Tag Archives: Theology

I’m Alive! Now, Let’s Talk About Rob Bell

Don’t worry, the P.I blog hasn’t gone cold permanently.  Between my philosophy class this semester (philosophy of science…heady stuff!), coaching the wrestling team, teaching, preparing for my daughter’s birth, and Crossfit, I’m finding little time to blog.  I’m not giving up on the blog, just posting less frequently (waaaaayyy less) for the time being.

So, what’s on tap for today’s post?  Let’s talk about Mr. Rob Bell.  Or rather, some of the conversations surrounding his writings.

Lately I’ve been privy to some conversations surrounding his new book.  Th

Rob Bell: nerdy, but in a hip way.

ere are lots of people questioning some of the things in his book (there are always people questioning his stuff), and invariably, someone (actually, many people) respond like so:

“He’s just asking questions.  Leave him alone!”

“He’s got opinions and he’s making people think.  He’s helping people figure out what they believe, and that can’t be bad.  Beg off!”

“Why are you being so mean and divisive?  Stop the judgmental spirit.”

“He’s just starting a conversation.  He’s on a journey and shouldn’t be put down for that.”

I’ll be the first to admit that some of the critique of Bell is quite shrill and over the top.  But much of it isn’t.  Much of it is a serious attempt at evaluating his beliefs for truth and fidelity to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.  If he is advocating false beliefs and/or is leading people to depart from the truth that has stood the test of time, that is a legitimate concern.

I have no doubt that some of the Bell defenders who use the tactics above are sincere, but they are very naive.

 There are two types of asking questions–one, to get information or to inquire, and two, to make a point (aka “socratic questioning”). Bell’s a savy guy; most of his questions are of the second type, and therefore deserve to not be treated as mere “innocent conversation starters.”

Melinda Penner of Stand To Reason puts it well:

Even if someone is asking questions, the type of questions they ask in order to frame the debate tells us a great deal about their view and how they would answer the questions they pose. Bell tries to sidestep disagreement by saying he’s only asked questions, but he’s equivocating. There are different kinds of questions. Some are meant to elicit information; others are Socratic to get people to think and also to advance ideas. Bell’s questions are the Socratic type, but he acts as thought their the first type. He’s told us through those questions a lot about what he thinks.

Tim Challies adds:

Does Rob Bell deny the existence of hell? He would say no. We would say yes. He affirms, but only after redefining. And that’s just a clever form of denial.

Pay special attention to the kind of questions he asks.  That’ll tell you a lot about his beliefs. 

I really do have to shake my head at some of his defenders.  If he’s on a journey, it’s a veerrrry suggestive one.

Folks, if he is to be a player on the stage of ideas–and….he is, whether he acknolwedges it or not–his words deserve the same treatment as everyone else’s.

In other words: he’s a big boy.  His words, whether in question form or direct statement, get evaluated and assessed. He does not get a pass.

The question of whether he is teaching false ideas or leading people astray is, of course, another question for another time. I just tire of the same old “stop being mean and judgmental! You’re being divisive!” response to sincere attempts at evaluating his ideas.  Ideas have consequences–and so do questions.

So: y’all just need to cut that out.

Santa Claus Theology

“To reject all ideas of divine wrath and judgment, and to assume that God’s character, misrepresented (forsooth!) in many parts of the Bible, is really one of indulgent benevolence without any severity, is the rule rather than the exception among ordinary folk today.

It is true that some recent theologians, in reaction, have tried to reaffirm the truth of God’s holiness, but their efforts have seemed half-hearted and their words have fallen for the most part on deaf ears.  Modern Protestants are not going to give up their ‘enlightened’ adherence to the doctrine of a celestial Santa Claus merely because a Brunner or a Niebuhr suspsects this is not the whole story.  The certainty that  there is no more to be said of God (if God there be) than that he is infinitely forbearing and kind–that certainty is as hard to eradicate as bindweed.  And when once it has put down roots, Christianity, in the true sense of the word, simply dies off.  For the substance of Christianity is faith in the forgiveness of sins through the redeeming work of Christ on the cross.

But on the basis of Santa Claus theology, sins create no problem, and atonement becomes needless; God’s active favor extends no less to those who disregard his commands than to those who keep them.  The idea that God’s attitude to me is affected by whether or not do what He says has no place in the thought of the man on the street, and any attempt to show the need for fear in God’s presence, for trembling at His word, gets written off as impossibly old-fashioned–‘Victorian,’ ‘Puritan,’ and ‘sub-Christian.’

Yet the Santa Claus theology carries within itself the seeds of its own collapse, for it cannot cope with the fact of evil.  It is no accident that when belief in the “good God” of liberalism became widespread, about the turn of the twentieth century, the so-called problem of  evil (which was not regarded as a problem before) suddenly leaped into prominence as the number one concern of Christian apologetics.  This was inevitable, for it is not possible to see the good will of a heavenly Santa Claus in heartbreaking and destructive things like cruelty, or marital infidelity, or death on the road, or lung cancer.  The only way to save the liberal view of God is to dissociate him from these things and to deny that he has any direct relation to them or control over them; in other words, to deny his omnipotence and lordship over his world.  Liberal theologians took this course fifty years ago, and the man on the street takes it today.  Thus he is left with a kind God who means well but cannot always insulate his children from trouble and grief.  When trouble comes, therefore, there is nothing to do but grin and bear it.  In this way, by an ironic paradox, faith in a God who is all goodness and no severity tends to confirm men in an fatalistic and pessimistic attitude to life.”

–J.I Packer

On the Whole “Relationship” Thing

Melinda brings up an often missed point:

Knowing someone involves personal acquaintance and relationship, but also knowing facts and detail about the person. In fact, relationship suffers if we don’t understand facts about someone and especially if we misunderstand things about someone. I fear that the current emphasis of Christianity is on relationship to the detriment of knowing facts about Jesus. Theology is thought to be dry and even a hindrance to relationship. But theology is meant to give us more knowledge about God so we know Him better, understand Him better, and love Him better. I think in human relationships we can see that if we don’t want to learn about someone we can’t really be that interested in relationship with them. In the same way, if we are interested in relationship with God, it seems to follow that we want to learn all we can about Him. Theology gives us that knowledge and the study of theology can be an expression of love for God, not dry, pointless nit-picking.

In all our relationship talk today, we tend to forget that…

Atheist Bus Campaigns

A little PR never hurt anybody…at least that’s what some atheist groups are thinking.  But, it could come back to haunt them (more on that later).

Back in the summer, a kerfuffle arose in several places around the country.  Atheist groups advanced an advertisement campaign, in some cases going so far as to sue for the ability to put their advertisements on buses and park benches.

Though it’s been a while since the controversy erupted, it is still instructive for Christians:

Can I take exception with everyone in the video?  Can I do that?  I’m not a big fan of *any* of the answers Taylor or Binder gave, and I’m definitely scratching my head at some of the questions Doocy asked.

Where to start.  How about with Taylor?  Let’s start with a little in-house critique.  I think I know what Taylor was getting at, but rather than making a cogent point about the atheist belief system, he instead came off as reactionary and defensive.  For example, why in the world would he be offended at the atheists attempting to engage in a little PR in the public square?  That is the exact same freedom he no doubt would clamor for his own church goers, so I’m bewildered as to why he took umbrage with Binder’s group doing the same thing.  So what if it turns out to be an attack on Christianity?  That’s the nature of the public square: somebody throws down a gauntlet, another picks it up, and both sides duke it out to see which idea can take the heat.  He could have taken time to refute the idea, but instead he made a psychological point about the motivation behind the idea (an “attack from the left”), and it’s not even clear that it was a good one.

He almost approached making a good point when he talked about the atheist group using the inalienable rights spoken of in our founding documents to “make a mockery about God,” but it was jumbled and confusing.  I take it that he was making a point about atheists “borrowing capital” from a theistic worldview.  In other words, anything like a “right” to “freedom of speech” is based upon the intrinsic dignity of human beings.  Sacks of meat that behave in complicated ways aren’t bearers of rights.  Where do we get that intrinsic value from?  Not from the particles, natural selection, or random mutation.  Not from the cosmos that atheists insists is all there is, was, or ever will be.  Not from convention or a social contract or the herd morality.  We get it from God.  For atheists to use that right to argue against God is for them to bite the hand that feeds.

That is a perfectly good point, but I’m giving the most charitable interpretation of Taylor I can, and his red herring about an “attack from the left” distracts from the point considerably.

On to Doocy, the Fox News man.  His first question was to Binder: “you don’t believe in God, yet you sued to put God in your ad.  Why?”  What a silly question.  He wasted an opportunity.  Rather than asking a good question, like, “if God really doesn’t exist like you believe, what is ‘good’?” or some variant, he coyly suggests that it’s strange for the atheists to talk about or make advertisements about a being they don’t believe in.

It’s not strange at all, especially given the goals that Binder mentioned.  If their goal is to suggest that you don’t need belief in God to be good, fine.  Nothing incoherent about that.  It’s ultimate soundness is another question I’ll touch upon later, but there is nothing strange about mentioning, in an ad, a being the atheists don’t believe in.

By harping so much upon how “offended” some Christians are by the campaign, Doocy and Taylor unwittingly play into the faux tolerance trick, thus hamstringing Christianity.  Key to the gospel is sin, an offensive concept if there ever was one.  If human beings aren’t guilty of sin, then the gospel becomes a mere private taste, and church a social club.   If saying someone is wrong (the atheist bus campaign suggests Christians are wrong in some of their key beliefs) makes the atheists intolerant, where does that leave Christians?

Bible friends, rather than focusing on being offended, when instances like this arise, view them as opportunities.  The atheist groups responsible for such advertisements might think they are making good PR for their cause, but they are actually giving Christians a wide open door to engage both them and others on truth.

First, read up a little on the Christian worldview.  Listen to a few podcasts on apologetics.  Take a class or two at a reputable conservative seminary in theology.  Then, when you see the advertisement out in public, enter into discussions with those around you.   Is it really true that “you can be good without God?” ***  What does good even mean in the absence of God to ground the good?

The resulting conversations will result in fruit for the Christian worldview, but not so much for the atheistic worldview.

Christians have no reason to fear these open doors for the same reason we have no reason to fear attending a debate on such topics as God’s existence or the resurrection of Christ.  The Christian worldview, when presented against others, stands tall.

You see, if Christians take that attitude rather than an attitude of offense, this bus campaign could turn out to backfire on atheists.

***you need an ID and password to access the article.  Use these: ID–pugnacious  PW–Irishman

“Only a Good God Would Do___”

Chris Neiswonger gives us some mighty fine food for thought today.  I wish I woulda had this in class today as I tried to explain the spiritual beliefs of the Puritans (we were reading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I really stunk up the place trying to explain things. Not only was I not prepared, but I really got flustered and hence simply confused the students.).

Bottom line: without putting God’s justice front and center, the Gospel makes no sense.  Without God’s justice, we appear much better than we are, and God seems petty and just plain odd.  Only when we see that our “resume” is instead a “rap sheet” and that God must deal with wrongdoing and evil justly does His offer of forgiveness make sense:

I’m getting a lot of this ‘what a “good god” would do’ thing now in emails and such (backwash from the new atheism).

Try this: Instead of looking supplicant and making excuses for God as if He had been having a bad day, say plainly that “any God that would not judge persons, nations, entire civilizations and even the world would not be a God of any great significance and so unworthy of true faith or sincere worship”.

One way or another we need to face the problem. Either we present God as a mushy glow of love and compassion that would really like to do something about evil but either can’t or won’t, or we present him as he presents himself in scripture and push the problem back at the accuser.

Those without God inevitably absolve the universe of evil in order to avoid the God that judges evil and so make themselves innocent at the cost of moral realism.

Jesus is My Co-Pilot

…I hate that one.  So does Mark Driscoll:

The Only Wise, Perfect, Omniscient God

The Rambling Taoist is a frequent commenter on this site.  By and large, I like having him as a commenter.  Though I disagree with him, it makes things interesting and it’s what the market place of ideas is all about: bring your ideas, lay them down in the arena, and see if they hold up.

In the context of whether the Christian worldview is true or not, he referred me–quite a while ago–to three of his own posts.  To be fair, these three posts don’t make up his only objections, nor, I take it, are they even necessarily his best objections to the worldview of Jesus.

I answered one a few weeks ago.  Here’s an answer to the second post.

Let’s first nail down what the objection is.  Thankfully, RT has quoted it in a nice, compact paragraph:

What did God do during that eternity before he created everything? If God was all that existed back then, what disturbed the eternal equilibrium and compelled him to create? Was he bored? Was he lonely? God is supposed to be perfect. If something is perfect, it is complete–it needs nothing else. We humans engage in activities because we are pursuing that elusive perfection, because there is disequilibrium caused by a difference between what we are and what we want to be. If God is perfect, there can be no disequilibrium. There is nothing he needs, nothing he desires, and nothing he must or will do. A God who is perfect does nothing except exist. A perfect creator God is impossible.

(HT: evil Bible)

Here’s the argument, laid out in a syllogism:

1) God, on the Christian view, is perfect.

2) If something is perfect, it needs nothing else.

3) If something is perfect, there is nothing it must or will do.

4) Since God is perfect, He needs nothing and there is nothing He must or will do.

5) Therefore, God did not create.

I leave out the part about God existing “before” creation, since that is a muddy concept.  What does the arguer mean by eternity “before” creation?  Since creation is the moment when space and time came into being, this is phrased somewhat awkwardly, and I’m not clear what the objector is getting at.  At any rate, I don’t think one needs to have a good theory of time nailed down to understand the objection.

As it is stated, the argument, really, isn’t even valid, much less sound (valid=conclusion follows deductively from premises.  Sound=the argument is valid *and* the premises are true).  The conclusion, premise 5, doesn’t even follow from 1-4.  An additional premise is needed.  Let me supply it here:

6)  Creation arises out of either a need, an obligation (“must”) or an act of will.

It’s entirely possible that I’m missing some other problems with the form of the argument.  If you see something else, go ahead and point it out.

Now, about the truth of the premises:  I agree with 1 and 2.  Premise 3 is where the objector starts to go off the rails.   First, the word “must” is ambiguous.  God, being perfect, always acts in accord with His nature.  For instance, He cannot sin, so on that definition of  “must,” He is still perfect yet “must” refrain from sinning.  This is not an external constraint or obligation forced upon Him; rather, He is simply acting in accord with His own nature.  Nothing strange there.

Second, why assume that perfection means there’s nothing one *will* do?  I don’t see the connection.  Certainly, a perfect being can do something simply as an act of will, simply because He, well, wants to?  Only if every action arises out of some need should we deny that, but I see no reason to think that action automatically implies a prior need.

It is certainly conceivable that a human being could do something as an act of sheer will.  Might not happen a whole lot, but it’s possible and the concept is coherent.  No reason to think, therefore, that God, the Ultimate Perfect Being, could not create in the same vein–as an act of free will, unconstrained by any need.

From there, the argument unravels.  Indeed, the Christian view of creation is that God, being a trinity, did not create to fulfill a need in Himself.  It is not the case, for example, that God created because He was lonely and needed someone to love; that was and is fulfilled within the perfect loving community of the trinity itself.  The Bible teaches that God created as a) a way to spread His glory, and b) an act of love on our behalf.  God does not need more glory for Himself; still, He chooses to spread it as a free act of grace and love to us.  He condescends to us, in other words.  This is the bottom line of “grace,” and giant intellects have been trying to fathom the depths of that since man was man.

A second argument goes as such:

A God who knows everything cannot have emotions. The Bible says that God experiences all of the emotions of humans, including anger, sadness, and happiness. We humans experience emotions as a result of new knowledge. A man who had formerly been ignorant of his wife’s infidelity will experience the emotions of anger and sadness only after he has learned what had previously been hidden. In contrast, the omniscient God is ignorant of nothing. Nothing is hidden from him, nothing new may be revealed to him, so there is no gained knowledge to which he may emotively react.

We humans experience anger and frustration when something is wrong which we cannot fix. The perfect, omnipotent God, however, can fix anything. Humans experience longing for things we lack. The perfect God lacks nothing. An omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect God who experiences emotion is impossible.

Again, the original author states hasty premises.  Without getting into too much detail, I see no reason to assume that emotion automatically means one is surprised.  Things indeed might play out like that a lot with humans, but it doesn’t always.  Why think that a being possessing an emotion means that he just gained new information?  I have emotions, sometimes, by reflecting upon knowledge I’ve possessed for quite some time.  In these cases, it is not true that my emotion arises out of gaining new knowledge at the particular point in time I have the emotion.

This also assumes a particular view of God and time.  There are a variety of views of time that don’t run into this issue at all.  They are too complicated and numerous to catalogue here; just note that this argument assumes that God is and always has been a tensed being, and this is far from obvious.  To be fair, the author should at least mention the view of time he is assuming here and note there are alternatives.

So…I guess I find these arguments  unpersuasive as well.