Thursday, December 31, 2009

Question #2: Where Do You Find Your Assurance?

Question #2 is this:

To the extent that a person has assurance of salvation, where is that assurance found?

This question is aimed at finding out where someone looks for the assurance of their salvation. If someone asks you, for example, whether or not you are "saved" and you say "Yes", then on what basis do you say "Yes?" Do you look at your lifestyle, your behavior, your good works, and conclude: "Well, I must be saved because… look at my performance. Look at all these things that I'm doing for God. Look at how obedient I am." Or, do you say "Yes, I'm saved because Christ promised me that I'm saved if I place my trust in Him and I have done so and I believe the promises of God and therefore I know I'm saved."

Those are two very different perspectives. When I put this question to the four groups, I get essentially two answers, though the LDS answer added another twist:

Latter Day Saints (Mormon):
Of course we know now that the LDS has, well, limited assurance to begin with. But whatever assurance they do have, according to the LDS missionaries I met with, comes from their subjective feelings, (the 'burning in the bosom) the so-called “modern prophets,” scripture, (which includes their other books) but most of all their works and obedience.

The Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses):
In Watchtower doctrine, you provide your own assurance which is based on your own performance. Your own actions determine your eternal destiny. Your sense of whether or not you will ultimately be resurrected (as opposed to annihilated) comes from your performance. Are you spending enough time going door-to-door, are you obedient, etc.

Lordship Salvation:
Whatever assurance a Christian might have -- according to many popular teachers -- comes from examining themselves to see if they are in the faith; assessing their own walk and perhaps even by noting whether they are worried about whether or not they’re saved. Assurance comes from what you do, in other words.

If there’s no evidence of salvation in your life now, you need to face the fact that you may not be a Christian -John MacArthur

Here, MacArthur is directing the reader to look to their own performance for assurance of salvation. If it isn't evident (evident to whom, one might ask) that you're a Christian, then you might not be.

People who don't keep their promises to God don't really know the Lord -James MacDonald

MacDonald is doing the same thing as MacArthur… look at your performance. If you don't keep your promises to God, then you're not saved. You see, that's a performance issue. Conversely, if you are keeping your promises to God, then you are saved. Look to your performance, MacDonald is saying.

…The question hit me, ‘R.C., what if you’re not one of the redeemed? What if your destiny is not Heaven after all but Hell?’…I thought ‘Well, it’s a good sign that I’m worried about this because only true Christians really care about salvation. -R.C. Sproul

Here Sproul finds some assurance in the fact that he's concerned about whether or not he is going to Heaven. Only a true Christian would care about such a thing, after all. But this assurance is coming from something he does… namely, caring about salvation.

The bottom line is that these Lordship teachers find their assurance in exactly the same place as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses: They look at their personal performance. Here's a quote from John Piper to demonstrate this:

How does [Isaac] maintain and warrant and have assurance that he is right with God and that he will be right with God at the end of the age? And the answer that James gives is he'll be justified in that sense, he will continually be regarded as just by the works which show that he passes the test for the authentication of his faith. -John Piper

In this quote, Piper asks how someone can have assurance of their salvation. And clearly, John Piper believes the answer lies in the person's works. The person should look for assurance in their own personal performance in the Christian life.

Now if we're looking at our personal performance to assess whether we're saved or not, upon whom does our salvation depend? On God? Or on ourselves? Looking at my own performance for assurance demonstrates that I'm not trusting in Christ's promises, but I'm trusting in my works instead.

Free Grace:
Once again, the Free Grace perspective provides an answer that is totally and absolutely distinct from the other three groups. 100% assurance comes from the promises of God and the work of Christ on the cross. If you believe the promises of God, you are saved. Period. God said it, Christ did it, I believe it, that settles it. Assurance is not located in my own performance in any way because my salvation does not depend on me and my performance. It depends on God.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Question #1: Assurance of Eternal Destiny

Question #1 was this:

Is it possible to be 100% certain that you have eternal life?

This is one question that had to be rephrased a bit so that I could get meaningful answers from LDS and JWs. Christians think of eternal life in terms of "going to Heaven" when they die. For Mormons and JWs, it's not quite that simple.

For Mormons, everyone is going to Heaven, sort-of. They believe there are 3 different Heavens, and that even non-Mormons go to the first, the lowest, Heaven. This, actually, is what they call "salvation" and they believe that this is a grace gift. Everyone goes there. However, there are two Heavens above the first, and the ultimate is the "Celestial Kingdom" or "3rd Heaven". they call this "exaltation." Since Heaven is ultimate salvation for us, I'm interested in their views on ultimate salvation for them, not the salvation that everyone gets. So my question to the LDS missionaries was:

Is it possible to be 100% certain that you will enter the 3rd Heaven?

The Watchtower also has a different understanding of "Heaven". They actually believe that most JWs alive today will not go to Heaven. They believe that Heaven was reserved for only 144,000… basically the first 144,000 JWs. So those seats are already taken. The rest of JWs hope to be resurrected after they die to rule and reign with Jesus Christ (whom they believe is the archangel Michael, not God) here on Earth. So ultimate salvation for them is this resurrection. The alternative is simply annihilation… you cease to exist. So for the JWs, my question was this:

Is it possible to be 100% certain that you will be resurrected?

Now let's compare answers:

Latter-Day Saints (Mormon):
According to the LDS missionaries who visited me, it is not possible to have 100% assurance that you'll enter the Celestial Kingdom because there’s always a possibilty, however remote, that a person will fail in faith and obedience before the time that they die. Now ask yourself this question: If the person might fail in faith and obedience before they die and thus lose out of ultimate salvation, then on whom does their "exaltation" depend? Does it not depend on their own ability to persevere in their faith and obedience?

The Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses):
According to Watchtower doctrine, it is not possible to have 100% assurance that you will be resurrected, and this is demonstrated clearly by this quote from the witness I spoke with via telephone and e-mail:

It is possible to be 100% certain that God will save us if we continue serving him whole souled and meet his righteous requirements.

This is an odd answer because there's quite a blatant contradiction in there. "Yes, it's possible to 100% certain if you continue serving him, etc.…"

Well okay, so I guess the question becomes "Is it possible to be 100% certain that you will continue to serve God whole-souled and meet His righteous requirements?" Clearly, the answer to this is "No" because the witness used the conditional "if". So they claim certainty, and then promptly revoke that certainty because they can't be sure whether they'll continue to do the things they're supposed to do. Once again it's important to notice on whom the person's future resurrection depends: Does it depend on themselves, or does it depend on God?

Lordship Salvation:
According to popular Lordship teachers, it is not possible to have 100% assurance of salvation.
No Christian can be sure that he’s a true believer. -John Piper

There’s no valid assurance of election and final salvation for any man apart from deliberate perseverance in faith. -Robert Shank

The question is, why don't these Lordship teachers believe they can have 100% assurance of salvation? Unless you believed that your salvation depends upon your own performance, (as the LDS and JWs do) what reason would there be to doubt it? If a person had the understanding that their salvation depends upon God and not on themselves, what reason would this person have to doubt their salvation? Is God not trustworthy? Is He not faithful? Can He fail to keep His promises?

This lack of assurance seems to point toward a reliance on self for salvation, which is totally consistent with a salvation that is based on works and not God's grace.

Free Grace:
If you ask the same question to a proponent of Free Grace, you will get an answer which is 180 degrees out-of-phase with the other three views. The Free Grace answer is that it most certainly is possible to have 100% assurance of salvation. This assurance comes from the promises of God and the work performed (and completed) by Christ on the cross. The Free Grace view relies totally and completely on God, who is absolutely faithful and will keep His promises. There is simply no reason whatsoever to doubt my salvation because my salvation depends upon Christ, and not upon me.

For the first question, we see that the Lordship answer is indistinguishable from the answers given by LDS and JWs, two 'cults' that teach that salvation is a product of works. Why, then, should I not conclude that the Lordship teachers are also teaching a works-based salvation? Because they claim not to be teaching a works-based salvation? Well… the LDS and JWs claim this as well, yet these Lordship teachers would agree that these cults teach a works-based salvation!

The only view of the four that gives a distinct answer is the Free Grace view.

We have seven more questions to go, so stay tuned.

8 Questions to Reveal a Works-Based Salvation

In the past several years I've been confronted with ideas about salvation within Christianity which are troubling to me and which I think represent misunderstanding on a large scale of this important issue. Earlier posts have dealt with this to some extent, but recently I had an idea about how to demonstrate that one very popular view of salvation taught by such well-respected, dare I say "famous" teachers as John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul, a view that is generally referred to as "Lordship Salvation" is essentially indistinguishable from a works-based salvation.

How might I demonstrate such a thing? Well, rather easily I'm afraid. What I've done is selected 8 questions pertaining to salvation and compared the answers to these 8 questions between 4 groups: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, (Mormon or LDS), The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses), Lordship Salvation proponents and proponents of "Free Grace," which is the view that I hold.

To get answers to the questions, I invited 3 LDS missionaries into my home studio and conducted a sort of interview, asking these questions. I also spoke with someone at a local Kingdom Hall via telephone and also via e-mail to get the answers from the JW perspective.

For the Lordship answers, however, I had compiled quotes from the writings of John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul and a few others… quotes which clearly addressed these particular issues. In a few cases, we'll see that these teachers seem not to be consistent in their answers, which creates a certain amount of confusion. I'll point out these conflicts as we go along.

The basic premise of this exercise is that knowledgeable Christians generally understand at least two major problems with the doctrine of LDS and The Watchtower: First, both groups deny the deity of Christ. We're going to set that particular issue aside, however… not because it's not important, but because it's really not in dispute at all. Even LDS and JWs agree that they deny Christ's deity. And Lordship teachers are all quite willing and able to defend the deity of Christ. So, no dispute there.

But the second major problem with LDS and Watchtower doctrine is that their concept of ultimate salvation is based on works and not on grace. And among Christians, at least, this does not seem to be controversial. What's interesting, however, is that Mormons and JWs both will steadfastly deny that they are basing salvation on their works. They will claim a salvation "by grace."

Given that Christians generally agree that the Watchtower and LDS teach a works-based salvation, it seems to me that we ought to use our knowledge of the LDS and Watchtower views as a yardstick by which to measure other ideas we hear taught in Christian churches. We are told over and over again to be discerning; to double-check what we're taught; to make sure that what we're taught is correct doctrine. These questions ought to serve as a sort of a test to determine whether any given teacher is really committed to a salvation by grace, or is merely giving lip service to the concept of a by-grace salvation.

The first step here is to divulge the questions. It should be noted, however, that Mormons and JWs have different understandings of what salvation itself entails. This means that I had to rephrase certain questions to use their jargon the way they understand it, otherwise I wouldn't be comparing apples with apples. So here are the questions, and the following 8 posts will deal with each question individually and compare the answers I received.

Question #1: Is it possible to be 100% certain that you have eternal life?

Question #2: To the extent that a person has assurance of salvation, where is that assurance found?

Question #3: Does salvation require ongoing commitment and perseverance in obedience?

Question #4: What does James say about the relationship between faith and works?

Question #5: Does faith in Christ have to be continual, or is belief at a point in time sufficient?

Question #6: What is faith?

Question #7:Is salvation a reward or a gift?

Question #8: How do you become saved?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Eternal Security vs. Perseverance of the Saints

There was an interesting and very instructive exchange on Greg Koukl's "Stand To Reason" radio program (Sunday, October 18) regarding the doctrines of "Perseverance of the Saints" and "Eternal Security." I think Koukl really reveals some important things about Reform or Calvinist doctrine here, and I also think he demonstrates that he's unwilling to deal honestly with the opposition to "Perseverance of the Saints."

I should point out that having been a regular listener to his show for a couple of years now, I can say that Koukl does a fantastic job of pointing out "The World's" use of 'straw man' arguments presented against Christianity or other controversies related to Christian apologetics in general. But what you'll see from the excerpts is that Koukl himself employs two 'straw man' arguments as he defends the Reform doctrine of "Perseverance of the Saints."

Koukl took a phone call from a listener who wanted to know what the difference is between eternal security and "Perseverance of the Saints" and he (Koukl) says this:

"The idea that you cannot lose your salvation can be expressed in two different ways, and they are a little bit different. One is eternal security, and that means "Once saved, always saved" and the other one is called "Perseverance of the Saints" which I think is a more precise and carefully characterized view…

[some cross-talk with caller here]

Here's the way I'd put it: When people say "Once saved, always saved" what often they mean is, "If you pray the sinner's prayer, you're 'in' no matter how you live or what happens after that. But when Reform folks talk about "Perseverance of the Saints" they're not talking about a sort of shallow understanding of praying the sinner's prayer and you get your fire insurance. They're saying, "Lookit, if you're genuinely regenerate, it is only because God reached out and rescued you by His sovereign grace, and His sovereign grace that rescued you will preserve you and preservation means that you persevere." So those who are genuinely called of God and the elect are those who persevere through all things, not just those who say a prayer and get their fire insurance and then are off doing other things."

Okay, so Koukl asserts that, at least in many cases, "Once saved, always saved" means that you believe praying the sinner's prayer saves you and that then you can go and do whatever you want. I'll acknowledge that some Christians believe this. But that's not my view nor is it the view of any of probably 20 pastors that I've listened to who teach Eternal Security.

That being the case, Koukl has erected a straw man here. Or, at the very least, he has only chosen to refute a subset of people who clearly do not have a Biblical understanding of Eternal Security or even salvation, for that matter. He's completely ignored the other group whose view is solidly Biblical and would be much more difficult for him to refute.

But that's just one straw man. Koukl puts up another one even in the same breath. That is, he's assuming that folks (like me) who reject the Perseverance of the Saints doctrine but believe in Eternal Security also believe that it's okay to continue living like a reprobate after you're saved. This is not an accurate characterization of my view, either. I don't think it's "okay". I don't understand the Bible to teach that there's no good reason for me to grow spiritually and avoid getting ensnared by "the World" after I'm saved. I believe I should "work" as a Christian, which entails learning Bible Doctrine and various kinds of service and living as uprightly as I can. It's just that I know this doesn't impact my eternal salvation, that's all. Why should it impact my salvation, if in fact salvation is by grace and not works?

Regarding the "Perseverance" thing, this is really very odd. I mean… I feel awkward saying this 'cuz, look, an Associate of Applied Arts degree is the extent of my formal education and yet even I can understand that perseverance is not in any way related to preservation. Just because the two words use a similar combination of letters doesn't mean that they go together or are synonymous. Why Koukl, who, let's face it, is far more educated than I will ever be, doesn't understand this is beyond me.

Preserve and persevere are two entirely different concepts, and this relates directly to the grace vs. works issue. Perseverance is thought of as something that people do. The saints, to be more specific. Those who have been saved.

The doctrine of "Perseverance of the Saints" comes out of Matthew 24:13 in which Jesus says:

But the one who endures [perseveres] to the end, he will be saved.

It's rather easy to see, however, that Matthew 24:13 has nothing to do with eternal salvation. It's important to remember that "saved" doesn't always refer to eternal salvation. There are many examples in the Bible where the word "saved" is used to describe being delivered from a particular kind of danger or circumstance… it isn't always used to refer to salvation from Hell. But those who subscribe to "Perseverance of the Saints" believe that this passage pertains to eternal salvation. They ignore the context of Matthew 24.

In Matthew 24, Jesus is describing events of The Great Tribulation. In verse 13, He's saying that anyone who lives through the Tribulation will be delivered from it, into the Millenial Kingdom which follows. It has nothing to do with salvation from Hell.

At any rate, preservation is something that God does for us, It's not something that we do for ourselves. God preserves. You might say God "perseveres" in preserving us. But if we are the ones who must "persevere" until the end, then guess what? Our salvation becomes dependent on our own performance, on our perseverance, and not on Christ's work. This is salvation by works.

Koukl also says that the elect "persevere through all things." Oh really? Who does this, literally? Koukl admits that he sins. I admit that I sin. How can we say we "persevere" when we admit that we sin frequently, if not almost constantly?

What I think is interesting about this doctrine is this: The Reform guys believe that sin in your life might mean that you're not really saved. And yet, they will admit that they sin. From this we can infer that there is a threshold of some sort. If you sin past a certain point, then you should question your salvation. But since no threshold is defined in the Bible, determining when a person has sinned enough that their salvation is in question becomes very subjective. Well… seems to me, and I'm sorry to have to say this, but it seems to me like these men are taking advantage of this subjectivity and placing this threshold conveniently outside their own personal envelope of sin. That way they're safe.

See, it all comes back to human viewpoint versus divine viewpoint, doesn't it? With respect to salvation, God doesn't see degrees of sin at all… a tiny sin (from our perspective) is just as significant in God's eyes as the most egregious sin. This is why no threshold is defined… to the extent that there is a threshold, we're already way past it. The Reform guys seem to want to define a threshold based on what sins they think they can resist and then say that everyone who surpasses that threshold (sins more than they do) is not saved. I think this is extraordinarily bad.

I don't think there is any issue more important than getting soteriology exactly right. If a person trusts in Christ (and that entails the belief that Christ is who He said He was, etc) then that person is given, at that point in time, eternal life and eternal life, by definition, lasts forever. It can never be lost. The "sinner's prayer" has nothing do with anything, except that most versions of the sinner's prayer I've ever been exposed to, in fact, do seem to contain the nuggets of truth one must accept. But no matter… praying the "sinner's prayer" doesn't save anyone. Trust in Christ results in eternal salvation whether it's accompanied by the "Sinner's Prayer" or not. And it's true… for the sake of eternal salvation, it doesn't matter what you do downstream of that. If it did, then salvation wouldn't be by grace. God preserves me. I do nothing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What's The Difference?

Aprille has her alarm clock set to a Christian radio station, KNLR, for 6:15 and she heard something this morning directly relevant to a discussion her and I had very recently.

The discussion was recalling an apologetics series by David T. Moore that we had heard many years ago. In the series, Moore said that there are minor, "stylistic" differences between Christians churches and that this was okay, 'cuz there ought to be different kinds of churches for different kinds of people. This has bothered me for some time because, well, unless it's very carefully qualified, the statement seems to leave a lot of room for post-modernism. It all depends on just exactly what Moore meant by "stylistic" differences. If Moore was referring to the decor of the church, then obviously that is entirely a matter of personal taste and no one ought to leave their church over interior design. I'm not exactly sure what Moore had in mind, specifically… that's part of problem: He didn't give an example.

Suffice it to say that there are differences between churches. Some differences can be categorized as superficial and merely "stylistic" while other differences concern doctrinal issues. And even among doctrinal issues there are issues that have much more gravity and issues that carry much less importance. And it's obvious that no single church is likely to have the right position on every doctrinal question and this means that every one of us will have to make compromises when looking for a church. But that said, some doctrinal issues are extremely important and compromise may not be advisable. While he may not have intended it, Moore's expression could be seen as a capitulation of sorts.

Now I'm not sure who the pastor on the radio was this morning, as I was already downstairs when the alarm went off. But Aprille listened to what he was teaching as she mustered up the will to actually get out of bed. He, he. According to Aprille, the pastor said that he applauded all the different denominations within Christianity and he related the different denominations to the different body parts of Christ as described in the Bible. Apparently he said that all of the denominations really teach the same thing. She knew that this would pique my interest.

A very popular notion outside of Christianity is that all world religions, at their core, teach essentially the same thing… be a good person, treat others the way you want to be treated, etc. Of course, on closer examination, other world religions teach things that are vastly different than what is taught in the Bible. The Bible, for example, teaches that God is distinct from His creation, while New Age religions teach that God IS the creation. Christianity teaches that evil had a beginning and will have an ending, while other world religions (particularly eastern religions) teach that evil and good coexist eternally and that evil will never be done away with. Christianity teaches that Jesus is God and that He is the Messiah, while other religions teach that He is merely a prophet or perhaps an unusually wise teacher. These are not minor details, minor differences. So the claim that all world religions teach basically the same things is shown to be false.

Unfortunately, the pastor that Aprille heard was expressing exactly the same view, but within the more narrow scope of Christianity and the various denominations. He was basically saying that it doesn't matter which denomination you belong to, they all teach basically the same thing. They just appeal differently to different people, and the differences are no greater, no deeper than that. This is post-modernism right in our own back yard, I'm afraid.

Just as careful examination of world religions reveals that world religions teach fundamentally different principles, careful examination of different denominations within Christianity reveal that different denominations teach very different things. The different denominations make contradictory truth claims. And since two contradictory truth claims can't both be true (law of non-contradiction) either one claim is true and the other false, or they're both false. Different denominations, and in fact different churches, teach different things about the reliability and historicity of the Bible, for example. They teach different things about what one must do in order to be saved (and what's more important than that?) They teach different things about whether or not a person can lose their salvation. It's easy to see that this pastor's assertion is every bit as false as the claim about world religions.

In fact, some denominations--or at least some churches--teach that different denominations do not teach the same thing!! (in fact, that's exactly what I'm saying) This fact alone renders the pastor's claim to be catastrophically false.

It's unfortunate, but true: Humans screw things up to varying degrees. We have a tremendously difficult time keeping our own little power-plays out of the game. We slip into ruts in our thinking and pride makes it incredibly difficult to break out of the rut. And yet, it's clear that ruts are not always bad. There are certain 'ruts' that you want to be in. Jesus and His apostles taught that with respect to how one is saved, we should be in a rut. Jesus described such a 'rut' in Matthew 7:13 when He said:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."

There are many questions that have right answers, and wrong answers… questions pertaining to salvation are certainly the most important, but that's not to say that others aren't important as well. Unfortunately, we're going to encounter bad teaching at some point… it might be about a critical issue, or it might be about something relatively trivial. Knowing where to draw that line can seem a bit tricky at times, but we must draw that line. Pretending that everyone within Christianity is right even though they hold contradictory views is simply not an option. It destroys the notion of truth and opens the door to post-modern thought within the Church. Either it's true that a person can lose their salvation or it's false. Either it's true that baptism is required for salvation, or it's false. Either it's true that you must confess your sins to a priest privately for absolution of your sins, or it's false. Whatever the question, the denomination or church who teaches opposite of the truth is, I'm sorry to say, wrong. And we ought to be able to say so.

Now the question is, how can we know? Simple. By reading and studying the Bible carefully. We are supposed to check this stuff out ourselves and verify that what we're being taught is actually consistent with the Bible. We're to be on the lookout constantly for false teaching (which means we must be able to recognize it when we encounter it) and either do whatever we can to correct that teaching or flee from it.

Imagine if you attended, say, a class on how to design a web site and the instructor tells you that html tags are enclosed with brackets ([]). Is that wrong, or is it just the instructor's opinion? What if the guy down the hall is teaching that html tags are enclosed with greater-than/less-than symbols (<>)? One of the instructors here is teaching something that is false. Are you going to get the same results regardless of which instructor you believe? Absolutely not.

Why do we have so much trouble reaching these same sorts of conclusions about questions of Christian doctrine? Why do we feel the need to say that all answers are equal? We wouldn't do that in any other context, would we? Why is that? Why do we have the idea that spiritual truth is malleable and that the law of non-contradiction somehow doesn't apply in that realm? Why would we think that?

These are very tough questions.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Chris Matthews on Hardball

What follows is a portion of a transcript from Chris Matthews' "Hardball" program in which Matthews interviews representative Jim Moran (D-VA) and representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). I'll add my own comments as pull quotes. This conversation is very instructive and illustrates something about the left's tactics and their preparedness. These people do no have truth on their side and they reveal this when they refuse to respond to Rohrabacher's reasons for being skeptical of global warming and instead resort to character assassination.

I've edited out some brief exchanges which aren't relevant and/or don't contribute anything meaningful.

REP. MORAN: Because I'm reading what the experts are telling us, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, all of the most credible scientists other than those that are being paid by the industry to support the industry. And now the industries are siding with the scientists. They understand this debate has taken place for decades, and they've lost it.

Moran protects himself by, right out front, characterizing anyone who disagrees with his position as having been corrupted by the industry.

The fact is, it is real. The globe is warming. There are hundreds of millions of people that live within a few feet of the oceans' borders, and their lives are in danger. In fact, the world economy --

REP. ROHRABACHER: And this is caused by mankind? This is caused by humans?


REP. ROHRABACHER: Okay. Well, if it's caused by mankind, why do we have those same temperature fluctuations going on on Mars and Jupiter? Isn't it more likely that the sun is causing this rather than the automobiles?

REP. MORAN: Dana, you know, it doesn't get us anywhere --

Let the evasion begin. Moran can't answer the question.

REP. ROHRABACHER: Come on. Answer the argument.

REP. MORAN: -- to argue this point. I'm going to rely upon the experts.

And Rohrabacher's not relying on experts when he says that Mars and Jupiter exhibit similar warming patterns?

REP. ROHRABACHER: Answer the argument, the scientific argument, that we have fluctuations going on on Mars and Jupiter that parallel what's going on here.

REP. MORAN: Dana --

REP. ROHRABACHER: And if that's the case --

REP. MORAN: -- read the scientists --

Moran remains unable to answer the evidence Rohrabacher offers. He's clueless. The data from Mars and Jupiter come from scientists.

REP. ROHRABACHER: That's science. No, that is science.

REP. ROHRABACHER: By the way, let me just point out that Dr. Richard Lindzen, the top scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with hundreds of other scientists throughout the world, totally disagree with what you're trying to say, Chris. And I would suggest to the audience to take a look at global warming skeptics and Google that and see these top-level scientists --

MR. MATTHEWS: Oh, I know they exist. They're in the papers all the time.

REP. ROHRABACHER: -- from around the world --

MR. MATTHEWS: The ads run in every paper.

REP. MORAN: Dana, these are the last gasps of a dying party. You know, to continue to fight this in the same way you fought the link between cancer and smoking --

Still no substantive rebuttal from Moran. Now he's attacking Rohrabacher's party.

REP. ROHRABACHER: Oh, well, there you go again.

REP. MORAN: -- this is where we are today.

REP. ROHRABACHER: Don't answer the argument.

REP. MORAN: You've got to look to the --

REP. ROHRABACHER: Don't answer the scientific argument that it was warming through all these fluctuations.

MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about --

REP. ROHRABACHER: What we have here is a normal fluctuation of weather patterns over the world's history, and with a power grab trying to tax this money from the American people with that as an excuse.

REP. MORAN: We're trying to save the planet.

REP. ROHRABACHER: There's your climate change disaster.

REP. MORAN: And we're creating millions of green jobs in the process --

MR. MATTHEWS: Mr. Rohrabacher --

REP. MORAN: -- of saving the planet.

MR. MATTHEWS: I wonder if Mr. Moran has a point. I want to know if you'd respond to it this way.


MR. MATTHEWS: Is there a cultural divide between the two parties that goes beyond this issue, where one party is more traditional in its values? It relies more on faith than on science. For example, we've had people on this program -- I'm sure they're all over the country -- who don't believe in evolution. They don't believe in biology the way it's taught. They don't accept the way that we --

Here it comes.


MR. MATTHEWS: Well, are you one of those?

REP. ROHRABACHER: Chris, that's a good way to shut down the argument -- case closed.

MR. MATTHEWS: No, I'm asking the question. If it's not true, the answer is no.

REP. ROHRABACHER: No, you're not. What you're doing is trying to throw other things in there to poison the well of an argument.

MR. MATTHEWS: How is this another thing?

REP. ROHRABACHER: How about tackling the argument, Chris, that solar activity has caused these fluctuations in the past? How about saying -- how about answering the argument that those people who --

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, the reason I do that is to get back to scientific method.

What does Matthews care about the scientific method? Rohrabacher's presenting scientific data and Matthews and Moran are unable to refute it. They have no answer. Now they're going to try to paint Rohrabacher as a person who disregards science when actually it's Matthews and Moran who are disregarding science.

REP. ROHRABACHER: Let me finish my one point.

MR. MATTHEWS: Do you accept the method?

REP. ROHRABACHER: Let me finish my one point. They started the global warming -- their baseline started at a 500-year low in temperature. Is that the way you decide what's warming? How about the fact that we've had warming trends and cooling trends --


REP. ROHRABACHER: -- that lasted -- like, for example, during the '40s, '50s and '60s, there was a cooling trend even though CO2 was on the rise. How about answering all those solid scientific questions --

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, I just want to know whether --

Again, still no answer to yet MORE scientific data. Rohrabacher's got 'em runnin' scared.

REP. ROHRABACHER: -- rather than trying to poison the well with that type of nonsense?

MR. MATTHEWS: I'm not. I'm asking, do we accept science? Do you accept science? Do you accept evolution, for example?

So if you don't accept evolution, then you don't accept science. Because, as everyone knows, evolution is an absolute fact and you had better not question it.

REP. ROHRABACHER: I just gave you scientific --

MR. MATTHEWS: You won't answer the question, will you?

No, Matthews is the one who's evading a question here. See how he's trying to turn this around on Rohrabacher and put him on the defensive? Diabolical.

REP. ROHRABACHER: No, no, no. I just gave you scientific challenges on this issue, and you throw that kind of garbage back at me.

MR. MATTHEWS: It's not garbage if you --


MR. MATTHEWS: Well, is evolution garbage?

REP. ROHRABACHER: No, wait. How come you are trying to argue creationism when you're supposed to be talking about global warming? The bottom line --

MR. MATTHEWS: Because it gets to method.

REP. ROHRABACHER: No, no, because you're trying to poison the well.

MR. MATTHEWS: How do you logically achieve truth? Do you go through a scientific method or do you go through something called this general skepticism toward science --

Matthews is ignorant. If science can only pursue naturalistic explanations for all questions, then science isn't about discovering truth because IF it's true that there is a "supernatural" cause behind the universe, and science by definition cannot consider such explanations, then science must replace that truth with a lie.

Secondly, science is all about skepticism. Skepticism is healthy in science. It's how you discover truth if truth is what you're concerned with discovering. But Matthews isn't concerned with truth at all.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Building Bridges?

Back on July 4th, Pastor Rick Warren addressed the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Initially, I saw only a few choice soundbites from Warren's speech. Those soundbites didn't lead me to believe that Warren's time here was what I would call well-spent, but it's hard to make that judgment without hearing the whole speech. I searched for a transcript online, but eventually had to settle for watching a video of the speech, which was 25 minutes long.

In Warren's speech, I found just a few things to appreciate, but unfortunately there was a fair amount in there that made me say "HUH???" I've done my best here to think things through and avoid knee-jerk reactions, but at this point I'm really having a hard time understanding just what it was Pastor Warren hoped to accomplish with this speech.

I will start off with what is far and away the best 'bite' from the speech, which happened fairly late in the speech:

When I talk about the civil public square, I'm not talking about a civil religion where everybody compromises their beliefs and we dumb it down so we really don't believe in anything. Differences make a difference, differences do matter. The right to believe anything does not mean everything is right.

I agree completely. Big rounds of applause. This appears to be a welcome slap in the face to post-modernism. Bravo. The only trouble is, earlier in the speech he said this, and the context was religious beliefs:

You can disagree without being disagreeable, you can walk hand-in-hand without seeing eye-to-eye, you can have unity in America without uniformity. We don't need that. I don't know if you've discovered this, but God likes variety. Have you noticed this? God likes variety, God likes diversity.

He goes on to describe, quite correctly, that God created 60,000 different kinds of beetles. He cites this as testimony for the notion that God likes diversity. Well, certainly there are diverse forms of life on the planet. But Warren was speaking in the context of religious beliefs, and when it comes to religious beliefs, God most certainly does not like diversity. Jesus is the only way. That sounds like uniformity, does it not? Now, granted, it should not be forced uniformity. But when Jesus said to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, He wanted the disciples to spread the uniformity of the gospel, not diversity. So I'm not at all sure what point Warren is trying to make here. This statement sounds for all the world like religious pluralism. I don't know how a person could get anything else from it.

The tensions that we see around us in the world are not going to be solved by mere tolerance. Tolerance is not enough. People don't want to be tolerated, they want to be respected.

I know that Warren supported Prop 8 in California. And that's a good thing. I guess I would know better how to react to this if I understood exactly what he means by "tolerance." But again, this has a very post-modern "flavor" to it, with "tolerance" being a popular buzzword for the post-modern crowd. I'm not saying that's necessarily what Warren intended, but it definitely has that flavor especially in context. And by the way, I don't believe the tensions in the world are ever going to be solved by mankind at all, with or without "tolerance."

As the Holy scriptures tells us that since we are created in the image of God, each person has intrinsic value and dignity. We may disagree on the beliefs, we may disagree on the behavior. But we are called and commanded to treat each other with dignity and respect.

Let's break this down into three parts. Two of these three sentences I agree with:

As the Holy scriptures tells us that since we are created in the image of God, each person has intrinsic value and dignity.

Absolutely right. No problem there.

But we are called and commanded to treat each other with dignity and respect.

Well sure. I agree with that, too. All humans are called to treat each other with dignity and respect. Now put the third sentence together with the second:

We may disagree on the beliefs, we may disagree on the behavior. But we are called and commanded to treat each other with dignity and respect.


Well, surely Warren deserves applause for speaking the truth here in the first and third sentences. But throw the second sentence into the mix and everything goes sideways. The question you have to ask is this: "Who commands us to treat each other with dignity and respect? God of the Bible, or Allah?" You see, it turns out that the matter of who and what God is is one of the beliefs about which Christians and muslims disagree. In spite of the popular understanding, Allah and the God of the Bible are not the same entity. This is crucial, because it determines whether you're going to accept the Koran with its set of commands and principles or the Bible with its set of commands and principles. And yes, the commands and principles are very different.

So Warren says we may disagree on beliefs. But then he cites this command to treat each other with dignity and respect, a commandment with which they don't agree! Well if it's okay to believe different things, then why present the commandment to them? Do you see my quandary here? The two religions are different. Sure… we're taught to try to convert unbelievers to Christianity. But we're not taught to kill people that won't make the switch!! We are taught to treat the unbeliever with respect in spite of their unbelief.

Muslims and Christians can work together for the common good without compromising my convictions or your convictions

I don't see how this is possible, given what Islam actually teaches. Working together with Christians without killing them seems to be a compromise of what should be muslim convictions. Don't get me wrong… it would be a compromise I would welcome (them compromising, not me) but I don't see how they can, as truly good muslims who follow the Koran, do what Warren asks and not compromise their convictions.

I can't know Warren's intentions here. Maybe Warren has some brilliantly conceived incremental strategy that we don't know about. That's possible, and I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to such a thing. But I am opposed to any strategy that gives any support at all to a post-modern, pluralist view of religion. And whether Warren intended it or not, the vast majority of his speech comes across that way.

To reinforce all of this, consider the comments of a muslim attendee named Ann Zahra, who, according to the Associate Press, said she had never heard of Warren before Saturday but agreed with much of his speech.

"The basics are the same. No religion teaches cruelty or disrespect or hatred."

Before I actually heard Warren's speech, I was prepared to conclude that this woman simply may not have been listening. But now that I've heard the speech in its entirety, it's obvious she was listening. Warren's speech contained nothing to challenge this woman's beliefs. She took from it a message of religious pluralism. She came away with her false beliefs reinforced. How is that helpful? The basics are not the same, and some religions most certainly do teach cruelty, disrespect and hatred. Islam is one of 'em.

I guess I can't really blame Warren too much for the content of the speech, because I cannot imagine that ISNA did not insist on approving the content of Warren's speech ahead of time. And that's no criticism, by the way… it's their event, they have that right. ISNA should not be expected to allow Warren to say anything meaningful from a Christian viewpoint… they're going to restrict the content of Warren's speech to vague platitudes in order to 1) prevent the truth from being presented and b) to perpetuate the myth that Islam is a "peaceful" religion.

Assuming that ISNA had such oversight, I think it's fair to be critical of Warren for having accepted their terms. True, if he hadn't, he would not have presented at all. But what's the difference? Either way, these muslims will go on believing what they believe, and by giving the speech, Warren has given many more people reason to think that "God likes diversity" when it comes to religious views. This is no help at all, I'm afraid.

The lesson here is not that Rick Warren messed up. Rather, I think the lesson here is that evangelizing muslims is something that is best done on a person-to-person basis where we don't have to operate under the Islamic authority structure. It's not that I'm opposed to evangelizing a large group of muslims, that's fine. But I can't find any evangelism in Warren's speech, and I think it's obvious that ISNA would not have allowed it, anyway.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Faith Against Reason?

I heard a particularly helpful--and brief--analysis of a common problem we face in Christianity having to do with how we discuss faith and reason.

It's all too common for Christians to shrink from employing reason when discussing their beliefs, their "faith". And part of the problem there is a misunderstanding of what "faith" is and what role "reason" has in that faith.

It's common to hear the view expressed that reason has no place in matters of "faith". Many people understand "faith" and "reason" to be two distinct categories, where reason cannot be employed in matters of faith and faith cannot be employed in matters of reason. In these folks' minds, faith and reason are opposites and "faith" is something you employ only when reason is not available.

Well it turns out this is a critical mistake. Faith and reason are not opposites at all. And it doesn't take a whole lot of reflection to see why:

Reason is not the opposite of faith. Rather, "unbelief" is the opposite of "faith". "Faith" means to trust that something is true, and so the opposite of "faith" would be to not trust that something is true. Similarly, reason has an opposite, but it's not "faith". The opposite of "reason" is "irrationality" or, that which is unreasonable.

Given this understanding, it's possible to have faith that is entirely consistent with reason, and it is possible to have faith which is irrational or unreasonable.

That's simple enough, isn't it?

Monday, June 29, 2009

I Don't Believe In Sin

I had a thought recently about people who claim not to believe in sin. I say "claim" because, as you'll see, they actually do believe in sin. It came about because I have contact with someone who claims not to believe in sin… that is, this person denies that there's such a thing as sin, and will even say that they do not agree that there are things a person should not do. This is a very common idea, particularly in the new age movement.

It occurred to me, however, that I've seen the very people who express this view become angry at or disappointed in another person or group of people when that person (or persons) has done something that they don't approve of or otherwise doesn't meet their expectation. When they do this they're demonstrating a firm belief in sin, regardless of their claims to the contrary.

First, we should understand just what the word "sin" means. The word "sin" is really an old archery term which means to "miss the mark" or "fall short of a standard." That's a pretty broad idea. Although we wouldn't use it this way today, it would actually be correct to say that missing the bullseye on a target is a "sin." The bullseye is the target, the "standard," and you missed it. But notice that it doesn't say whose standard has been missed or what that particular standard might have been. Even though we usually think of a "sin" being a violation of God's standard, if you think about what the word really means, it turns out it can be anyone's standard pertaining to virtually anything.

So that means that you could set a standard that you want me to meet. Doesn't matter what it is. Maybe you want me to mow your lawn by the end of next week. Whatever. If Saturday comes and I haven't mowed your lawn, then you could say I've "sinned".

Now just because I didn't mow your lawn when you wanted me to doesn't mean I've sinned against God. Again, the basic concept of sin involves a standard, set by someone, but that someone may or may not be God. The Bible represents God's standards it's easy to see that everyone falls short of that standard. You could give someone another set of standards and although you might hold a person to those standards, God might not. It just depends on what those standards are.

The bottom line is that "sin" need not be such a scary word. People don't like it because of the spiritual or religious connotation it usually carries. But it's really much more broad than that.

The point is, it's a kind of hard to say you "don't believe in sin" if you understand properly what the word means. You see, the person who says they don't believe in sin will find themselves in an awful predicament the next time someone they know, maybe a spouse or a friend or family member, falls short of their own expectations. They claim not to believe in falling short of expectations, after all.

Forget about God's standards for a moment and think of a married couple. Each spouse has set a standard for the other to meet: One of those standards is fidelity. Each spouse expects the other to be faithful. That's the standard. Now if the husband fails to meet this standard (again, we're not talking about God's standard) the wife is likely to get very angry and very disappointed. Why? Because her standard was not met. But if the wife is someone who doesn't believe in falling short of a standard, then just what does she have to get upset about? Why should she have the standard to begin with? She should have absolutely no negative reaction at all to her husband's infidelity if there is really no such thing as sin. In fact, if there is no such thing as sin, then none of us has the right to get angry at anyone, or to be disappointed in anyone, when our standards are not met. In anything.

So, if someone steals your bag of groceries, just shrug it off. They didn't fall short of your standard, because there's no such thing as falling short of a standard. If your friend stabs you in the back, just shrug it off. No such thing as sin, remember? The checker shorts you $20 in change? Don't get angry. No such thing as falling short of a standard, remember? If a politician breaks a promise, not to worry. No such thing as falling short.

Maybe I'm not being fair. After all, when people say they don't believe in sin, what they're talking about is God's standard. They're saying they don't believe in a god who has a standard. They're not saying they can't have a standard. Right?

Exactly right. They think it's okay for them to set a standard and hold people accountable to it, but it's not okay for God to set a standard and hold them accountable to it. I mean if God can't have a standard, then why should we have a standard? I'm going to object to God setting a standard and holding me to it, but then I'm going to set standards for others and hold them to my standard? How hypocritical is that?

There's no easy way out of this one, I'm afraid. A person who really, honestly believes there's no such thing as sin has absolutely no right to ever get angry at anyone for anything. If they do get angry at someone for something, then they're either a hypocrite or they have to admit that there's such a thing as sin. No way out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Origin of Information

About eight or nine years ago my sister gave me some audio cassettes with Bible study lessons from Chuck Missler. The lessons had a fair amount of scientific content in them and were quite interesting and informative. But one lesson in particular really captivated me, and it was a lesson that Missler himself didn't teach. Instead, he had brought in a man named Stephen C. Meyer who was part of an organization in Seattle called The Discovery Institute, and Meyer made a presentation called "The Origin of Information." In this presentation, Meyer explained how the code in DNA specifies certain proteins, what amino acids are and how they form proteins, etc. There was much emphasis in his presentation on the information that was encoded in the DNA, and he pointed out that ultimately origin-of-life scientists needed to explain where this information came from in the first instance.

He then went on to explain that as science seeks explanations for phenomena, it generally explains those phenomena in one of three ways: Either something happened by chance, by necessity, or by design. For example, when you enter the town of Bend, Oregon on Hwy 97, you will see a large embankment with bushes growing on it which spell out "BEND". If you wanted to explain how this happened, your explanation might invoke chance, where the bushes just happened to grow that way. Or your explanation might invoke natural laws which made it "necessary" that the bushes would grow that way. Or, your explanation might invoke design, that some agent arranged the bushes in that fashion for a purpose. This is known as "the explanatory filter."

Meyer continued his presentation by running the information processing system of DNA through this explanatory filter. First up was the idea of chance. Meyer calculated the probability that a relatively SHORT protein, (a protein made from a relatively small number of amino acids) could be arrived at by chance. The answer was that, well, the chances of such a thing happening were "not very good." In fact, the probability is so small that it surpassed what probability theorists call the "universal probability bound" in other words, there are not enough probabilistic resources in the universe to allow such a thing to happen. And that's just a single, relatively short protein molecule. Meyer pointed out that because of this, origin-of-life scientists had abandoned chance as a likely candidate back in the 60s.

Next, he considered necessity. Could it be that some set of natural laws involving physics and chemistry made it somehow "necessary" for this complex system to come about? Can natural laws produce information of the kind we find in DNA? Meyer demonstrates that natural laws can produce order, but not of the sort found in DNA. As an information carrier, the based in DNA are sequenced in a specific way… in terms of how the bases are integrated into the structure of the DNA, it was clear that natural laws of physics and chemistry were responsible. But that couldn't explain the SEQUENCING of those bases. Meyer illustrated this with magnetic letters on the refrigerator which might spell out a message: Laws of physics could explain why the letters stuck to the refrigerator, but they couldn't explain how those letters were sequenced in that way. So, appeals to necessity don't seem to work any better than appeals to chance when it comes to explaining the origin of information.

So then Meyer invoked the last filter: Design. In our human experience, we know very well that when we see information, we infer design quite naturally. Like the topiary I mentioned earlier that spells out "BEND". We have absolutely no trouble inferring design from that arrangement and in fact if someone suggested that the topiary came about by chance or necessity, any reasonable person would scoff at the idea. That it was designed is simply OBVIOUS. So as an explanation for the origin of information, and not just information itself but also the information processing system in a living cell, design becomes an extremely attractive candidate.

Well, Meyer gave the presentation which I heard about ten years ago… in the presentation he references the movie "Contact" which came out in 1997. Meyer made a lot of what seemed like very powerful arguments in that presentation, but of course there are many in the scientific community who still resist these arguments. But the question is, in the ten or so years since Meyer gave this particular presentation, has anyone been able to adequately explain how chance and/or necessity produced information?

Well just yesterday I saw that Stephen Meyer had just given a presentation at the Heritage Foundation to publicize the launch of his new book "Signature in the Cell". So I decided to check it out. The presentation is about an hour long. You can watch the presentation here. What struck me about the presentation is that it was VERY similar to the "Origin of Information" presentation that I'd heard 8 or 9 years ago. The major points hadn't changed one little bit. What could we conclude from this? Well, I suppose we could conclude that Stephen Meyer is just very, very stubborn. In fact, I'm sure many folks conclude precisely that.

But if you understand his arguments and if you follow this debate at all, you realize that his presentation hasn't changed because the challenges it offers have not yet been addressed. His arguments still stand, in other words. This is reinforced by the admission by none other than Richard Dawkins in the movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" that origin-of-life scientists really have no idea how life began. No idea, Dawkins says. Does this sound like someone who's equipped to answer Meyer's challenges? Not hardly.

It seems much more reasonable to conclude that Meyer's arguments for design are very well-founded and, in fact, rock-solid. Darwinists or Naturalists simply have no credible response to them and their attempts at refutation end up falling flat. If you watch the presentation at Heritage, you'll see a short Q & A session at the end where two very critical questions are raised against Meyer. But the challenges offered are anemic and Meyer dispenses with them quite easily.

The point of all this is that the pursuit of a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life has been incredibly unproductive. Naturalism has no explanation. But on the Intelligent Design side of things, an extremely GOOD and REASONABLE explanation DOES exist. It's just doesn't happen to be an explanation that a lot of people like.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Putting Religious Pluralism to the Test

Here's a fun little exercise to test the idea of religious pluralism, which is the notion that all religious world views are equally valid. This notion is extremely popular today and the notion that a single religious world view might actually turn out to be correct is extremely unpopular, to say the least.

But it turns out that religious pluralism refutes itself quite effectively. The diagram below demonstrates this by helping us visualize an assortment of religious world views. Yes, there are many other world religions, but how many there are doesn't matter for the purposes of this exercise. Just take a quick inventory of these different religious world views…

Now for the sake of the exercise, let's assume that all of these religious world views are equally valid or equally true. This is, after all, the idea of religious pluralism.

But now, let's suppose we "open up" one of these world views and see what it teaches…

Houston, we have a problem. If you look into what the Christian world view teaches, it teaches explicitly that all other religious world views are false. Now the Christian world view is one world view among many others… it is one of the many world views which are, according to religious pluralists, "equally valid" or "true." Okay, so let's agree with pluralism on that point: Christianity is a true religious world view. But wait… pluralism says all world religions are equally true, which means that Christianity would be true, but Christianity teaches that all other religious world views are false! So if Christianity is true, as pluralists will claim to allow, then all other world religions are false and if it's true that all other world religions are false, then pluralism is false!!

This illustration clearly shows the foolishness of religious pluralism. And not only that, but it can also show the basic dishonesty embedded in that view… because eventually you will find out that the religious pluralist isn't pluralistic at all… they reject Christianity. They have to in order to be pluralists!!

I think it's really kinda funny how these other world views end up being so fragile that, if you just take them seriously, they just collapse under their own weight. For some reason, I don't see Christianity collapsing under its own weight. Interesting.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Distinction Between Grace and Works

What does salvation by Grace mean, and how can you distinguish salvation by Grace from salvation by works?

Recent conversations I've had with the hosts of The Don Johnson Show have once again brought to my attention the widespread confusion about salvation within a Christian world view. In the recent past I've tried to sort this out, but these discussions have made me realize that my illustrations are still lacking.

My contention is this: The Bible tells us that a single thing is required in order to gain "eternal life" and that "thing" is that you "believe in" Jesus Christ. And this doesn't simply mean believing that a man named Jesus Christ existed at some point. Rather, it means that you trust in or rely on Christ for your salvation. That, of course, assumes that you understand properly who Jesus is and what He did while on the Earth.

I've encountered no shortage of confusion about this sort of thing. The hosts of The Don Johnson Show are examples of this. They claim to believe that salvation is not something that you earn by works. But then they turn right around and say "but you have to do work in order to get to Heaven." Or words to that effect. Well, I'm sorry… but that's like saying "I'm not lost, I just don't know where I'm at." If you have to do works in order to get to Heaven, then that is a works salvation! Whether they realize it or not, the hosts are trying to have it both ways and in the process, they've obfuscated the whole issue and have badly misled their audience.

In my discussions with them, they say they agree with me that you get saved by trusting in Christ. But, and here's where it falls apart for them: they continually asked me how it is that I know I'm trusting in Christ… as if I wasn't sure.

Who else (besides God) would know whether I was trusting in Christ? Why do I need to prove to myself that I trust this or that? I mean… I could understand wanting some sort of proof that someone else is trusting in Christ, but that's only because I'm not inside someone else's head! But I am inside my head, so I ought to know who I trust, right? So for starters, it's a silly question. But there actually is a simple answer to it. The answer is this: if I'm willing to conclude that I can get into Heaven with or without the good works which (may or may not) follow my salvation, then I can rightfully say that I trust in Christ.

But these guys think that unless they can demonstrate good works in their life, they can't be certain that they are saved. In other words, if they lack works, they're not saved. But notice that if a lack of works means you're not saved, then your salvation must depend upon what? Your works. But what happened to Christ in this equation? Their salvation has become a function of their works and not a function of Christ's work, and this necessarily means they're not trusting Christ. It all comes down to one question: Where do we get assurance of our salvation, and can we even have assurance of our salvation?

It turns out that the word "assurance" is linked to the word "trust." Let's say your car is in the shop for repairs, but you're going to need your car to go on a road trip next Wednesday. The mechanic assures you that he'll have your car finished in time for your trip. If his assurance is enough for you, you'll be making hotel reservations for Wednesday night. The mechanic said the car would be done, and you're trusting in him to get it done. Where does your assurance come from? Yourself? No. Your assurance comes from the mechanic who made the promise.

But what if you aren't assured by his promise? Well it seems to me that if you don't feel assured by his promise, that's exactly the same thing as not trusting him. So, you might offer to help the mechanic fix your car to make sure it gets done on time. After all, you're no slouch with a wrench yourself. So you ask your mechanic if you can help. Now put yourself in the shoes of the mechanic. Do you [the mechanic] think your customer trusts you? Your customer wants assurance that their car will be finished on time… but where is your customer getting that assurance? From your promise, or from their own contribution? If your customer trusts you, then why is it they think they need to help? They want to help precisely because they don't trust you.

Much is said within Christianity about good works as evidence of salvation. And it's true that good works can be evidence of salvation. On the other hand, unsaved people can do good works just the same. So are good works necessarily evidence of salvation? No, not really. Good works is evidence of, well, good works. We can't know what motivates another person's good works can we? The guys at the Don Johnson Show were suggesting that I couldn't know whether I really trust Jesus unless I have certain kinds of works in my life. This is totally false. I can know that I trust Jesus simply by realizing that my works have nothing to do with whether I'm saved. The assurance of my salvation is not going to come from my works if my trust is in Christ. The extent to which I look to my works for assurance is the extent to which I don't really trust Christ. But if I trust in Christ, then my assurance must come from Christ and Christ alone, at which point I can comfortably say that I will be in Heaven with or without my works. That is trust. Christ here is like the mechanic in the illustration. If he says your car will be finished in time for your trip, then it'll be finished… with or without your contribution.

I'm convinced that this talk about proving your faith by your works (and questioning your salvation if you think your works aren't up-to-snuff) is extremely counter-productive. While supposing that we need our works in order to "prove" that we trust in Christ, we actually end up betraying our trust in Christ. Ironic? You bet it is.We should realize that reliance on our works for the assurance of our salvation reveals trust, but in the wrong object.

The reason why this can get so convoluted is that the Bible does, in fact, say that we have work to do as Christians. It's just that this work doesn't factor into our salvation in any way. Yes, you are to do the work. But even if you don't, you're saved. That's grace and that's trust.

Here are some contrasts which help to categorize and characterize salvation by works vs. salvation by grace:

One school of thought says that salvation as a PROCESS. A process is generally a gradual, or step-by-step progression toward an end. But this implies work and it implies a lack of assurance. If salvation is a process, then it takes work on your part and you can never be sure you're saved until you die. Why? Because your trust is wrapped up in your works and not in Christ.

The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that salvation is a GIFT. (Eph 2:8-9, Rom 6:23) A gift, by definition, isn't something you have to earn or work towards in any stepwise fashion. A gift is simply given to you. You've either received the gift, or you haven't. There's no process there. So guard against the notion that salvation is a process.

Another school of thought says that salvation is something which can be lost, either by forfeit or it can actually be revoked. This is another idea that is inconsistent with the concept of salvation by grace, and very consistent with a salvation by works. You might be saved initially, but if you don't hold up your end of the bargain, then your out on your ear. This is salvation by works. It ends up depending on us and not on Christ.

The Bible says that salvation is a gift from God (Eph 2:8-9 and Rom 6:23) and that God's gifts are not revocable. (Rom 11:29) The Bible also says that you are given Eternal Life when you place your trust in Christ. And Eternal Life lasts forever. If Eternal Life can be lost, then there's nothing "eternal" about it.

Another key contrast that's actually sort-of built-in to the other two is assurance. One school of thought says there's no way for us to have absolute assurance of our salvation. Well, this view, again, is inconsistent with salvation by Grace, and is very consistent with salvation by works. You can never really know if you've done enough works, so how could you ever be certain that you're going to Heaven?

Salvation by grace, on the other hand, would permit you complete and total assurance of salvation because salvation by grace doesn't depend upon you. The salvation is a gift, not a reward.

Thinking clearly about this is extremely important, and yet there is very little in the way of clear thinking about this issue in popular Christianity. Confusion and contradictions abound. Works are not required for salvation… only trust in Christ is required. That necessarily means that a person can go to Heaven without any works (1 Cor 3:15). If you can't go to Heaven without works, then that is a salvation by works and not by grace.

Monday, June 08, 2009

More on "The Road to Heaven"

After more thought, I realized there is yet another way (Number 6) to refute Don Johnson's view of salvation by works. Look again at what Mr. Johnson writes in his book "The Road to Heaven: A Traveler's Guide to Life's Narrow Way" (page 135):

"At first glance James seems to contradict Paul. He does not. The key is to understand the difference between works as Paul defined them and works as James defined them. For the purpose of my argument I will refer to Paul's term as "works" and James' term as "work." We are not to do works, but we are to work."

Johnson goes on to write this:

"Works" [as Paul defined them] are tasks undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature. "Work" [as James defines them] is undertaken to raise God's stature. …Works are useless at procuring salvation. Work is an absolutely essential part of procuring salvation. We will never get to the promised land by doing works, but we will also never get to the Promised Land if we refuse to work."

So, Johnson is trying to convince the reader that they must do "work" (as James defines it) in order to get to Heaven, but he says it must not be work for the purpose of raising our own stature. That sort of work, he says, will not get us into Heaven. We must "work" only for the purpose of raising God's stature. If we do work for the purpose of raising our own stature, then we are doing "works" by Paul's definition, and this sort of work is useless at procuring salvation.

Question: Is it not true that my own stature is raised when I enter Heaven?

If you tell me that I can't get into Heaven unless I work (even if for the purpose of raising God's stature) and I become convinced that such works are necessary for entrance into Heaven, then guess what? Whatever I do will be for the purpose of raising my own stature. (i.e. enter Heaven) In other words, if I do any kind of work with the idea that without that work I can't go to Heaven, then the motivation behind that work becomes that of raising my own stature: getting myself into Heaven!

The only way to ensure that the work we do as Christians is properly motivated is to completely and totally disconnect it from entry into Heaven. We must regard our work as contributing absolutely nothing toward our entrance to Heaven. We must understand that we will go to Heaven with or without the work. We must understand that we are, for all practical purposes, already in Heaven.

This is why Paul says that salvation is not of works. The only way to work out of the motivation that Don Johnson suggests (that of raising God's stature) is to be convinced that doing that work does nothing to get you into Heaven. Otherwise, the work becomes for the purpose of getting yourself into Heaven, and that is ultimately a motivation of raising your own stature.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Obama vs. Obama

In Barack Obama's Cairo speech, he said the following:

"Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's."

This is one of those statements that's really so silly that it's hard to know where to start. I suppose in the interest of fairness, we should understand that Obama is responding to terrorist Muslims who appear, (if you've familiar with some parts of the Koran) to actually take the Koran seriously. Obviously, it's hard to argue with the assertion that you shouldn't kill people just because they won't believe as you do. But notice that's not really what he said. He said that the notion of measuring one's own faith by the rejection of someone else's faith is "disturbing".

What's so disturbing about it? Unless I've abandoned the Law of Non-Contradiction, I must reject every truth claim that contradicts the truth claims that I believe are true. That's just plain logic. If I am unwilling to say that contradictory truth claims are false, then I must not be convinced that the truth claims I claim to believe are actually true.

For example, if I say I believe that bigfoot exists but I'm unwilling to conclude that someone else's belief that bigfoot is a hoax is false, then by definition I do not believe that bigfoot exists. That bigfoot exists and that bigfoot is a hoax (doesn't really exist) are two contradictory truth claims. They cannot both be true. If I say I believe one, then I must reject the other.

How you deal with people who have different beliefs than yours is an entirely different question. Obviously, killing someone for this reason is not recommended. But there's nothing at all unreasonable about rejecting other peoples' religious beliefs as false. Doing so only demonstrates that you are actually committed to your own beliefs and you're willing to put your money where your mouth is. Notice, however, that this confidence doesn't prove that your beliefs are actually true. So it might be a good idea to examine your beliefs against all of the evidence and make sure that your beliefs are reasonable.

But there's something else funny about this statement that's much more subtle. Obama has made a truth claim here. The truth claim he's made is that the tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of someone else's faith is "disturbing". I assume he expects his audience to believe this statement (otherwise why say it?) but that would require his audience to reject the opposing truth claim which is that this tendency is totally reasonable and healthy and there's nothing at all disturbing about it. But, you see, in order to believe that this tendency is "disturbing" I have to be willing to reject the opposing truth claim! In other words, I have to give in to the very tendency Obama believes is so "disturbing" in order to agree with him that the tendency is "disturbing." Are you confused yet?

Obama's statement reveals a post-modern world view in which some rules of logic, such as the Law of Non-Contradiction, only apply when it's convenient for him. If you're a Muslim it's okay to believe in the Koran, but if you then conclude that every other religion is false, (which you would have to do given the Law of Non-Contradiction) then there's something wrong with you.

I'm a Christian, and by that I mean that I actually believe that the Bible is The Truth. I look at the numerous lines of historical and scientific evidence which support the Biblical account of history (evidence from biololgy, archaeology, sociology, geography, anthropology, etc) and I conclude that Christianity makes the best sense out of all the available evidence. Since the Koran teaches things contrary to the Bible, and since every other religion does as well, I must conclude that all other religions are false. That's just pure logic, folks. The Law of Non-Contradiction states that two contradictory truth claims cannot be true at the same time and in the same sense. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. The Koran teaches that He is NOT the Messiah. They can't both be true. Now, I could reject BOTH (and many do) without violating logic, but if I believe one, I must reject the other. But notice I don't feel compelled (as Obama suspects I should) to kill people who haven't reached the same conclusion. People are free to believe what they want to believe and I'm free to believe that they're wrong, am I not?

And am I not also free to believe that I should make some reasonable attempt to persuade someone if given the opportunity? Is that wrong? And if so, by who's account? I mean… if you were to say to me that I'm wrong to try to persuade others that what I believe is true, then aren't you trying to persuade me that what you believe is true?

When a Mormon comes to my door, I actually make an attempt to persuade them that what the LDS church teaches is false. They come to me with the same motive, do they not? I don't hold that against them, do I? No, I don't. I'm polite, I'm respectful, I ask them questions and generally carry on a pleasant conversation with them. I just think they're religious system is false and I think that because it teaches something contrary to what Christianity teaches and, perhaps even more importantly, there's absolutely no evidence to support anything that the LDS church teaches. So if I believe Christianity, I must conclude that any religion which contradicts Christianity is false.

We have been overtaken in this country by post-modernism, a philosophy which denies absolute truth, denies objective morality, and believes that two contradictory truth claims can be true at the same time and in the same sense. It's an abandonment of logic. This will do us no good whatsoever.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Works, or No Works

Recently I began listening to a radio program (as a podcast) called The Don Johnson Show and while I have found the show very informative for it's discussions on Christian apologetics, I was pretty stunned when I heard a show where the hosts' view that salvation must be earned via works was clearly articulated. Now understand, they insist that they believe salvation is "by grace" and is "not of works." But they turn right around and teach that we must do works in order to go to Heaven.

What follows is a 5-point rebuttal of the way they reach this contradictory understanding. And they will claim, by the way, that it's not contradictory. First, I have to explain what they teach.

Their argument centers on what they say what would otherwise be a contradiction between Ephesians 2:8-9 and James Chapter 2. For more background on this, see here. The hosts of the show believe that when Paul says "Not of works" he means not of a particular kind of works. Namely, works which are undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature. Similarly, when James says in Chapter 2 that "Faith without works is dead", they believe he means a particular other kind of works. Namely, works undertaken for the purpose of raising God's stature. This is the core of their belief and thus Don Johnson writes in his book "The Road To Heaven: A Traveler's Guide to Life's Narrow Way" the following:

"At first glance James seems to contradict Paul. He does not. The key is to understand the difference between works as Paul defined them and works as James defined them. For the purpose of my argument I will refer to Paul's term as "works" and James' term as "work." We are not to do works, but we are to work."

The point of vulnerability here centers on Paul's use of the word "works", which is the Greek word "ergon." If I can show that Paul means works in a broad sense in Ephesians 2:8-9, then their view is shown to be false.

1. Paul's Use of "Ergon"

In all of Paul’s epistles he uses the word “ergon” (works) a total of thirty-seven times and twenty-four times he uses some kind of descriptor alongside “ergon” to describe the works he’s talking about. Obviously Paul gets more specific when he deems it necessary by adding some sort of descriptor, but other times he uses no descriptor, no adjective, which suggests that if he was referring to a particular kind of works in Ephesians 2:9, he would have added a descriptor for the sake of specificity. The fact that he used no descriptor means that, more than likely, he meant works in a broad sense; not just a particular kind of works.

These two verses are examples of Paul's use of adjectives. The first is only one verse away from the "not of works lest any man should boast".

Eph 2:10
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

Eph 5:11
"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."

In 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 Paul clearly uses “ergon” to refer interchangeably to works which are not approved by God (burned up) and to works that are approved by God (rewarded).

1 Corinthians 3:13-15
"Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."

And this verse offers a serious challenge as well:

1 Thessalonians 5:13
"And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves."

Paul says we are to esteem very highly those who labor among us because of their works or "for their work's sake". Well if Paul defines "works" as "tasks undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature" then just why would he tell us to esteem these people so highly? It seems to me that if Paul meant what Don Johnson says he meant by "works" that we should not esteem these people for their works!

Conclusion: In Eph 2:9, when Paul says that salvation is "not of works", he must be speaking of works generally.

2. Asymmetry in Specificity

Romans 4:5
"Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. "

Notice first of all that the word “ergon” here is used without an adjective. So either it means works in a very broad sense, or it means tasks undertaken for the purpose of raising one’s own stature.

Here Paul says that the payment a man receives for his work is what that man is owed, and it cannot be called a gift. But then Paul says that the man who does not work, but trusts in Jesus Christ, (trusting must not be work) his faith (trust) is counted as righteousness.

The contrast here is between work and trust. And notice the asymmetry: Paul is specific about the word trust. He means trust in a particular object: Christ. The one who justifies the ungodly. But he is ambiguous about the works. No descriptor. If he has in mind some particular definition of ‘works’, he does not make that clear at all. Isn’t that odd? Why would he do that?

Once again, the most reasonable conclusion is that Paul is talking about works in a very broad sense.

3. These Works vs. Those Works or Any Works vs. Grace?

Romans 11:6
"And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work."

Paul is driving a wedge here between the concept of grace and the concept of works. And we've already seen that Paul has no problem using adjectives when he feels it's necessary, so this is works generally. But if there's also a wedge to be driven between one category of works and another category of works, Paul does a lousy job of communicating that here, and everywhere else also. It seems the only important distinction in Paul's mind is between grace and works.

You cannot mix any kind of works with grace or grace is no more grace.

4. Passive, Active, or Middle?

Ephesians 2:8-9
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that (salvation) not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”

This verse gives us yet another way of demonstrating that Paul is not excluding a particular kind of “works”, and although it's subtle, it's very powerful.

The key here is the word for “saved.” That word in the Greek is “sesosmenoi” which is the passive voice form of "sozo" which means "to save". This means that the subject in the sentence (you) does not participate or contribute anything. Passive voice means the subject receives the action. If Paul understood that a certain kind of works were required in order to be saved, and by “not of works” he was only excluding another kind of works, then he could not have used the passive voice… he would have used the middle voice instead.

Conclusion: The Greek grammar in this verse forecloses on the possibility that Paul could have meant one kind of work while allowing for another kind of work. In other words, salvation is not of any kind of works. It is nothing that we do. God saves us… we are passive in that.

5. Anvils Make Poor Flotation Devices

It seems entirely reasonable to me to say that God approves of "works undertaken for the purpose of raising God’s stature" but does not approve of "works undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature". Given that understanding, why would Paul need to tell anyone that they couldn’t earn their salvation by doing works not approved by God? Why would anyone suspect they could?

Do you need to tell someone clinging to floating debris that an anvil won’t keep them afloat?

Our nature inclines us to think that we can earn our way to Heaven by doing works that, we assume, are approved by God. This is the notion that Paul would need to speak against. Who goes around thinking they can get to Heaven on the basis of works that are not approved by God?

Conclusion: Once again, the most reasonable conclusion is that when Paul says "works", he means any and all works.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Secret vs. Christianity Pt 2 Revisited: You Are God

In the original Part 2, I dealt with Rhonda Byrne's claim that each one of us is God and I contrasted that with what the Bible says about who we are and who God is. But I really left something out that further refutes Byrne's belief about 1) her own deity, and 2) The Secret's alleged compatibility with Christianity.

The following three verses emphasize God's omniscience:

Psalm 139:1-4

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

Proverbs 5:21

For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths.

Matthew 10:29-31

Aren't two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father's consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted.

So, if Rhonda Byrne (or anybody else) believes that a) she is God and b) The Secret is compatible with Christianity, then they ought to be able tell me how many hairs are on my head (a task which, I admit, is getting easier and easier every day) and she also should be able to tell me when a sparrow has fallen to the ground. And she should be able to know my thoughts from far away and she ought to know every word I speak before I speak it.

If she (or anyone else with her understanding) does not know these things then her belief that she is God is false. Now if she were to insist that she IS God in spite her obvious lack of omniscience, then she has a view of God that is, by definition, contrary to what Christianity (via the Bible) teaches about God.

So if she claims to be God, but lacks omniscience, then either she is not God or she has an understanding of God which is incompatible with and contrary to Christianity. She can't claim that "The Secret" is compatible with Christianity and then claim that she is actually God while at the same time demonstrating that she lacks the Christian God's attribute of omniscience.

Rhonda Byrne is not God, and neither are you.