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Tag Archives: Theology

Entropy here and hereafter

While the quantity of energy remains the same (the first law of thermodynamics), the quality of energy deteriorates gradually over time (the second law of thermodynamics). That is, energy tends to become less usable over time.

This is expressed with the concept of entropy, which is a measure of energy usability within a closed or isolated system (the universe, for example). As usable energy decreases and unusable energy increases, entropy increases.

Since the minimum entropy is zero, one conclusion is that the universe must have had a beginning with zero or very low entropy, like a clock that was wound up and continues to wind down. But some say that any increase in entropy is bad, which shows the imperfection of the physical universe.

Is increasing entropy inherently bad, so that it may have begun with the Fall of humanity? No, increasing entropy is not all bad; it leads to good things, too, as pointed out here:

  • solar heating of the earth (heat transfer from a hot object to a cold one is the classical case of the Second Law in action),
  • walking (requires the highly entropic phenomenon of friction, otherwise Adam and Eve would have slipped as they walked with God in Eden!),
  • breathing (based on air moving from high pressure to low pressure, producing a more disordered equalized concentration of molecules),
  • digestion (breaking down large complex food molecules into their simple building blocks),
  • baking a cake (mixing the ingredients produces a lot of disorder), etc.

“It is more likely that God withdrew some of His sustaining power at the Fall. He still sustains the universe (Col. 1:17) otherwise it would cease to exist.”

Moreover, increasing entropy may well continue into the age to come, the eternal age of everlasting life. Yet that would seem to imply that bodies will continue to wear out and need to be restored.

Have you never read these words?  —

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2

Whether these leaves are literal or symbolic, the implication is clear: people will still have to come to “God and the Lamb” to be renewed. A self-sufficient creation does not exist, no matter how perfect. God and his holiness will always be needed to maintain life even in a perfect world.

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.

Merry, marry, Mary Christmas

The word “merry” is rarely used anymore except in relation to Christmas, which reflects the jaded and conventional time in which we live. Busy people aren’t merry, though they might occasionally get plastered or fall over laughing. But in centuries past people could be merry without self-consciousness about it. The birth of a baby was a cause of joy and merriment. In times with high infant mortality, life was cherished while it lasted.

Did Joseph marry the virgin who told him she was pregnant? “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 1:20) So they lived together as if they were husband and wife. But when was the wedding? When did they become one flesh? The text doesn’t say. For all we know, Joseph accepted the social stigma of living with a single mother of questionable morals.

Who was and is Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God? The “handmaiden of the Lord”, “blessed among women”, who found favor with God. The mother of the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord, the Son of God. A teenage girl was all that. A redeemed and saved child of God, with life everlasting and a home eternal in the heavens. And the mother of Christmas, a very merry, marry, Mary Christmas.

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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E. W. Kenyon, part 3

The previous post in this series is here. McIntyre next turns to the Faith-Cure movement.

This revival of healing, known as the Faith-Cure movement[,] lasted from around 1873 until its teachings were absorbed into the Pentecostal movement in the early 1900s. Its earliest advocates began teaching divine healing by faith as early as 1846. p.64

It is only because so few today are aware of this revival that Kenyon’s critics have been as influential as they have been. A review of its teachers and teaching reveals a great similarity between the Faith-Cure movement and the [Word of] Faith movement. p.64-65

Kenyon helped bridge the gap between the two movements. Others who bridged the gap included F. F. Bosworth, John G. Lake, and Carrie Judd Montgomery. p.65

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