skeptical side, such as those of Russell or Nietzsche. Heaven is the best explanation that we have of all of the data that we have. Heaven makes sense of our world.

Yet what about Hell? Why is there Hell? Walls works to show that Hell is God giving people what they have wanted for so long and for this, he is largely in debt to Lewis, who aside from Scripture I would say is no doubt the most quoted author in the book. The gates of Hell are locked on the inside. The people in Hell are the ones who ultimately choose they want nothing to do with the God of Scripture. I would have liked to have seen something in this section that would have dealt more with the conditionalist position which is gaining popularity. Walls could have done that in another book, but it would have been good to see something here.

From there, we get into Purgatory. Now this is where some Protestants could be raising up their intellectual shields in defense and preparing to go on the attack. It is understandable, but I agree with Walls that we really need to interact with this idea and not just associate it with Catholics. Catholics believe a lot of right things too after all and just because an idea was misused is no reason to throw it out entirely.

I will not go into the details of Walls’s argument other than to say it focuses greatly on sanctification and while I cannot say I’m totally sold on it yet, and I do not think Walls would want me to change my mind entirely after reading just one book, I can say I do think Walls has benefited us greatly by starting the discussion and one aspect I will say I am sure he’d be pleased with, is that it does get me thinking more about sanctification and how seriously we need to take it.

Walls also deals with the problem of evil, including from this the speaking of Ivan from the Brothers Karamazov. While Dostoyevsky who wrote the book was a Christian, these are some of the most powerful quotes you’d hear advocating the problem of evil that he puts on the lips of his atheist character. Many atheists should learn to realize that we know the problem very well and I think Dostoyevsky places it more powerfully than any atheist writing I’ve read on it.

And yes, Walls has an answer. Of course, those interested in this need to get the book so they can see it.

We move on from there to morality and if there is a grounds for it in atheism. Walls of course argues that there isn’t and looks at some of the best theories out there attempting to explain this. Of course, if there is no ground for morality, then it’s quite difficult to raise up the problem of evil unless you want to say that it is an inconsistency for Christianity but when you abandon Christianity, lo and behold, there is nothing that is truly good or evil.

Finally, there’s a section that includes theories on the possibility of someone being reached even after they die. This is an interesting idea, but again, I’m not really sold on it. I wasn’t really sold on Walls’s approach to Hebrews 9, but I do think he’s certainly right to show that if Scripture does contradict any idea that we have, then we have to come to terms with the fact that that idea is wrong.

So while I do not agree with all that Walls says, I have to say this is an excellent book to get you thinking. It will put in you a desire for the state of Heaven and get you thinking seriously about sanctification and holiness. I do not doubt that even with that conclusion, that Walls will be pleased.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/8/2014: Kurt Jaros

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast this week? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This week on the Deeper Waters Podcast, we’re going to be looking at some topics that Christians can divide over a bit and I’m going to be getting the perspective of my friend Kurt Jaros. Kurt has been on the show before and has in fact been a speaker at the Unbelievable? conference in the U.K. So who is Kurt Jaros?

KurtJaros

Kurt Jaros is the Director of Operations at Apologetics.com, a charitable organization that challenges believers to think and thinkers to believe. He is currently a Ph.D. student at Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. His doctoral dissertation will look at the doctrine of Original Sin in the writings of monks from southern France in the 5th and 6th century. He holds two Masters degrees in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, and Systematic Theology, from King’s College London.

He likes systematic and historical theology, philosophy of religion, and issues in Christian pop culture. Additionally, he enjoys political philosophy, economics, American political history and campaigns. He current resides in the suburbs of Chicago with his lovely wife and daughter.

So what all are we going to be talking about?

We’ll be talking about original sin some. (Last I checked, Kurt is against sin for all concerned) Kurt comes from a perspective where he has enjoyed debating in the Calvinist/Arminian debate. It’s one that I’ve tended to avoid, but if you’re interested in that kind of debate, then you might want to hear what he has to say.

We’re hoping as well that some of this can break off into the problem of evil. How does one deal with the supremacy of God in a world of evil from the perspective of someone like Kurt? Can it be dealt with?

Also, we’ll be looking at what Kurt has to say about the teaching of Pelagianism. If one rejects Pelagianism, can one call oneself a semi-Pelagian? How will this relate to the doctrine of salvation? What kinds of issues are at stake in this? How will all of this then tie back into original sin?

I’m also interested in having our discussion on inerrancy as well. Kurt and I have had several discussions about this topic and while we both believe in inerrancy, we both hold a view of it different from the traditional view. Those who have been interested in the writings that I have done on the Geisler debate will certainly want to hear this kind of discussion on inerrancy. We will also be discussing various items we have in the works for the debate on inerrancy.

Kurt’s a good friend of mine and I’ve enjoyed a number of comments he’s left on my Facebook page as well as much of the humor we share together. He also takes my blogs which I appreciate and shares them on his own group. If you don’t know Kurt, now’s your chance to get to know him. I hope you’ll be listening to hear what he has to say.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: True Paradox

What do I think of David Skeel’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

TrueParadox

David Skeel’s True Paradox is a difficult book to place really. Now this could be because of the way that I think and like things to be nice and organized. Skeel is trying to get us to look at complex issues that seem to be paradoxical in their nature and ask how it is that Christianity makes sense of them. I do not see this as a book to show that Christianity is true, you need to argue for the resurrection specifically I think to do that, but a book to get you to consider that perhaps there’s more to the world than you realize.

Throughout, Skeel deals with various areas in our lives that are often ones we don’t think about. For instance, an early chapter is on the question of beauty. Why is it that we even think some things are beautiful? What role does beauty play? Of course, Skeel points out evolutionary explanations of this, but he often finds them lacking. In many cases, there would be no immediate benefit and the ideas of what is beautiful doesn’t really lead to the benefits supposedly given. When many of us see a beautiful painting, we don’t immediately want to go and be a contestant on Survivor. Instead, we often get transfixed. If anything, we are more prone to an attack from an enemy.

There is also the paradox of suffering and evil. Why do we act as if something unusual is happening to us when we suffer? Skeel compares his Christian friend Bill Stuntz to the atheist Christopher Hitchens. Both died from cancer. Stuntz and Hitchens both saw it in different ways and Skeel pictures how it is that they would respond to different questions about suffering. The question to ask is which worldview best explains not only suffering but why we think of suffering the way that we do.

The best chapter in this book without a doubt for me was the chapter on Heaven. There are times in this chapter where one finds oneself emotionally moved and gripped by thinking about what the reality of Heaven is. By all means, I do not mean the silly Sunday School images that we have of sitting on clouds being angels and playing harps. None of that has any Biblical justification whatsoever. In fact, if such was the nature of Heaven, most of us would quite likely think we’d gone to the other place when we wound up there. Instead, I am thinking more of a rich view of Heaven found in the writings of people like Peter Kreeft, C.S. Lewis, and N.T. Wright. In fact, if you could only read one chapter in this book, I would definitely recommend that you read the chapter on Heaven and the afterdeath (As I prefer to call it).

In the end, my thoughts on this are mixed. The last chapter is highly recommended. The others do present something that an aspiring apologist can look at and for people who live on a more existential level, I suspect that they will find something in this work that they really really like. If you enjoy thinking about paradoxes, it is one that is worth a look.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/2/2014: Clay Jones

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! Evil is a favorite playing card of many an atheist on the internet as well as prominent atheists in public debate. If there is a God, why is there so much evil in the world? In fact, many times, isn’t God the cause of all this evil in the world?

Of course, this is a serious objection for many to theism and in order to help address it, why not talk to a serious authority on the issue? That’s why I’m having Dr. Clay Jones of BIOLA come on my show this Saturday to talk about the problem of evil.

So who is Clay Jones?

cbj

According to his bio:

Clay Jones holds a doctor of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is an associate professor in the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics Program at Biola University. Formerly, Clay hosted Contend for Truth, a nationally syndicated call-in, talk-radio program where he debated professors, radio talk show hosts, cultists, religious leaders, and representatives from animal rights, abortion rights, gay rights, and atheist organizations. Clay was the CEO of Simon Greenleaf University (now Trinity Law and Graduate Schools) and was on the pastoral staff of two large churches. Clay is a contributing writer to the Christian Research Journal and specializes in issues related to why God allows evil. You can read his blog at clayjones.net and find him on Facebook.

So what are we going to be talking about when it comes to the problem of evil?

There will be four parts to this. The first one is why is it that we suffer for the sin of Adam. Why is it that because one man and woman ate a piece of fruit so long long ago that the rest of us have to suffer for it today? How can it be that a good God would allow this? Why put us in a situation where already we’re in a deficit?

Second, what about the nature of humankind. What does it mean to be a human and what difference does this make to the problem of evil? Why is it that we see human beings as moral agents but we don’t tend to view animals in the same light?

Third, free-will. This often comes up in these debates but what about the nature of free-will. Does it make a difference? Why should God even allow free-will if it will lead to all this evil? Could God not have created a world where we would be free but there will not be all this evil?

Finally, what about the after-death? Does Heaven play any role whatsoever in what we are experiencing in this life? What about the fact that some people will not make it to Heaven in fact?

All of these are important aspects of dealing with the problem of evil so if this is a question that interests you, be listening to the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday, and please leave a positive review of the show on ITunes! I would greatly appreciate it!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/9/2013: Greg Ganssle

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Last Saturday, we had David Wood as our guest to talk about the problem of evil, and it was an excellent show. Saturday, we’re going to be discussing that again, except this time we’re going to have Greg Ganssle come on to join us.

Ganssle is an accomplished author on numerous subjects relating to God and the new atheism, and we could move over into some of those in fact, and will be joining us mainly to talk about evil, seeing as it’s a big topic and we couldn’t possibly cover it in one show that easily.

So why mention David Wood at the start? Because David Wood when he heard that Ganssle was going to be on this week said that “Greg’s the man.” I hope that when you tune in and listen to the show that you will also agree that Greg’s the man.

The problem of evil has often been seen as a difficult one for Christians and it’s difficult not so much because of the logical difficulties, which really aren’t there, but rather for the existential and emotional difficulties. It’s normal for so many of us to look at evil in the world and conclude that there isn’t a good God out there. Sadly, those who conclude that are also ignoring the only hope that we truly have for eliminating evil entirely.

Greg will help us to think through these issues as well as see how they relate to the question of atheism and explain for us if the new atheists really do have some substance to what they’re saying. We’ll also talk some probably about how one should properly think about God in light of the problem of evil.

Perhaps also we’ll get more into a pastoral side on this episode. How is it that someone who is going through evil can really see God in it? How could it be that a good God would really allow this kind of suffering? Why isn’t God doing anything about the problem?

The problem of evil has been one that has been with us for thousands of years and it is one that unfortunately keeps many people away from Christianity, but it is not insurmountable and it has been regularly answered. Ganssle’s work is one such attempt at answering it and I hope that as you listen in, you will find that you are blessed by getting to hear a way to cope with the problem of evil and see how it could be reconciled with the God that is professed to be the one true God in Christianity and what the Christian answer is to the problem of evil.

So please be listening in this Saturday to the Deeper Waters Podcast to hear Greg Ganssle speak on the problem of evil and on other topics that are related to this important one. The show airs from 3-5 PM EST this Saturday, November 9th, 2013. A link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response To Khan

Does creation ex nihilo present a problem for the problem of evil. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend sent me a video from a Mormon on YouTube who goes by the name of Khhaaan1. The video can be found here. I will refer to the producer as Khan from here out. The video is an attempt to show that if you accept creation ex nihilo, you have a problem with the problem of evil.

Khan says at the start that there was no official statement on creation ex nihilo from the church until the 4th Lateran Council in 1215 A.D. This is true, but the reason is why was it mentioned then? It was because of the Albigenses, a sect much like the Manichaean teaching that Augustine dealt with years ago. Matter was seen as the creation of an evil power and spirit was good and the creation of the god of the NT.

Noteworthy at the start is that Khan in this video does not address biblical verses used to support ex nihilo. Perhaps he has done so elsewhere, but in this video there is nothing.

Also, I will state at the start that I have no marriage to creation ex nihilo. It has been a principle I have followed for some time that my Christianity is not dependent on my doctrine of creation but on the essential, the resurrection. I do hold to ex nihilo, but I am open to a better interpretation if one can be found that fits the facts. An eternal universe would not shake my faith. Neither would a multiverse or any scientific discovery like that. I leave that area to the scientists anyway.

Khan goes on to say that the church has been wrong before and uses Galileo as an example. I do not think this is the best example. The church had not entirely closed the door on heliocentrism. Copernicus had had his book on it dedicated to the Pope and the Pope had no problem with it. The problem with Galileo is that Galileo was egotistical, refused to admit any errors, spoke on theology and Scriptural interpretation without being trained in that area and while being asked to not do so, and wanted immediate acceptance of his ideas instead of waiting for more evidence. It didn’t help that he also mocked the Pope, who I think was frankly quite egotistical himself.

I do not doubt the church handled it poorly, but Galileo is really an exception to the normal way the church handled scientific advancement. We can look back and say “They were wrong,” but we must also be frank and admit that the evidence really was not in conclusively yet. A great problem for heliocentrism, Obler’s Paradox, was not even answered until the 19th century. It is easy for us to look back and say they were wrong, but we can be sure some scientists centuries from now will look back on and us and wonder how we missed some truths that they deem to be obvious. We should approach the past with as much charity as we want the future to approach us.

When we start getting to the heart of the matter, Khan to his credit does give a definition of evil. He says evil is an act or event whereby existence would be better if it had not occurred.

I find this troublesome due to the largely subjective nature of the claim. If someone does not want to donate to Deeper Waters for instance, does that mean that is an evil since I think existence would be better if that had occurred? What about all of creation? Would it have been better if God had not created at all, even if the Mormon view was correct and there were spirit children with God? How about eternity? Would Heaven be better if there were one more person in it? If so, then one would have to create an infinite quantity, an impossibility, for there not to be evil there.

For my view, there is no problem, since I think the mistake is that Khan nowhere defined good. There are so many problems you can dispense with at the start if you have a definition of good, such as the so-called Euthyphro dilemma. The good is that at which all things aim.

The good is that at which all things aim said Aristotle, which means that it is something that is desirable. Aquinas took this then and said that something is good insofar as it is an instance of its kind. To be perfect, it must be actual and insofar as it is actual, it is perfect. Since everything desires perfection and that which is the most perfect is the most actual, then we see that goodness and being are the same thing. Goodness just speaks to the thing being desirable. (See Feser’s book “Aquinas” for more.)

Now there is something that must be said about desirable. This does not mean a conscious desire as Aristotle said all things aim for the good, but very few things are conscious in the grand scheme of things. So how do they aim? It is based on their final cause, that is, the end for which they are meant. For Aristotle, this was the most important cause of all. Unfortunately for many of us today, it is the least important cause.

To give an example, a plant has no conscious nature that we know of, but the plant still moves towards water and towards the sun. The plant wishes to be even if it does not realize that or do so consciously. Our cat here often gets scared and will run away when someone he doesn’t know or trust comes over. Why? He naturally wants to live even if he is not consciously thinking “I want to live.” We can also have an end we were made for and actively resist it and try to find it elsewhere. For instance, in Christian thought, we were all made to reflect God and His love and rule with Him forever. Many of us deny this and seek our good in other places like sex, money, power, etc.

As far as I’m concerned, the lack of really establishing a philosophy of good and evil is the Achilles’s heel of Khan’s argument. Note in fact that by my definition, one has an explanation for moral goodness and evil, but also goodness of nature.

So what is evil then? Evil is the privation of that which should be present but is not. If goodness is being, then its opposite, evil, is a kind of non-being, and nothing positive can be said about non-being. We must be clear on this point here. It is not evil that a rock does not have sight, since it is not in the nature of a rock to have sight, but it is an evil that a man has blindness, since it is of the nature of a man to have sight. Blindness is not a positive principle in something, but it is an absence of a good that should be there, the good of sight. It is a name given to a specific absence, but not an existent reality on its own.

I’m also concerned about Khan’s definition of omnipotence. Can God create a square circle is a question He asks. I do not know from his talk if he means this seriously or not, but the answer is no. God cannot do that because that involves a contradiction, and omnipotence has not been historically understood to mean that contradictions can be done. The following lengthy quote from the Summa Theologica, q. 25, article 3, will show Aquinas’s stance.

“It remains therefore, that God is called omnipotent because He can do all things that are possible absolutely; which is the second way of saying a thing is possible. For a thing is said to be possible or impossible absolutely, according to the relation in which the very terms stand to one another, possible if the predicate is not incompatible with the subject, as that Socrates sits; and absolutely impossible when the predicate is altogether incompatible with the subject, as, for instance, that a man is a donkey.

It must, however, be remembered that since every agent produces an effect like itself, to each active power there corresponds a thing possible as its proper object according to the nature of that act on which its active power is founded; for instance, the power of giving warmth is related as to its proper object to the being capable of being warmed. The divine existence, however, upon which the nature of power in God is founded, is infinite, and is not limited to any genus of being; but possesses within itself the perfection of all being. Whence, whatsoever has or can have the nature of being, is numbered among the absolutely possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent. Now nothing is opposed to the idea of being except non-being. Therefore, that which implies being and non-being at the same time is repugnant to the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of the divine omnipotence. For such cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not the nature of a feasible or possible thing. Therefore, everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them. Nor is this contrary to the word of the angel, saying: “No word shall be impossible with God.” For whatever implies a contradiction cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing.”

In essence then, God cannot do a contradiction since that would involve being and non-being both and God can only do that which is possible. As C.S. Lewis said in “The Problem of Pain.”

“His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. There is no limit to His power.

If you choose to say, ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,’ you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prifex to them the two other words, ‘God can.’

It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

This then gets us into the free-will defense. To his credit, Khan does bring up Plantinga, Khan does argue that he does not believe that free-will exists, but will grant it for the sake of argument. I come from the approach that free-will exists and that divine sovereignty exists. How are these two reconciled? Much has been written on that question and I do not expect a clear answer. I just see Scripture teaches both and accept both of them. There are some who have God so sovereign that there is no free-will. I find this much more problematic as it makes God the ultimate cause of evil. There are some who say God is not all-knowing with regards to the future and man has free-will, but I find this to be a limitation on God with no metaphysical basis and not compatible with Scripture.

Khan says God could have created people to be more rational or more sensitive. If they were more of these, they would have made better decisions, but I question the premise. For instance, in order to make a person to be perfectly good in nature entirely and perfectly rational, God would have to make someone else like Him, but He cannot do that. He cannot make another being who has no beginning.

There is no other being that can Have being define its essence. Everything else partakes of God in some way. Each can only be a perfection of its kind. God is not looking to create a being exactly like Him. That’s impossible. He is looking to create a being that reflects Him, albeit imperfectly if one means not a total duplicate, but perfectly if we just mean, insofar as we are able.

Even if we granted other spirit beings, the problem would be the same. Michael the archangel cannot be exactly like God. Only God is goodness itself by nature and love itself by nature and being itself by nature. Everything else has being and is loving and good and existent insofar as it exists. (Even the devil. The devil has will, power, and existence, which are good things, and the devil seeks his own good, which is to say he loves his own good. The problem is that his will is bent morally)

So, if God wants to create beings who are to be good, that goodness is to be a choice for them, just as it was for Michael and the devil. If he creates spirit children supposedly, even those must choose for if love for us is to be a free decision, it cannot be a forced free decision. That is a contradiction.

Khan’s situation is problematic because to say we could be more rational means we are better able to think and know all the information needed, but eventually, one will have to reach omniscience, which we cannot, seeing as we are always going to be finite beings by nature and God alone is infinite.

If we go with spirit beings, we just push the problem back a step and then can just as easily say why God allowed these spirit beings who He knew to be evil to come to Earth and do evil here. Perhaps Khan will point to a greater good, but then I can just as well say “That is why God allows people to choose evil here. He uses their evil for a greater good.”

For the problem of evil to be shown to be a problem, it must be shown that God can have no good reason for doing it this way, and I do not think that that can be shown from Khan, though He is welcome to try. I also think that for a larger perspective on this, he might want to try the work “God and Evil” By Meister and Dew Jr.

In Christ,
Nick Peters