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Tag Archives: Theology

God the Creator and Designer

The Christian doctrine of creation declares that the reason there is something and not nothing is because God created something ex nihilo, out of nothing, and that is what it means to say that God is the Creator. This is the primary creation, since the secondary creation such as the birth of new organisms occurs ex aliquo, out of something.

Did God create a mere something, that is, an entity with no identity, a thingless whatever, a primordial blob? Or did God create and design a particular something, an entity with identity? Read the first verses of Genesis again:

1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Creation ex nihilo gets us to verse 3, with its deep, formless void and nonspecific light. After that, God is the Designer, separating and naming.

Some theologians consider design to be beneath God, as if the Divinity were merely a Platonic demiurge. But God created a particular something, which is described in terms of creating and designing rather than a single create-and-design action. We should accept the distinction between Creator and Designer, whether we separate them or not.

The theological significance of Design has been underappreciated. But it makes a difference whether the creation is made into distinct entities and kinds or is only a mass differentiated by degrees. The differences between plant and animal food and sacrifices, for example, only make sense if plant and animal are different kinds of organisms. Above all, the difference between humans and other creatures is essential to the impact of the fall and redemption of mankind.

Classical creationism underestimated the extent of within-kind variation. Modern evolutionism makes the opposite error and vastly overestimates the extent of variation. A middle position is being developed, despite much opposition, that combines fewer kinds with greater variation and adaptation. Such a moderate view is quite consistent with the biblical Creator and Designer.

Intellectual hierarchies

Societies have an intellectual hierarchy reflected in their academic hierarchy that exhibit their scale of concepts and values. There are basically three groups of intellectual disciplines: the study of divinity (theology), the humanities, and the sciences. There are six possible ways of ordering these three, which shows the intellectual state of a society.

(1) Theology, humanities, sciences: This is the medieval and Renaissance order.

(2) Theology, sciences, humanities: This is the early modern order, which is deistic with scientific realism.

(3) Humanities, theology, sciences: This is the conservative Catholic order, which is humanistic and traditionalist.

(4) Humanities, sciences, theology: This is the liberal Catholic order, which is humanistic with scientific realism.

(5) Sciences, theology, humanities: This is the conservative Protestant order, which is scientistic with theological realism.

(6) Sciences, humanities, theology: This is the late modern order, which is scientistic and humanistic.

Order number (1) is the proper one because it places the highest truth (God) first, then humanity second, then the world after these are properly understood.

In the beginning is reality

In the beginning is reality. That is, reality precedes us. We discover reality. We don’t invent reality. “Wonder is the only beginning of philosophy.” (Socrates in Plato’s Theaetetus 155d) “For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize.” (Aristotle, Met. 982b12).

We wonder about reality. That leads to questions, to queries. Wonder is not skepticism. Wonder does not doubt reality. Wonder affirms reality but wonders about it. What about this or that? The wonderful story of the Virgin Mary’s question to the angel of the annunciation illustrates this:

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

Mary wondered rather than doubted. (cf. previous post here.) The angel was strange enough but this was stranger. Could further information be provided? Yes. We are encouraged to ask and seek: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Jesus in Luke 11:9)

We begin but reality has already begun. So we begin again. That is, we begin in the middle. We begin with questions. Socrates has many questions. He shows us how to keep asking. He knows nothing before his questions are answered. “The theologian always begins in the middle” (Stanley Hauerwas) and the philosopher does, too.

Evangelical attributes

I have written before about evangelicals (and others) here, here, here, and here.

An evangelical Christian is basically one for whom the Bible is the final authority for faith and life. This contrasts with Christians for whom the Bishop of Rome is the final authority, or Tradition. Some who claim to be Christians make religious feeling the final authority, such as those known as theological liberals, but surely that stretches the term Christian too far (see Christianity and Liberalism by Gresham Machen).

Evangelical Christians, or Evangelicals for short, receive the Bible as the Word of God, the final authority for faith and life. A corollary to this is that Evangelicals can only approach the text of the Bible with reverence and wonder, and not critically, that is with skepticism or doubt. Critical biblical scholarship is thus not for Evangelicals. Another corollary is that for Evangelicals all subjects must align with the text of the Bible. Hence Evangelicals approach the world with awe and wonder, as realists rather than anti-realists.

Evangelicals are not united on all matters. There are some significant divergences, notably: (1) baptism of infants and adults or only adults, (2) Eucharist/communion as the Body and Blood of Christ or only symbols, (3) some church hierarchy or only congregations, (4) continuationism or cessationism with regard to miracles and the gifts of the Spirit, and (5) emphasis on believers receiving Christ or deciding for Christ.

Unity, duality, trinity

Postulates of Motion

Postulate of three: There are three dimensions of the extent of motion.

Postulate of two: There are two measures of the extent of motion, length and duration.

Postulate of one: There is one exchange of space and time.

From the postulate of three comes a non-quantitative three-dimensional geometry of motion.

From the additional postulate of two comes two three-dimensional quantitative geometries of motion.

From the additional postulate of one comes one six-dimensional quantitative geometry of motion.

Being is a unity. Existence is a duality. Reality is a trinity.

There is a unity of being, a duality of existence, and a trinity of reality.

Existence is a distinction within universal being. Reality is an indistinction within universal existence.

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Church and ethnos

Most Christian congregations have an ethnos, a term from cultural anthropology for people with a common national or cultural tradition. Congregations are usually part of a larger network, denomination, or hierarchy, which has at least one ethnos. (Eastern) Orthodox autocephalous churches are national churches, which include the ethnos of their nation. The (Roman) Catholic church incorporates multiple national churches, each with its own ethnos. In places such as the U.S., a Catholic parish reflects the ethnic background of the parishioners, usually Italian, Spanish, Irish, or Polish.

Protestant denominations reflect their national origins. Lutherans have a Germanic or Scandinavian ethnos. Presbyterians have a Dutch, Scottish or Swiss ethnos. Anglicans have a strong British ethnos, which includes the Queen. Many denominations adopt the ethnos of the country they reside in, so for example American Baptists have an American ethnos. The Messianic congregations springing up have a Jewish ethnos.

A church ethnos reflects the way that Christianity is a universal religion that does not replace the ethnos of its adherents. The original Christian church had a Jewish ethnos but as Gentile believers became dominant, Christianity acquired the ethnos of the nations. The apostolic decision that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised or keep the Jewish law affirmed Gentile national customs and laws.

Some worry that a church ethnos may be excessive or even idolatrous. While that is possible, church and ethnos have been together for centuries without significant harm. The excesses that have been pointed out, such as the Russian Orthodox under the Czars or some Lutherans in Nazi Germany, have come and gone. And the Lutheran Confessing Church was a witness against an excessive ethnos in the church.

Atheist illiteracy

Antony Flew was a leading atheist who came to the conclusion that God exists. What changed his mind? “The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical. The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins’ comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a ‘lucky chance.’ If that’s the best argument you have, then the game is over.” (How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind)

Robert Hutchinson writes: “Recently, I’ve begun to systematically record all of the debates on the Existence of God that I can lay my hands on and listen to them at my leisure, usually while driving.

In the process, I made a shocking discovery. It turns out that the atheists are really, really good at insults but are actually quite poor debaters. The atheists insult Christianity, Judaism and religion generally with a nastiness that is almost breathtaking. They belittle. They demean. They insinuate. But the one thing they don’t do is offer intelligent arguments that disprove the existence of God.

In fact, they don’t actually reason at all.

Reasoning, after all, is a systematic questioning of assumptions… a marshaling of evidence… a critical examination of arguments. It is not, primarily, name-calling. When I first started watching these debates, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I assumed the atheists would eventually put forward logical arguments that the Theists would be hard pressed to answer. What I wasn’t prepared for was that the atheists didn’t really marshal salient arguments at all: they merely sneered.”

Michael Egnor writes: “When I was becoming a Christian, I secretly feared reading debates about God’s existence. I feared that my growing faith would be shattered by some obvious logical flaw in theist arguments. I began to read, with trepidation, Christian vs. atheist debates (my first was Does God Exist? The Great Debate. by J.P. Moreland, Kai Nielsen and others).

I was astonished. The atheist arguments, rather than presenting formidable challenges to belief in God, were.. pitiful. The Christian arguments were well-structured logical demonstrations, basically rigorous extensions of common sense. The atheist arguments were tangential, ad hoc, absurd (‘the universe caused itself’, ‘everything came from nothing’). The best the atheists could do is play semantic games. In Does God Exist, the most capable atheist philosopher, Kai Nielsen, merely argued that ‘God’ was undefinable, and therefore arguments for His existence were nonsensical. That’s the best he could do.

As I’ve studied the arguments, my disdain for atheist arguments has grown exponentially. None of the New Atheist ‘intellectuals’ has presented an argument against God’s existence that would get a passing grade in a freshman philosophy course.

Bottom line: read good philosophers like Feser and Craig and Moreland, and you’ll see that reason and logic are Christian virtues, not atheist virtues. Atheist illiteracy on even rudimentary philosophical issues is astonishing.”

Post-Christian Posing

The following is an excerpt from John Zmirak at The Stream on July 26, 2018, here:

In the 19th century, many Christians were deeply troubled by Darwin. They accepted his theories as facts that disproved the Bible’s claim to be inspired and inerrant. But they weren’t ready to slough off Christian ethics. Or even (in many cases) quit their jobs as prominent pastors and try to make an honest living. They quailed at the ruthless atheist socialism of Marx and Engels, and the harsh “social Darwinist” movement that hoped to speed up the “survival of the fittest.”

So these men of little faith hearkened to the deeply biased methods of “Higher” biblical criticism. Pretending to be a “science,” it weeds out the miraculous and supernatural parts of the Gospel. What it leaves behind is an ethical core, derived from cherry-picking stories of Jesus’ actions and precepts. That core, they could pretend, is really the “essence” of Christianity.

Never mind all those metaphysical claims (Our Lord’s divinity) or so-called miracles (His resurrection). And certainly pay no attention to apostolic traditions, Church doctrinal councils, or historic Christian practice.

The Ten Disenchantments

No, the “real” Christianity is … well not a creed. It’s more of an emotive stance, which distills from the life of Jesus a few simplistic precepts. Since they replace supernatural faith itself, I’ll call them the Ten Disenchantments.

  1. Outsiders are always right.
  2. The underdog deserves to win, every time.
  3. Making judgments about people is evil, and it means you’re a hypocrite.
  4. Religious observance is empty ritual, only valid for building a sense of community among the disadvantaged.
  5. Rebels and dissenters are always prophetic and deserve our attention.
  6. Sexual sins are mild peccadilloes, and those who condemn them are much worse sinners themselves.
  7. Every hierarchy is wicked.
  8. All inequality is the fruit of exploitation.
  9. Suffering has no value whatsoever, and it’s our first duty to stomp it out, whatever the cost.
  10. A neurotic, extreme unselfishness, which no person (much less nation) can really practice, is nonetheless the Christian ideal.

Now this not really a comprehensive ethical system. Nor is it a fair and representative reading of Jesus’ words and actions. If it were, then He would not have been the Messiah, since the above list is utterly incompatible with the Old Testament.

Jesus’ brothers and sisters

The Gospel According to John, chapter 7:2-10 reads:

2 Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him. 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee. 10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.

Three times the text mentions “Jesus’ brothers”, or as the footnote states, it can be translated, “Jesus’ brothers and sisters”. Who are these brothers and sisters?

1. Literally speaking, someone’s brother or sister is a person with the same parents. Since Jesus is uniquely the Son of God (John 3:18), he cannot have any brother or sister in the literal sense. Therefore, these verses cannot be read literally.

2. Someone’s half-brother or half-sister has one parent in common. Is it possible that Joseph and Mary had natural children after Mary gave birth to Jesus? John 19:26-27 reads:

26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

This action of Jesus as he was dying makes no sense if either Joseph were still alive or Mary had other children who would take care of her. So Jesus did not have a half-brother or a half-sister.

3. Someone’s step-brother or step-sister is a child of a parent from a previous marriage. Is it possible that Joseph was widowed and had children before marrying the Virgin Mary? The John 19 passage above shows this would make no sense because if either Joseph were still alive or Mary had other children, they would take care of her. So Jesus did not have a step-brother or a step-sister.

4. In some cultures such as first-century Jewish culture another relative such as a cousin may be called a brother or sister. This is the remaining possibility and must be the meaning of the passage. These brothers and sisters were likely cousins of Jesus.

The conclusion is that Jesus of Nazareth was an only child.

Hartford Appeal

The 1975 Hartford Appeal deserves to be better known. It may be viewed here. A book was written about it: Against the World for the World: The Hartford Appeal and the Future of American Religion by Peter L. Berger and Richard John Neuhaus (New York: Seabury Press, 1976). A 40th year anniversary reflection was written by Richard J. Mouw (see here). What follows are the 13 false themes identified:

Eighteen theologians and religious thinkers from nine denominations gathered at the Hartford Seminary Foundation, Hartford, Connecticut, January 24-26, to draft a declaration in response to themes in contemporary Christian thought which they viewed as “pervasive, false, and debilitating.”

Theme 1: Modern thought is superior to all past forms of understanding reality, and is therefore normative for Christian faith and life.

Theme 2: Religious statements are totally independent of reasonable discourse.

Theme 3: Religious language refers to human experience and nothing else, God being humanity’s noblest creation.

Theme 4: Jesus can only be understood in terms of contemporary models of humanity.

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