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Category Archives: Theology

Theology and the Bible

Is Christianity a religion?

It’s not uncommon for evangelical Christians to say that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. Or to contrast works-based religion with faith-based Christianity, making that the difference between religion and non-religion.

But it’s a mistake to say that Christianity is not a religion. For one thing, that would mean religious freedom wouldn’t be important for Christians. But we dare not give up religious freedom. For another thing, it drops the question of which religion is true. And it promotes negativity about religion, which is bound to impact how people react to Christianity, too.

One problem is that the word religion is almost impossible to define since there is such a variety of religions. For example, not all religions are theistic. And where does irreligion fit in? Is atheism a religion? How about secularism as a way of life? There could be no end to what counts as religion.

The Oxford dictionary defines religion as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Does that apply to Christians? Certainly it does. And it justifies the separation of the state from oversight of religion: a secular state has no competence or authority over what is beyond life in this world.

Christians would do better to adopt a positive attitude toward religion, since at least religion as defined includes “belief in and worship of” something or someone beyond us. That is a better place to begin than secularism, atheism, or irreligion. Christian apologetics could focus on making “the case for Christ” rather than having to convince materialists that transcendent reality exists.

Marriage as a sacrament

The dissertation When Two Become One: Reconsidering Marriage as a Sacrament in Protestant Theology by Adam Neal is online here. What follows are excerpts from the conclusion, pp. 304-310.

This study has set out to provide a coherent presentation for why Christian theology should consider marriage as explicitly sacred, and, in particular, advanced comprehensive argumentation for renewing its place as a sacrament in Protestant theology.

In addition to building a cohesive and comprehensive textual argument in favor of defining marriage as a divinely mandated sacred institution, this study has provided substantive historical research that challenges the sacramental theology established by the Scholastic tradition to which the Reformation reacted even while assuming certain untenable definitions.

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False Gospels

The false gospel of sensitivity: Christians should always to be sensitive to other people, and never offend them in any way.

It is false because Jesus offended many people.

Matthew 15:12:  Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”

The true gospel itself is offensive. For example:

1 Peter 2:7-8: So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

On the other hand, Christians should not needlessly offend others.

1 Corinthians 10:32: Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God

Oversensitivity and lack of sensitivity are extremes to be avoided.

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Authority of the Bible

The authors of the texts that later became books of the Bible certainly did not think they were writing parts of Scripture. Yet they certainly did think they were writing texts with authority for a particular group of people at a particular time. Others realized later that the texts had a wider audience and a higher authority. In that sense, the various writings became the Scriptures over time.

One of the continuing questions then is to what extent the words written for a particular audience are authoritative for other audiences. This is commonly expressed in the question as to whether every word and sentence is “inspired” but that leads to side matters about theories of inspiration. It is better to focus on the authority of the texts.

The truth of the Scriptures follows from its authority but its authority also presupposes its truth. Those who first recognized their authority had to recognize their truth, too. The two cannot be separated.

The question then is how far down does the authority and truth of the Scriptures go? That is, are each paragraph, each sentence, each word authoritative? Are the grammatical mistakes authoritative? The apparent inconsistencies? The language if not the concepts of archaic knowledge?

It’s best to start with the literary styles and conventions of the time and place of writing. These are not those of today, and are not the way “we” would write. But we should read them in context. Variations in names and spellings were common. Different authors writing of the same events may have a different purpose and take on them, and may adopt a different chronology.

All these are not “mistakes” or “errors” – they are differences, between them or between us and them or between them and other sources. So a correct understanding requires some historical background.

This goes all the way down to the words and grammar. The languages and usages are different from ours. The idioms and forms of expression are different. Some words are obscure. Some grammar is nonstandard. The writer may be writing in a foreign language they don’t understand all that well.

These are all cautions, not criticisms. They do not undermine the authority of the Bible but qualify its interpretation. There is no reason that the authority does not go all the way down.

Some will consider this excessive. After all, what does it matter if a few geographical details are mistaken? Or if some names aren’t right? It’s not for me to say how much it matters because what really matters is whether the Bible is authoritative. If it is, then it’s not for us to limit how far down that authority goes. The text is what we have, and the text is authoritative.

General and special knowledge

General knowledge is based on common experience and is available to everyone. No special training or vocabulary are necessary for general knowledge. It is also called ‘general revelation’ and ‘common knowledge’. This is the knowledge that realist philosophy builds on.

General sciences are the areas of general knowledge. In philosophy these are ontology, epistemology, and ethics. Since the existence of God and creation may be demonstrated from general knowledge, there is a general science of theology. General creation is general knowledge of creation.

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Special knowledge is based on uncommon experience that is available only to those who make a special study of them and learn their special vocabulary. The special sciences such as chemistry and physics are forms of special knowledge. They begin with general knowledge but then add special studies of particular aspects of general knowledge. This is the knowledge that anti-realist philosophy builds on.

Special revelation is another form of special knowledge; it requires knowledge of revelatory texts and faith in their message. Special creation is special revelation or knowledge about creation such as the special status of humanity.

Special knowledge in the light of special revelation is different from special revelation in the light of special knowledge. Here is a diagram of their relationship:

General knowledge/revelation ⇒ special knowledge1 ⇒ special revelation2 vs.

General revelation/knowledge ⇒ special revelation1 ⇒ special knowledge2

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Examples of general revelation in the Bible:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1

Examples of special revelation in the Bible:

Genesis 1:2 – 3:24; Romans 16:25; I Corinthians 14; II Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 3:3; Revelation 1:1

Terms for rates of motion

The scalar space of a motion is the arc length along the curve it traces out. The scalar time of a motion is the travel time along the route it traces out.

The time rate is “The rate at which something takes place over time.” The space rate is the rate at which something takes time over a route.

A quantity at an instant of time is instantaneous. A quantity at a point in space is punctaneous, from Latin punct(us) + (instant)aneous.

Speed is the time rate of motion, the scalar space per unit of scalar time. The speed at an instant of time is called the instantaneous speed, which equals the differential scalar space per differential scalar time or the magnitude of the instantaneous velocity.

Pace is the space rate of motion, the scalar time per unit of scalar space. The pace at a point of space is called the punctaneous pace, which equals the differential scalar space per differential scalar time or the magnitude of the punctaneous legerity. A gradient is the space rate of change of a function or scalar field.

Displacement is the directed distance or vector difference between two points in three-dimensional space. Distimement is the directed duration or vector difference between two instants in three-dimensional time.

Velocity is the time rate of change of distimement, which consists of the speed and direction of motion. The average velocity is the displacement per scalar time of motion. The velocity at an instant of time is called the instantaneous velocity, and is the differential displacement per differential scalar time. The instantaneous velocity equals the time rate of change of the displacement.

Legerity is the space rate of change of distimement, which consists of the pace and direction of motion. Legerity is the rate of progress on a trajectory or path. The average legerity is the distimement per scalar space of motion. The legerity at a point of space is called the punctaneous legerity, and is the differential distimement per differential scalar space. Cf. velocity.

Acceleration is the time rate of change of velocity. Modulation is the space rate of change of legerity.

The first moment of mass is mass times distance. The momentum is the time rate of change of the first moment of mass. The first moment of vass is vass times duration. The space rate of change of the first moment of vass is the fulmentum, from Latin for prop, support.

Power is the time rate of change of energy. Force is the space rate of change of energy.

Is God immutable or faithful?

Aristotle (Metaphysics) and Aquinas (Summa Theologica) argue for the existence and attributes of God from the observation of motion or change. Aristotle lists four kinds of motion and change: in substance, in quality, in quantity, and in place. These simple changes do not exhaust the kinds of change – even Aristotle implied there were ten kinds, corresponding to his ten categories (Physics 3.1 at 201a8–9).

More significant kinds of change have to do with interpersonal relations. For example, someone says they will do something and then changes their mind. Or someone makes a promise they are unable to fulfill. People change as they mature, which may include character or personality changes. The meaning of an action may change based on the context.

If we focus on simple changes, as Aristotle and Aquinas did, then their argument concludes that God is immutable, that is, incapable of change as if God were like something immobilized, such as a broken limb immobilized by a cast. Does that express the sense in which God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8)? No. The reason is the focus on a narrow range of change.

If we focus on the widest range of change, and God is unable to change in any of these ways, we find that God is always consistent, true to his word, has the same personality, and acts the same way. That is, God is faithful.

Numbers 23:19
God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Deuteronomy 32:4
The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.

Romans 4:21
being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.

1 Thessalonians 5:24
Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.

From persistence to God

Edward Feser’s book Five Proofs of the Existence of God (2017) includes his version of the Aristotelian proof, which looks at the existence of change. There is a similar proof that looks at the existence of persistence. Aristotle, with a static world-picture, wanted to explain change. Someone with a dynamic world-picture might want an explanation for persistence. As time is required for change, so a place or space is required for persistence. Below I sketch this argument by modifying some words in Feser’s text (with page references to his book):

Persistence happens. Examples are all around us. The coffee in your cup is still warm after you step away for a minute. A leaf on the tree outside your window is in the same place it was yesterday. A puddle is the same size it was ten minutes ago. You swat a fly and miss, so it keeps buzzing around.

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Luther at 500

October 31, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Phillip Cary’s excellent article in First Things places this in perspective. While the full article is behind a paywall, here are some excerpts:

It all did start with the ninety-five theses, in a sense. Luther probably did not actually nail them to the church door—at least no one at the time tells us so. And if he did, it was not in anger or protest against the church. He was trying to arrange an academic discussion, and evidently that’s where the bulletin board was. What we do know is that he mailed them off to his archbishop, together with a treatise on indulgences and a cover letter dated October 31, 1517, so that is the date remembered as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

What Luther did not know at the time is that the pope and the archbishop were the ones profiting from this merchandise, each claiming half of the take. So it is not surprising that events took a turn he did not anticipate. Within five years, this intensely obedient monk had concluded that obedience to God precluded obedience to the pope, and a schism in the Church followed.

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E. W. Kenyon, part 4

The previous post in this series is here. McIntyre next introduces theological defenses of divine healing. in 1881 William Boardman (1810-1886) authored The Great Physician (Jehovah Rophi).

Boardman’s earlier work, The Higher Christian Life (1859) was tremendously influential in bringing the message of sanctification into non-Methodist circles. … Boardman expressed the idea that everything we need is already a reality in Christ, only awaiting the believer’s faith to claim it. … He later came to see healing as a part of our redemption and applied this same premise (that sanctification and everything we need is already true in Christ and awaiting our claiming it by faith) to healing. This is exactly what Kenyon taught. p.85

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