"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The SBC Is Changing Because Though the Bible Is Infallible Our Interpretations Are Not


Stephen Fox pointed me to a column by Robert Parham entitled Is the SBC Pivoting Toward a New Future? Parham finds himself surprised that the SBC may be actually moderating on several fronts. His research and conclusions, in my opinion, are spot on. One of the examples given by Parham to prove the SBC may be  changing is the "official" change of  SBC position on the environment between 2006 and 2010.

Parham points out that this summer's 2010 SBC resolution on the environment differs sharply from the 2006 SBC resolution on the environment. The 2006 resolution was essentially an attack on environmentalists and an attempt to distance Southern Baptists from prioritizing environmental stewardship.

In a scant four years the SBC has performed a 180 turn about on its view of the environment. For example:

===============================

The 2006 Resolution on the Environment

· attacked environmentalism as a "neo-pagan religion;"
· said the "scientific community is divided on the effects of mankind's impact on the environment;"
· expressed confidence in private enterprise;
· warned against alliance with those outside the conservative evangelical community; and
· suggested that earth care would distract from evangelism.



But the 2010 SBC Resolution on the Environment

· calls for the protection of the environment;
· points out that human beings do adversely affect the environment;
· encourages everyone to work together; and
· notes that nature is an interdependent system in which human beings have a moral responsibility to guard nature and to protect resources for future generations.

Parham says it is most surprising that the 2010 SBC resolution refuses to trust blindly in private enterprise. It offers a moral critique of the free market. The resolution says "all industries are...accountable to higher standards than to profit alone," and that corporations have "full...accountability for damages, clean-up, and restoration." The resolution goes on to express a hope that "government and private industry are not again caught without planning," and "future energy policies based on prudence, conservation, accountability, and safety."

The change in the 2010 Resolution on the Environment from the 2006 Resolution on the Environment should prevent Southern Baptists from believing or acting as if our interpretations of the Word are inerrant. Southern Baptists have changed their views on slavery, the environment and other matters. What's next.?  It's a guarantee that the SBC will change their "official" view on many things in the years to come. That's not a necessarily a bad thing. Particularly if our current "official" interpretations are proven faulty.

Keeping  in mind our proclivity to change our "official" positions so quickly, we Southern Baptists should always be willing to listen to those with differing views. Further, we should refrain from condemning anyone who see things differently, and we should encourage open and passionate debate. Why? Because we refuse to hold to too high of a view of ourselves in always being accurate in our interpretations of the sacred text.

In His Grace,


Wade

59 comments:

Steven Stark said...

I applaud these changes, and I am impressed. Many of these worldwide problems will draw more people together, of different beliefs, to solve them. That's the hope!

Of course, I have to point out that Scripture is not infallible either - but nonetheless we all have disagreements and hopefully our similar ethical intuitions will win the day.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

Wade - I find it almost comical, that the SBC is calling on private enterprise to be accountable and responsible to a higher standard.

Where is the higher standard when it comes to tracking sexually deviant pastors?

Where is the accountability of many of their mega churches when it comes to finances, and pastor salaries, and nepotism?

I think the SBC should clean their own house, before they dare start pointing fingers at government or corporate America.

Anonymous said...

Personally I could care less about this year's resolution. Its just a bunch of words that mean nothing. It sure doesn't mean a shift in the SBC.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely with the premise about anyone's interpretations not being inerrant and subject to change.

Thankfully, we can change our opinions and interpretations.

God's word is inerrant. The Church (local or collections of churches) are not. That, among other things, is what separates Baptists from those who hold on to infallibility doctrines and such.

I disagree that the 2 resolutions are proof of any change. I believe that the same convention could have passed the 2006 resolution this year. The difference is not a change in substance, but a change in emphasis due to world events. That's what annual resolutions are for. They address what is happening at the time.

I believe that Southern Baptists continue to have misgivings about much in the environmental movement, and that they, like the majority of people now (if the polls are to be believed) have significant doubts about the claims of man made global warming and what to do about it.

Robert Parham has his opinions, as we all do. But I think that many of his opinions and overall philosophy has caused him to make an overly broad statement and conclusion, particularly as it relates to environmentalism.

I suggest that anyone who is interested should go to the Ethics Daily website and watch Mr. Parham award Al Gore with a "Green Bible" and listen to what Mr. Parham says to Mr. Gore and how Gore responds.

The SBC, hopefully, will change in good ways. And, hopefully, it will not change in bad ways. That's why I encourage all my friends to attend the convention every year and vote. If you don't, you lose your franchise. And we'll end up with places like Southern, Southeastern and Midwestern Seminaries before the CR. And an ERLC with an ACLU member at the helm, as we did before the CR.

Louis

Anonymous said...

The 2006 statement is marginally correct on a couple of issues, yet seriously lacking on a couple of others.

1. Radical environmentalism IS NEO-PAGAN.

2. The 2006 statement states confidence in the "private sector". Why? The leaders of companies are fallen men/prone to error and sin. We do not always do the "right thing"

3. For the global warming issue--there has been enough publicity to recently show that GW is a farce perpetrated by those with an agenda

4. God has so created the world that in actuality, the Earth can sometimes/most of the time take care of ittself. Yes there are exceptions, but God is a God of intelligence and design

5. A God who leaves the Earth to itself and does not rule and reign over it is really no God at all I Tim 1:16-17

6. as far as working with those outside of the "conservative evangelical movement" That is up for debate, Remember those outside the conservative evangelical community are often truly neo pagan in their world view even to the point of referring to the Earth as "Mother God" etc This comment goes with #1.

7. We are definitely called to be good stewards of what God has entrusted us to rule over--period

Hopefully, this sheds a little more of a biblical view than the tail wagging the dog

Remember: GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER HIS CREATION

Yes, man can destroy and maim that creation

Thanks for the rant!

BTW, I have spent over 10 yrs in the environmental consulting industry and have seen it all

Joe Blackmon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wade Burleson said...

Steven,

The term "infallible" means that the Scripture, when rightly understood, will never lead anyone astray. I understand that you do not believe the Scripture to be "infallible." I do.

Like you say, however, that doesn't keep me from working with others who don't see the nature of Scripture in the same manner.

What it does keep me from is any doubt that Jesus Christ is the only Savior given to men.

In His Grace,

Wade

Anonymous said...

Anon:

Those are great observations. You should be on the resolutions committee!

Joe:

I do not believe this year marked any such comeback. We need to continue to pray for the health of the cbf. I don't want to see them shut down and have some of those folks and the exhibitors and some of their breakout sessions to leak back over to the sbc.

By the way, if you have watched the unfortunate news over the last day or so, one domain name you should reserve is " giggling sex crazed poodle."

What an unflattering description.

Louis

Wade Burleson said...

Louis,

Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

I appreciate the fact that you don't see the two resolutions as "proof" the SBC isn't changing.

There are other things mentioned in Parham's article, including Page's election in a massive split vote, but I guess we'll all have to wait and see.

Wade Burleson said...

Also Louis,

One must be careful about pointing out that Al Gore is a "giggling sex crazed poodle" and affiliated with the CBF. Were I to list a comparable number of former SBC leaders arrested for homosexual solicitation, child abuse, and the like, I'm afraid we Southern Baptists would have to hang our heads in shame.

Wade Burleson said...

FBC Watchdog,

Point well taken.

Steven Stark said...

"Like you say, however, that doesn't keep me from working with others who don't see the nature of Scripture in the same manner."

That is great - I think that attitude is the hope of humanity. I strive for it as well.

Of course, debate can be very fruitful, when done with the understanding that compassion and charity are far more important than the details. So in that spirit...

"What it does keep me from is any doubt that Jesus Christ is the only Savior given to men."

We will have to hope this is not true. For, when understood in its literal sense, the implications of this idea are absolutely horrific. Luckily, I don't believe there are very good reasons to accept the infallibility of Scripture, which is very good news for mankind. (of course there are a wide variety of Christian world-views with less negative conclusions than evangelical Christianity).

Thanks for the exchange - I ALWAYS enjoy it!

foxofbama said...

BillLeonard had great address on Baptists last night at Charlotte CBF
You can read a full story at abpnew.com and tonycartledge.com
CBF is a better way to be Baptist with conscience, than the SBC of Jesse Helms and Paul Pressler. Joel Gregory has come to that conviction as has Charles Pickering of the Peace Committee's former pastor Robert Marsh.
But I digress.
Quoting the sublime Leonard from last night CBF in Charlotte:

Leonard said he thinks often of Ann Hasseltine Judson, a Congregationalist missionary who, along with her newlywed husband, Adoniram, converted to the Baptist faith while reading the Greek New Testament after setting sail for India in 1812. She wrote a friend apologetically describing the couple as “confirmed Baptists, not because we wished to be, but because truth compelled us to be.”

Leonard said many non-fundamentalist Baptists today find themselves in a similar predicament.

“If conscience dictates, I suppose we can rip the word 'Baptist' out of our literature, paint over it on our church signs or delete it from our Web page, Facebook, Twitter and podcast Internet connections,” Leonard said. “But before we do, let’s admit that there is no generic Christianity divorced from community or without an identity that centers us in the world or the Kingdom of God.”

“Tonight, let’s stop worrying about our name and start reclaiming our witness,” Leonard advised. “Let’s quit fretting over the loss of cultural dominance and turn loose our consciences. Let’s go out as children of God, born again, and again, and again, and again in one of the church’s dysfunctional but gladly grace-filled families; children of God in the water and at the table, in the Word and in the world, children of God knit together by grace.”

Wade Burleson said...

Steven Stark,

One doesn't have to see Christ Jesus as the only Savior given to men as "horrific" if three things are also believed (all of which are supported by Scripture):

(1). The rebellion of man against God is man's fault, and God would remain a just God had he provided NO Savior at all, thus the provision of the Son is cause for great rejoicing, and

(2). An innumerable company from EVERY tribe, kindred, nation and tongue (meaning possibly billions of people from every place in the world) is redeemed by Christ and will be delivered from the just condemnation of their crimes against God, and

(3). Those who have no part and portion in God's mercy and grace though Jesus Christ will not be judged or condemned by God in a capricious manner, but in a righteous, solemn and glorifingly just manner. There will be no pleasure in God in the condemnation of any sinner, but the attributes of His righteousness and justness will be praised for eternity just as we praise a righteous judge who is equitable and impartial on earth. In other words, there's nothing horrifing of a sinner getting from God what He deserves. In the end, it is worthy of praise for God's justice, just as in the end the salvation of His people is worthy of praise for His grace.

Anonymous said...

Wade:

Thanks for the compliment.

My comments about the cbf and Gore are completely separate and unrelated. In fact I don't think Gore is part of the cbf.

You are right about people in any church or group having a failing. I agree completely that does not condemn the group. If that were the case, Judas" failure would have tanked the early church.

I also agree that we can work with others of different beliefs on diffferent issues.

For me, if we are talking about theological education and sending missionaries, we had better be careful that we have a similar view of God"s word. We know nothing spiritually in any doctrinal sense that is not from the Bible, especially the nature of Christ.

Christiane said...

Concerning the topic of Wade's post, I was wondering what the thinking of some Southern Baptists is on the following question:

I. Ethical question: does the Bible give authority to a private-profit company to disregard proven safety procedures in pursuit of profit ?
(as regards 'subdue the Earth')

Anonymous said...

Wade:

Not to drag this out too long, but I noted the reference to Dr. Page's election.

After watching Dr. Page's presidency and appointments, I do not believe that the debate over him becoming the next President of the Executive Committee was anything but a dispute about personality and friendship etc. It was not, in my opinion, about theology and such. Dr. Page did well as SBC President and did not get himself trapped or taken in by any group. His appointments were not moderates.

It's natural for the CR leaders to want someone who was in the fight, primarily because of the trust level. Also, it's such a plum job, friendship issues come into play, as well.

I believe that Dr. Page will do well.

Respectfully, I do not agree with Mr. Stark or Mr. Foxofbama. I do not wish them anything bad. But I cannot imagine, especially in Mr. Stark's case, trying to come up with a satisfactory doctrinal confession to which we both would agree. I, also, would not agree with Dr. Leonard, whom foxofbama apparently likes. Dr. Leonard believes that homosexual rights is the civil rights issue of this century. I would have serious problems, I suspect, in seeing that issue played out theologically.

But the key to all of this, in my opinion, is people being honest and forthright. I suspect that of all the things that disappointed me the most during the CR years was how sometimes that was missing.

Hopefully, in the future, people of different theological persuasions will be honest with one another about theological convictions. That way, we will not again, get ourselves in a situation where we all have an identifying mark (i.e. the name "Baptist"), but significant theological disagreements that cannot be discussed openly.

I think that the present situation is much better. People who enjoy the CBF and the schools it supports are much happier there, I am sure. They would be miserable supporting the sbc schools and doctrinal confessions.

And, likewise, a significant number of folks in the sbc would be miserable in CBF land.

That's why there should be 2, or maybe more groups.

We can all try to get in one big tent, but it will be a tent filled with such fighting and disagreement, that it will not be fun for anyone.

Lydia said...

Wade - I find it almost comical, that the SBC is calling on private enterprise to be accountable and responsible to a higher standard.

Where is the higher standard when it comes to tracking sexually deviant pastors?

Where is the accountability of many of their mega churches when it comes to finances, and pastor salaries, and nepotism?

I think the SBC should clean their own house, before they dare start pointing fingers at government or corporate America.

Fri Jun 25, 02:20:00 AM 2010

Dittos

Eric James Moffett said...

I, for one, see this as a sign of good things to come for our convention. We must seriously engage the world around us in a way that is both Christ-like but also relevant. This does not mean we sacrifice Scriptural integrity! It means that we are sensitive to the Spirit as we encounter the world.

Jeff Rogers said...

I am a bit confused. How is it they arrived at this change of position in such a short time unless it were for purely political reasons. I am not saying it was, but look at the evidence. Since 2006 the scandal behind falsified global climate change information has come out. Many of the leading scientists including Al Gore have been discredited as to the veracity of their "Scientific findings". So why jump ONTO a sinking ship??

It makes no sense unless they are afraid of the high level leadership on the left.

The eschatology of the SBC would tend to support the position as stated by the late J. Vernon McGee, "Why polish the brass on a sinking ship". Meaning that the earth and every thing on it will be burned up by God according to 2 Peter 3. The 2006 resolution seems to be based on this type of thinking.

So has the SBC left their principles based on their theological position? Did they change their theological position? It would be asking too much to think they may have become closet preterists....nope, I don't think so.

So what is the Biblical text driving this change? Or is there only a political agenda in mind?

I ask, not criticizing, I ask honestly not being able to discern which it is.

Jeff Rogers
Colorado Springs

Wade Burleson said...

Jeff,

I don't think it had anything to do with theology.

It's just a change of positions on the environment.

My point is we should all be careful about asserting certain things as ABSOLUTE DIVINE TRUTH, when of course, Christians can have different perspectives (i.e. preterism.)and may change their "perspectives" as the years go by. :)

God alone possesses the truth. We are too fallible to always be right in our undestanding of His truth.

I am willing and able to defend everything I believe God's Word teaches. I just don't want to shout down those who disagree with me.

Jeff Rogers said...

Wade, I understand what you are saying....But what I am asking is what motivated such a drastic change in such a short time. I am inclined to think this is just so much blowing with political winds.

If Republicans sweep in November and A conservative gets the white house in 2012 will they change back again?

There does not appear to be a biblical reason for the shift...only a political one.

Big Daddy Weave said...

The answer is that this is really not a drastic change at least with regard to global warming.

The 2010 resolution does not touch on climate change. Heck, Russell Moore himself testified before the United States Senate in 2007 that there is division among religious organizations on global warming. During his testimony, Moore noted that many of his fellow evangelicals are leery of what he dubbed "drastic" measures (meaning pretty much any piece of legislation proposed by the Democratic leadership).

So, while the language of the 2010 resolution is certainly more friendly to environmentalism, it indicates no shift in approach towards global warming and related policy solutions.

I do think the most significant aspect of the 2010 resolution (vs. 2006 resolution) is the critique of free market capitalism. In the 2006 resolution, economic development/opportunity clearly trumped environmental stewardship at all turns. That's not the case with the 2010 resolution.

The difference between the two resolutions is that the 2010 reads like it was written by Russell Moore (and it likely was as he chaired that committee) while the 2006 resolution reads like it was written by Richard Land (based on the many negative comments he's made about environmentalism over the years).

Michael Ruffin said...

Wade,

(1) It would be interesting to know who wrote (or at least instigated) the 2010 resolution on the environment. I know that young Mr. Merritt has been very involved in (thankfully) trying to change the evangelical mindset on that issue.

(2) You said, "The
term 'infallible' means that the Scripture, when rightly understood, will never lead anyone astray." I submit that had that been what the leaders of the CR meant when they used the term (or the less helpful "inerrant") many of the supposed goals of the CR (safeguarding of orthodoxy, parity of viewpoints on seminary faculties, etc.) could have been undertaken and accomplished with much less (metaphorical) bloodshed and sinful activity (demagogeury, character assassination, etc.). Indeed, many moderates such as myself would (and do) embrace that definition. Unfortunately, the CR was more about infallible interpretations and their use as swords than it was about the infallible Bible.

Anonymous said...

I just ran across something to think about.

http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/5278/53/

Florence in KY

Jon L. Estes said...

"The term 'infallible' means that the Scripture, when rightly understood, will never lead anyone astray."

Hmmmm

So... the bible is only infallible if it is rightly understood. Its infallibility rests upon men's understanding of it.

I've never really thought of the bible depends upon my understanding of it for it to be infallible.

Are you sure you don't want to rephrase this?

Christiane said...

Hi JEFF ROGERS,

You are wondering if the motivation is 'political' or 'biblical' ?

That is a good question, I think.

I found this in the column by Robert Parham:

"Most surprising, the 2010 SBC resolution refuses to trust blindly in private enterprise. It offers a moral critique of the free market. The resolution says

"all industries are...accountable to higher standards than to profit alone;"

Well, if the 'higher standards' are biblical, they might recognize 'the common good' as a value, based on the worth and dignity of man, as made in the image of God.
This would definitely bring the SBC into some ethical alignment with mainstream Christianity on this subject.

If, however, the 'higher standard' mentioned is based solely on affecting those events which control the fortunes of the Republican Party, then 'the common good' is not a value supported by the SBC.

The far-far right wing (extremists-fundamentalists) in all religions will advocate freely for any means to the end that they desire.

I suppose, on the surface, this change of policy does mimic a moderation away from extremism and more toward main line Christian ethics.
There is this remarkable quote: ""Most surprising, the 2010 SBC resolution refuses to trust blindly in private enterprise. It offers a moral critique of the free market. "

ANY brakes put onto the laissez-faire economic beliefs of the far-right are a BIG CHANGE,
which I qualify by saying 'on the surface'.

The motivation for the change?
I don't know.
I won't judge.
But it IS a dramatic departure from something that was extremely political.
But, below the surface?
I honestly don't know.

Steven Stark said...

Hi Wade,

"The rebellion of man against God is man's fault"

Yet God created man with foreknowledge of what would happen. And He created specific individuals knowing that He would have no power to convince them of the path to salvation.



"An innumerable company from EVERY tribe, kindred, nation and tongue (meaning possibly billions of people from every place in the world) is redeemed by Christ"

Why not everyone? Does God lack the power or the will to save everyone? It must be one or the other.

I am surprised that the idea presented here can be comforting when a vast number of people will still be condemned.


"In other words, there's nothing horrifing of a sinner getting from God what He deserves"

"just as we praise a righteous judge who is equitable and impartial on earth."

Your idea of "righteous" must be different than mine. I find it highly unlikely that anyone would really think it righteous for God to eternally condemn a single mom who worked hard to support her kids (or the Dalai Lama, or Ghandi, or your next-door neighbor) but who was certainly not perfect, - and who didn't find the evidence for Christianity compelling.

Not to mention that the idea of Penal Substitution - that an innocent man can be punished for a crime he didn't commit, and that this satisfies the demands of justice - is also fundamentally unjust. We would not think much of a judge on earth who let a murderer go free because someone volunteered to serve his sentence for him.


And absolute intolerance for less-than-perfection is not usually considered a positive attribute here on Earth. Usually the more righteous a person is, the more secure they are, and the more they are able to see the true motivations behind wrong action and are able to help without being personally offended.

One final thought - Which is more horrifying?

1. God will eternally condemn many, many, many people for their imperfections on earth - and because they didn't pick the right religion. They will have no further hope of reprieve. They will suffer forever. Think of a way you have suffered - physically or emotionally. Now imagine God putting that feeling on to you for all eternity. Forever.

2. Everyone dies and that is it. The consequences for our good and bad actions happen here and now.

I do not claim the name "atheist", but atheism is far better news than evangelical Christianity.

Thanks for taking the time to answer me - I know you have a lot of eggs in different baskets! sincerely, Steven

Wade Burleson said...

Jon Estes,

In Tulsa, Oklahoma I worked a suicide of a young man who had cut off his hand with a pocket knife and bled out. His head was laying on an open Bible where he had underlined Jesus words "If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off." So, no, I do not wish to change my definition of Scriptures' infallibility.

The Bible, properly understood, will never lead anyone to commit suicide. The Bible is infallible in its nature--we are not infallible in ours.

The young boy obviously misunderstood, misapplied, and misinterpreted the words of Jesus. You may disagree, but your comment does not lead me to change my definition.

Wade Burleson said...

Steven,

Ultimately I trust you will discover your argument is not with me, but with God.

It is He who said, "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins."

The argument that Christ bearing the sins of His people is a "bloody religion," and makes uncomfortable the civilized, educated, and humane of this world is not an argument that bothers me at all. It simply has not effect on me. In other words, it doesn't change what I see Scripture to teach.

Bottom line: Either God provided His Son for the redemption of His people through the work of Christ in penal substitution, or He did not.

Either way, you or I will answer to God for the way we present Him to the world to be. I'm comfortable with rejoicing in the Savior He has provided for sinners, and you are comfortable in denying the provision was needed or given.

Your position is either right or wrong. As is mine. However, I don't take lightly the difference because ultimately we will answer to He who created us.

If a man dies without seeing any need for Christ, then that man simply better hope his argument is convincing to God.

My simple plea is "nothing to God do I bring, simply to the cross I cling."

Thy Peace said...

Off Topic:

LIBERTY STUDENT NEWS > ERGUN CANER GUILTY: REMOVED AS DEAN FROM SEMINARY

Liberty University announced today that it found that Caner has made “factual statements that are self-contradictory” concerning “dates, names and places of residence.“ The statements included his description of being raised as a Muslim in Turkey, when documents indicate he moved to the United States at the age of 4.
Supposedly his contract was up on June 30th, and will not be renewed to be dean. But he’ll remain as faculty.


Caner removed as head of Liberty University seminary

Liberty University announced today that Ergun Caner will no longer be dean of the university’s Baptist Theological Seminary.
After an investigation conducted by four members of Liberty’s Board of Trustees, the university said it found that Caner has made “factual statements that are self-contradictory” concerning “dates, names and places of residence.“ The statements included his description of being raised as a Muslim in Turkey, when documents indicate he moved to the United States at the age of 4.
His contract as dean of the seminary expires on June 30 and will not be renewed, according to a statement from LU.
Caner will continue to serve on the seminary’s faculty, as a professor.

Scott said...

The concept of the "blood sacrifice" as I've come to understand it is found in our Jewish roots of Christianity.

The only thing that I've not reconciled is this:

When we're blessed, we're supposed to give more while at the same time when we're famished, we're supposed to give more. At what point are we giving enough is a question that I find myself asking from time to time.

And yes, sometimes I even think about it when I'm writing my tithe check.

Jon Estes said...

"The young boy obviously misunderstood, misapplied, and misinterpreted the words of Jesus. You may disagree, but your comment does not lead me to change my definition."

Well I guess, for you, there are times the bible is infallible and times it is not.

I would say no matter how the boy interpreted the bible it was he who failed, not scripture.

Your definition, as stated, puts man's understanding as a prerequisite to the bible being infallible. Please help me clarify that this is your position or not.

I'm not trying to pick a fight or start an argument but wanting clarification to better understand your position here.

If anyone else wants to agree with Wade, I'd like to know. I'm really trying to grasp this. If he is right, I need to change some of my beliefs.

Wade Burleson said...

Jon,

You wrote: "I would say no matter how the boy interpreted the bible it was he who failed, not scripture."

That, Jon, is precisely what I am saying.

The Bible PROPERLY INTERPRETED will not lead you astray. Properly interpreted means understanding it the way God intends it to be understood.

Jon Estes said...

Wade,

Thank you for trying to clarify. I still do not comprehend your definition. Let me make my point and if you would please correct it.

The bible is infallible whether it is properly interpreted or not. Now, men are fallible (like he boy in your illustration) but that has no recourse on the infallibility of scripture.

I see your definition as saying men's interpretation of scripture is what makes it infallible. By your definition it does. This means men's interpretation, when correct, is what makes the bible infallible. That is why I believe your definition is incorrect.

Again, I am trying to understand and not be difficult..

Michael Ruffin said...

A (very) small contribution to the discussion between Wade and Jon:

The Bible is infallible. Human beings are fallible. Therefore human interpretations of infallible Scripture will always be fallible. Thus, the Bible is to be submitted to while its interpreters should remain humble. At the same time, we can with reasonable confidence know that, if we are submissive and open (and especially if we make every effort to read and interpret it through the lens of Jesus), the Holy Spirit of God will lead us to sound if not infallible interpretations of Scripture.

Wade Burleson said...

What Michael said.

:)

Robin Michelle said...

Why does the SBC, and others, even HAVE 'official positions' on non-theology matters?

This has always baffled me. Maybe church leaders should stick to theology and leave the science stuff to real scientist. Church leaders get it wrong far more than they get it right....birth control being abortive, for instance. Only in a tiny percentage is it actually so, and there are ways to avoid it if you are so concerned about the issue.

Don't even get me started on things like NASA finding the 'lost day' or the twisting of evolution theory its all absurd!

Christiane said...

If you want to see a fire storm that took place almost two thousand years ago,
take a look at the writings of the ante-Nicene Patristic Fathers as they dealt with the very early heresies that developed regarding the Church's formation of understanding of the Person of Christ and of the Holy Trinity, based on the Holy Scriptures.

Wow.

Differences in interpretation of the Scriptures goes waaaaay back.

I still get the creeps when I see some Christians today teaching ESS. That was rejected long, long ago in another millenia.

There is nothing new about difficulties arising from differences in subjective interpretations of the Holy Scriptures.

Steven Stark said...

"Ultimately I trust you will discover your argument is not with me, but with God."

Wade - you are currently arguing with the way many humans interpret Scripture - and you have many good points. My argument is that Scripture itself is a human interpretation of God. And some of the attitudes presented thousands of years ago are no longer considered moral today - outside the realm of some conservative religion that is. So if I do not accept the premise that Scripture is infallible, then I am no more arguing with God than you are.

As always, if I am wrong, I would hope that God would correct me.

"The argument that Christ bearing the sins of His people is a "bloody religion," and makes uncomfortable the civilized, educated, and humane of this world is not an argument that bothers me at all."

I assume that any blood sacrifice made in the present day would bother you. I would be surprised if it didn't. So why hold the world in the Scriptures to a lesser standard?

If we use words like "God" and "righteous" and "good" , but the actions described seem to be evil in any other context, then what does that mean? A friend of mine often says that the problem with Calvinism is that it mistakes the devil for God.

Our differences come down to two that I can see here:

1. Whether scripture is infallible or not

2. If it is infallible, whether this is good news or bad news for the world.


"Your position is either right or wrong. As is mine. However, I don't take lightly the difference because ultimately we will answer to He who created us."

This is a version of Pascal's Wager. In years of prayer and personal reflection, I have always come to believe (or been led to believe?) that we have to support what we actually think is true and not what we are afraid might be true.

Thanks again for the discussion - I might post it over on my blog if that's OK. I just really enjoy the back and forth - the gradual refinement of ideas. And you are always a pleasure to those ideas with.



Interesting discussion!

Christiane said...

Hi STEVEN,

Can I recommend the writings of C.S. Lewis to you?

He sought answers with a kind of integrity that I think you might appreciate.

There are many other authors I can recommend for you, but I think you might enjoy reading him.

Best wishes,
L's

Jon Estes said...

Michael,

Infallible interpretations is a whole different matter than infallibility means scripture, when interpreted right will not lead anyone astray.

If Wade was speaking of having infallible interpretations I wish he would have stated that when I was conveying that my understanding was, he was defining infallibility of scripture.

Paula said...

Steven Stark,

Yet God created man with foreknowledge...

Foreknowledge is not causation, though some Christians think so. Are you familiar with the concept of "middle knowledge", a term known among Christians as Molinism? In this view, God has chosen the best of "all possible worlds" to reach a desired outcome. Individual choices within that scenario are hardly God's fault. And if one were to say that since even one person would suffer in hell for eternity because of it then God should not have done it, several problems arise:

1-- Who is to say what God should or should not do? Is he God, or are we?
2-- Is power the only option, or is it possible that God's very nature will not allow him to force anyone to choose whether to stay with God for eternity or to reject him? My contention is that God's nature rules over his sovereignty; that is, his sovereignty does not function in a moral vacuum.
3-- Is God forbidden to create sentient beings unless he forces them to love him? What kind of love would that be? Would you accept puppets or robots loving you when you knew you forced them to do it?

I find it highly unlikely that anyone would really think it righteous for God to eternally condemn...

The key is the nature of God. He is omnipresent, so what is he to do for those who want to get away from him forever? The only possible answer is to create a place of "not God". And since God is the source of all good, then "not God" is devoid of all good. It is just for God to send them there because it's what they chose. To say they must be offered a good place of not God is to ask the impossible and irrational.

Not to mention that the idea of Penal Substitution ...

Please see a small booklet I wrote, called Reconciled: http://books.fether.net/index.php?theBook=3
It explains why Jesus had to die.

And absolute intolerance for less-than-perfection is not usually considered a positive attribute here on Earth...
Perfection is necessary because God is holy. But he met the requirement for us, by becoming human and sacrificing himself. This is way more than even the most kind-hearted judge would do. This isn't about a petty or thin-skinned insecurity but, again, the nature of God, which even he cannot change.

1. God will eternally condemn many, many, many people for their imperfections on earth....

1. No, not because they picked the wrong religion, but because they rejected God's offer of reconciliation through Jesus. What about those who didn't hear? I trust God to make sure that those who would have accepted the gospel would hear it. If we can't trust God, then he isn't God.

2. Baseless assertion, and a very unjust one. When are the uncaught criminals exposed and condemned? When are the tyrants humbled? When are the victims avenged?

Atheism better news? Only if Christians don't know the Good News themselves and present it only as "fire insurance". Atheism is dark and hopeless, unjust per #2 above, and takes away incentive to live for more than oneself. Yes, some atheists live as though they think life has an ultimate purpose, but that's just like Christians who live like there isn't, and like their hypocrisy will never be exposed.

Steven Stark said...

Hi Christiane!

I read "Mere Christianity" around 10 years ago and I remember not being too impressed. I should revisit it at some point. I know it means a lot to many people.. I recently read "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment" by Lewis where he defends retributive justice over utilitarian views of justice and I really disliked it. I think he has to defend this idea to make a traditional view of Penal Substitutionary Theory work, perhaps.

But I love, love, love the Chronicles of Narnia. Many of the ideas of love, honor and faith he puts forth in those stories are really great. I particularly like Puddleglum's speech to the Green Witch in "The Silver Chair". And Aslan's acceptance of the Calorman soldier in "The Last Battle."

thanks!

Steven

Steven Stark said...

Paula,

Thanks for your detailed, thought-out reply! I appreciate the conversation.

Does creation with foreknowlege not equal causation? If God creates a person with no capacity to love Him, then that sounds like causation to me. If the person does have the capacity to love God, then why would God ever shut the door on him for eternity? Why give up hope?

Your three points.

1. Of course - if God is powerful, then He can do what He will. But should we call it good if it does not match what we normally mean by "good"?

2. I like your line of thinking here. But the traditional Christian view is that God will shut out non-believers for eternity. Wouldn't this be forcing them away? Once again, why shut the door forever?

3. I do not think the freedom to forever damn yourself is a freedom that anyone would want to have. I certainly do not want it. And unless you think that finite human beings can comprehend infinite consequences, then it hardly seems responsible to foist that decision on to them. I often argue that it would be like me giving my 2 year old a pair of scissors and then respecting what he decided to do with them - except infinitely worse.


"what is he to do for those who want to get away from him forever?"

This is a key point. In more modern theology, Hell has become a preference that people choose, rather than the punishment it is described as in the Bible. I don't think a person, when confronted with choosing eternity with God or with "not God" would pick "not God" - unless they were mentally ill or did not understand the situation - in which case their choice is not free. When considering the problem of evil and the divine hiddenness of God, don't you think that many people just do not believe? They don't have a preference for anarchy or evil - surely it is not a moral failing to consider conservative evangelical religion to be false? If God gave every person a "road to Damascus" experience, don't you think heaven would fill up a bit more?

"And since God is the source of all good, then "not God" is devoid of all good."

I doubt you think that non-Christians are wholly evil people. There is much good in everyone. Are you suggesting that when non-Christians die, then they lose all their good qualities? That the "God" that is in them, abandons them? I doubt you will find many non-Christians who dislike their good qualities and would like to reject them. If God is truly good, who would really reject Him? Rather, most people who are not Christians do not equate the good they see in their life with the classical theistic God of evangelical Christianity. If God is "goodness", then there is good evidence that the God described in the Old Testament is not God. (I don't discount the Bible. I love the Bible. But it's a man-made link in the chain of our understanding, not ultimate divine revelation).

(cont.)

Steven Stark said...

(cont.)

"Perfection is necessary because God is holy"

Please define "holy". If it does not include all the attributes that Paul gives to love in 1 Corinthians 13, then is it good? "love never ends" Does God's love end for the damned? If not, why close the door forever? Holiness, as defined here, sounds like it could be evil just as easily as it could be good.

"Atheism is dark and hopeless, unjust per #2 above, and takes away incentive to live for more than oneself."

This is not the opinion of the many, many atheists who volunteer their time and energy everyday to make the world a better place. And Evangelical Christianity is not necessarily just. It just makes the main reason for doing good that God will punish you if you don't. An atheist, or religious liberal, might think there are actual reasons for doing right and wrong here and now rather than simply because we will be punished later. And when things are unjust - I think we have all been taught that life isn't fair.

Thanks again for the conversation! And please know, as a side note, that I do not reject Christianity or religion- rather just its evangelical, conservative incarnation.

Paula said...

Steven,

You're very welcome.

Does creation with foreknowlege not equal causation?...

I don't believe it does equal causation. If I invent a game and set the rules, I am not determining who wins. Now of course we didn't have any choice but to play this game of life, yet not even God could choose whether or not to exist, and how should he ask us this question before we exist? Yet at the same time, we can't expect God to not be allowed to create sentient beings, just because they might make poor choices. I view all this as something like children playing in a fenced-in playground. They are limited in that they cannot go beyond the fence, and there are rules against hitting, cuttin in line, etc. But the children are not told what to play; they are not micromanaged. Yet if some children choose to break the rules, or jump the fence, the adults are not to blame.

And I believe God created each person with the capacity, the free choice, to either accept or reject him.

1. Of course - if God is powerful, then He can do what He will. But should we call it good if it does not match what we normally mean by "good"?

Where did we get our sense of "good"? If we can judge God, then he is below us. Yet at the same time, since I believe we get our sense of morality from him, it stands to reason that he would not violate them. We can hardly think God would live on a lower level of justice that us fallible humans. So then the question is whether we have all knowledge, such that if justice does not happen in this life, we know it will never happen in the next either. That is, we can't say that God will not right every wrong eventually, even if it only happens in the next life. So there will be ultimate justice, and as I said, we have to trust God for this. That's what faith is all about; it proves that we are not "fair weather friends" to God. So when we ask what is good, we need to consider eternity as well as this life.

2… Wouldn't this be forcing them away? Once again, why shut the door forever?

Some argue that it's because God (and even human spirits) will go on forever. But I wouldn't be satisfied with that answer, and we don't have enough information upon which to answer that question. But here again we either trust God to be just, or we don't.

3. I do not think the freedom to forever damn yourself is a freedom that anyone would want to have...

Of course nobody wants that. But it has to be on God's terms. And what is he asking that's so hard? He pays the price and only asks us to trust him. How can this be unfair? To use your analogy, it would be like giving the child the scissors, then asking for them back because you can be trusted with them and handle them safely. Sometimes a good parent has to give a child a limited chance to fail, but if the child stubbornly refuses to give back the scissors, they can't rightly blame the parents for their pain. And remember, we are not as innocent as children. God only holds us responsible for what we can grasp.

I don't think a person, when confronted with choosing eternity with God or with "not God" would pick "not God" - unless they were mentally ill or did not understand the situation -

I disagree. Many choose "not God" out of pure pride. They knowingly choose out of hatred for God, regardless of what it may cost. These are the ones who defy God to his face. But many more reject God out of ignorance, and this is partly the fault of Christians who are unprepared to defend the faith and articulate these kinds of answers. Our "Christian education" is pathetic, a school where no one ever graduates. I rant about that often in my blog. Yet at the same time, I believe that God is not only just but compassionate and understanding of our weaknesses and failures, and will see to it that any who would choose him has the chance.

(continued...)

Paula said...

(... continued)

I doubt you think that non-Christians are wholly evil people. There is much good in everyone. Are you suggesting that when non-Christians die, then they lose all their good qualities?

Not at all. I said that the PLACE of not God is devoid of good. But many people, even Christians, do not know the difference between saved/lost and judgment. What I mean is that our fate is sealed the moment we die, so what is judgment for? Certainly not to decide whether we go to heaven or hell. Instead, judgment is for payback for how we lived. Those who go to heaven will possibly lose rewards, while those who go to hell will get a degree of suffering in line with how they lived. But we don't have much detail beyond what we can deduce from general principles. So this question cannot be answered completely, but yet again, I appeal to God's nature and choose to trust him.

Please define "holy"

Technically, it simply means "set apart for some purpose". What I mean by it here is that God is faultless and perfect. As for whether God loves the damned, scripture tells us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and that he loves the whole world. We have no detail on what that means for eternity for the lost.

This is not the opinion of the many, many atheists who volunteer their time and energy everyday to make the world a better place.

Why? Isn't this inconsistent with "nature red in tooth and claw"? If we are all a cosmic accident, there is no purpose, no altruism that matters. Who is to say that helping to make the world nicer is "good"? Some people think they should molest children; can we ask them? Why not? Where does morality come from, if it's accidental? Does the majority rule? What if the majority thinks cannibalism is a virtue? We have to remember that not everyone shares our opinions on morality.

Thanks again for the conversation! And please know, as a side note, that I do not reject Christianity or religion- rather just its evangelical, conservative incarnation.

You're quite welcome. :-) And while I don't especially like being broad-brushed (I am both evangelical and conservative), I agree that The Institution as I call it, or Churchianity, has a lot of faults. It might surprise you to know that I stopped "going to church" after 47 years of faithful attendance and active participation.

Steven Stark said...

"we can't expect God to not be allowed to create sentient beings, just because they might make poor choices."

But if God has foreknowledge, then He knows which people will make poor choices.

"it would be like giving the child the scissors, then asking for them back because you can be trusted with them and handle them safely."

But it is completely irresponsible to give a child of 2 a pair of scissors - not matter what stipulations. It seems that to give a finite human being the capability to damn him/herself is even worse.

"God only holds us responsible for what we can grasp."

Then no one would go to hell. For we cannot grasp such things. And I still find it incoherent that a person would willingly choose an eternity of misery unless they cannot grasp the situation (as you mentioned) or unless they are mentally ill. Do people who choose to torture themselves seem right in the head to you? Or do they need help? And who can free a person from this condition except God's intervention?

"These are the ones who defy God to his face"

How can a person defy God to his face? Many people deny the idea of God as put forth by conservative religion. I could say that your belief in Hell is an act of defiance towards the true God of never-ending, persistent love who never fails and never gives up on anyone. Why not? You may not believe in this God, but you wouldn't say you were denying God because we are defining God differently. And many simply do not believe that God exists (at least the God of classical theism, or Yahweh in particular). Many people don't think unicorns exist. That doesn't mean they don't like unicorns or the idea of unicorns. I like unicorns.....

" I said that the PLACE of not God is devoid of good"

I am not sure I am understanding you here. If the place of "not God" is devoid of all good, and all people have some degree of goodness in them on earth, then wouldn't it make sense that the personalities of the damned would have to be changed and that all their good qualities would have to be either extinguished (or saved?). What of the Dalai Lama would be left if his good qualities were extinguished?

"Does the majority rule?"

Not necessarily. But if it did, why? Because it is powerful, right? So if God rules, and it is simply because He is powerful, then there is nothing inherently more just than if the majority ruled. We are getting into the Euthyphro Dilemma here, which I love to discuss, but it's a different offshoot. I will just say that Christians who claim that God grounds morality, still believe that right and wrong is written on our hearts (or else God's laws would seem completely arbitrary to us). This means we must rely on our ethical intuitions and our reasoning to ground morality, and this is no different than what non-Christians believe.

"We have to remember that not everyone shares our opinions on morality."

This is true. But I am not sure that threatening a person with after-life punishment really changes the morality of something. We have to ask if morality is real and consequential here and now or if it's not real and consequential and is only grounded in an afterlife punishment.

I sympathize with having difficulty attending church - when you think about these things as much as you obviously do, it can be difficult to find a community sometimes!

Paula said...

But if God has foreknowledge, then He knows which people will make poor choices.

So you're saying God cannot be moral if he can't come up with a possible world where no one chooses poorly? Then even in this scenario God has not really allowed anyone the choice to reject him. And if that's the case, why bother with letting history play out, and just create people in their final state of already having made the choice?

But it is completely irresponsible to give a child of 2 a pair of scissors

We are not children, and we are still only responsible for that which we can comprehend. Then the question is what we can comprehend, but since God has told us we are responsible for choosing, and what the choices are and their consequences, then how can we whine about not knowing? A child has no concept of consequences, but we do. And the fact that we are here discussing the possibility of people spending eternity in hell proves that we understand the choices.

Then no one would go to hell. For we cannot grasp such things.

I disagree. God told us point-blank what the choices are or we wouldn't be discussing them. You and I understand that eternal hell awaits the lost, therefore we have grasped the fact that this is possible, and we are thus responsible.

And I still find it incoherent that a person would willingly choose an eternity of misery unless they cannot grasp the situation

And I still know that many have willingly done so while sane. It's pride, the unwillingness to let God rule over us. It reminds me of the very first Star Trek episode, where Capt. Pike was captured by aliens who created a virtual paradise for him. They were amazed that he would rather live in a real world of suffering than a pretend world of bliss, and Pike said something to the effect that people don't like having "gods" over them, even if they're benevolent. Many people I've met online have stated that they would rather be tortured for all eternity than bow to God.

(continued...)

Paula said...

(... continued)

How can a person defy God to his face?

Ask Adam. ;-) Or Satan. And God has given evidence of his existence, though many just deny it. I often ask how the SETI project expects to identify intelligent communication when they deny that DNA is a code. Either the univers screams "design" or it's the most amazing accident, and if the latter, then nothing can ever be called "intelligent". That's just how I see it.

What of the Dalai Lama would be left if his good qualities were extinguished?

What do you think the residents of hell will do for all eternity? Feed the poor? What "good qualities" will matter? Your argument is based upon the premise that goodness is not relative to God but only to ourselves.

So if God rules, and it is simply because He is powerful, then there is nothing inherently more just than if the majority ruled.

I disagree, because God is just by definition, and morality is relative to him. Without God as the reference point, everything is relative, and morality is a mere opinion. I believe goodness only has meaning in relationship to God as a reference. Saying people are good is like saying which direction is "north" in outer space. Everything depends upon a reference point.

But I am not sure that threatening a person with after-life punishment…

This "choose me or die" is a straw man, as I've tried to explain. The fact of God's nature eternal and omnipresent is why there can only be "God" and "not God"; there are no other possibliities. This is not God being mean but simply God being constrained by his own nature.

I sympathize with having difficulty attending church - when you think about these things as much as you obviously do, it can be difficult to find a community sometimes!

Actually, my convictions about church attendance have nothing to do with community. I love to be with other believers, but neither Jesus nor the apostles ever set up "church" as we know it. Jesus said "The time has come for people to worship God in spirit and truth, not in this place or that". The apostles said we are the Temple of God, and we have God's Holy Spirit within us. There is no need for the external trappings of religion. (I love the irony of people saying "this isn't a religion but a relationship" while they're standing in a sanctuary and talking to a clergyman.) But that's another big topic for another day.

Steven Stark said...

"And if that's the case, why bother with letting history play out, and just create people in their final state of already having made the choice?"

Very good question.

"So you're saying God cannot be moral if he can't come up with a possible world where no one chooses poorly? Then even in this scenario God has not really allowed anyone the choice to reject him."

I am not sure this follows. Why couldn't God actualize a possible world in which every person freely chooses Him? If everyone makes the same choice, then does it negate the freedom in that choice?

Better yet, why not create the perfect combination of freedom and determinism by never giving up on anyone? People would have free choice, but given eternity, surely everyone would be ready for everlasting love, for finding the purpose for which they were created, at some point.


"And the fact that we are here discussing the possibility of people spending eternity in hell proves that we understand the choices."

I can discuss infinity, but I cannot understand it.

"You and I understand that eternal hell awaits the lost, therefore we have grasped the fact that this is possible, and we are thus responsible."

I am not sure I follow here. I don't understand how eternal hell can await the lost if God is all-loving - unless we redefine hell as a preference rather than a punishment. I am also not sure how grasping the fact of a possibility equates to understanding the weight of that possibility and the information required to make that decision. I can grasp the possibility that the world might end tomorrow, but I doubt I understand the weight of that possibility - and I think I have no good reasons to think the world will end tomorrow.


"Many people I've met online have stated that they would rather be tortured for all eternity than bow to God."

It all depends on the definition. If God is a powerful despot who does not match up with our feelings of what is good, but commands the death of children (like in the Old Testament) then perhaps no moral person would bow to this God whole-heartedly. They might to save their own skin I suppose, but perhaps that is not real bowing. If God is goodness itself, compassion, love - then who would not submit to this - except perhaps those who are emotionally damaged or mentally impaired or sociopathic. And who could liberate one from such bondage? Perhaps only God.

I will leave the intelligent design argument for another time.

"Your argument is based upon the premise that goodness is not relative to God but only to ourselves."

If good is only good because God says so - then it is arbitrary. It could be anything. If God declared killing children good, would you accept this as good? Of course He would never do this because it would be against His nature (don't read the book of Joshua....), but how do we know it would be against his nature? Because of our own thoughts and feelings about what is good. So even if we try to split the horns of the Euthyphro dilemma by declaring God to be bound by his own nature to be good - we still define that goodness in terms of our own feelings and thoughts - else it would seem arbitrary to us. And if we appeal to mystery - we can't see all ends so we don't know what will end up being good - then we are effectively declaring God's actions arbitrary from our point of view. In other words God could command anything, and no matter how evil it seemed, we would still use the word "good" for it. How would we then choose to act in the world? Our actions, which we would try to make good ones, would not match God's - the supposed grounding of what is good.


Thanks for the conversation - Good stuff.

Paula said...

I am not sure this follows. Why couldn't God actualize a possible world in which every person freely chooses Him? If everyone makes the same choice, then does it negate the freedom in that choice?

I don't know if you're familar with the story of Job, but it says that Satan told God that Job was only righteous because God protected him. And God allowed Job to suffer at Satan's hand, just to prove a point: that Job would pass the test. But suppose God devised a possible world where Job was not tested. Don't you think that Job, Satan, and a whole lot of people who have read the story would have missed out on a major chunk of character-building? Love isn't love, and faith isn't faith, if it wilts in the face of adversity. Should God devise a possible world where character is never developed?

I can discuss infinity, but I cannot understand it.

I didn't say we could grasp infinity, but that we could grasp the magnitude of the choice before us.

I don't understand how eternal hell can await the lost if God is all-loving - unless we redefine hell as a preference rather than a punishment

Is love ignorant of justice? What about the victims of criminals? Can God love both the criminal and the victim without being unjust?

It all depends on the definition. If God is a powerful despot who does not match up with our feelings of what is good, but commands the death of children (like in the Old Testament) then perhaps no moral person would bow to this God whole-heartedly

By their own testimony, they knowingly defy God and prefer eternal torment over swallowing their pride. This isn't a matter of definitions but cold, dead defiance. And again, who defines "good" or "moral"? What is the reference point? And children die by disease and accident to this very day; isn't God cruel for allowing that? Or might there be a greater good in eternity? What about testing the character of those left behind?

If good is only good because God says so - then it is arbitrary.

Of course it's arbitrary. Is it any less so if we do the saying so, instead of God? As for his nature, scripture is his communication to us; he has told us what we need to know about him, what we can grasp. We don't get it from ourselves. He has fulfilled prophecies and raised Jesus from the dead, complete with over 500 eyewitnesses; what else is he supposed to do? What would it take? What would be accepted as proof, that a die-hard atheist couldn't explain away?

Thanks for the conversation - Good stuff.

You're quite welcome. It's a good mental workout. ;-)

Steven Stark said...

"Should God devise a possible world where character is never developed?"

If everyone chose correctly, then wouldn't our characters be good? Does God need to create damned souls to build the character of others?

"I didn't say we could grasp infinity, but that we could grasp the magnitude of the choice before us."

I thought that the consequences of the choice were infinite.

"Can God love both the criminal and the victim without being unjust?"

So God does not love the criminal? Then why did he send his Son in your theology?

"And children die by disease and accident to this very day; isn't God cruel for allowing that? Or might there be a greater good in eternity? What about testing the character of those left behind?"

It it difficult to see the suffering of a child being justified by it being a test for another person. I think faith in an ultimate good can be a good thing, but it's dangerous ground to make definite claims about things like that.

I will also leave the proofs of Scripture, prophecies fulfilled - 500 eyewitnesses etc. for another time. Whether there is a good case or not for the reliability of Scripture is a different conversation.

"Of course it's arbitrary. Is it any less so if we do the saying so, instead of God?"
"We don't get it from ourselves."

But we have no choice but to get it from ourselves. We are born with a brain in our head and a heart in our chest, not a Bible in our hand.

Would you mind answering a few questions regarding your opinion of Heaven (God) and Hell (not God) as I find this the most interesting part of our conversation so far.

1. Can atheists have good qualities? Fruits of the spirit?

2. Do all good qualities come from God?

3. If so, do atheists lose these good qualities when they go to the place of "not God"?

4. If so, where do these good qualities go? And is the atheist recognizable anymore as the person they once were?

5. If they do not lose these good qualities, then is part of God in hell since he is the source of all things good?

Paula said...

"If everyone chose correctly, then wouldn't our characters be good? Does God need to create damned souls to build the character of others?"

God doesn't need to do anything. ;-) The question is whether we are all-knowing, such that we are sure there is a possible world where no one will suffer. All I can say for sure is that this world is the one God chose, therefore it must be the best possible world. Otherwise we'd have to wonder why anything good happens, if God is not supremely moral and both just and loving. And again, if God is not the reference point, there is none, and nothing can be called "good" or "better" because it's someone's mere opinion.



"I thought that the consequences of the choice were infinite."

Yes, that's what I'm saying. We know that we will spend eternity in one of two places, and we are capable of choosing between them.



"So God does not love the criminal? Then why did he send his Son in your theology?"

I wasn't clear on that, sorry. God does love the world. But he would not be just if he treated the criminal and the victim the same. To ignore crimes is hardly loving, is it. So what I meant was that he would be showing no love for the victim if he withheld justice.

"

It it difficult to see the suffering of a child being justified by it being a test for another person. I think faith in an ultimate good can be a good thing, but it's dangerous ground to make definite claims about things like that."

It's equally dangerous to presume that God must answer to his creatures. I think we need to remember that God sees a much larger "world" than we do.



"But we have no choice but to get it from ourselves. We are born with a brain in our head and a heart in our chest, not a Bible in our hand."

Why do you think God had people repeat and write down his words? Are we born with all the knowledge we will ever need, such as how to eat, bathe, dress ourselves, talk? We have no problem saying children must depend on adults to tell them these things, so why is it wrong for God to make people depend on him for knowledge about him?

As to your questions, let me try to explain this way. As I said, "good" and "bad" need a reference point, of which God is the ultimate one. But the decision point between heaven and hell is not good/bad, but faith/non-faith. Which place you go is decided the moment you die, based solely on what you did with Jesus. (Of course this is for the time since Jesus came; before that is a different story, as scripture tells us; "In times past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent"). After that comes judgment, and all will be judged according to their deeds. If you were saved and did something bad, you will lose rewards. If you're lost and did something good, you will lose a degree of suffering. That's the best I can understand from what God has told us. My description of hell as "the place of not God and therefore not good" is probably too simplistic, but the idea is that it's a place to get away from God. I won't pretend I have all the details of what that means, but at the same time I don't think atheism has the omniscience required to say God has not met the qualifications of ultimate justice and love. That's all I've been trying to say.

And quickly:
Yes, atheists can exhibit many fine qualities. There is someone in this blog who can attest to that. And it puts many Christians to shame. How would we tell them from the fruit of the Spirit? We're human and can be easily fooled. But rest assured that God knows.


"Bad" is the absence of "good" just as "dark" is the absence of "light".

Paula said...

Sorry, that last line was meant to be up with a previous paragraph.

Steven Stark said...

"The question is whether we are all-knowing, such that we are sure there is a possible world where no one will suffer. All I can say for sure is that this world is the one God chose, therefore it must be the best possible world. Otherwise we'd have to wonder why anything good happens, if God is not supremely moral and both just and loving. And again, if God is not the reference point, there is none, and nothing can be called "good" or "better" because it's someone's mere opinion."



But if words like good, best, better, etc. only have meaning because of what God says is so, then any world God created would be the best possible world - even if there was rampant suffering all the time with no relief. In your definition the words "good", "better", etc. lose all relevance to how they are used in the everyday world. They are God's "mere opinion". And I supposed they could change at any time. Perhaps God's nature changes? Perhaps the rules will be different tomorrow? Is consistency a virtue? What if God declares that it isn't? We have no firm footing on which to move forward - perhaps faith will be declared evil tomorrow? On the contrary, a relative position is one of strength. It doesn't mean everything changes all the time, it means that everything depends on everything else. Like a building where every bit is required to keep it stable. And that doesn't leave no room for some "necessary", consistent theme, but that's another conversation I think.

"But the decision point between heaven and hell is not good/bad but faith/no faith"

This doesn't seem to support your view of heaven = God, hell = not God where God equals all goodness. As you say many atheists have many very good qualities, and assuming they will be the same people in hell, I'll have to surmise that there will be some aspect of God in hell - and of course that a "universal reconciliation" where "God is all in all" will never really happen in your view. And yes, perhaps the Dalai Lama will be trying to help the poor in hell - why not?.

In conclusion, I think that your overall view, as I understand it in this context, shows a confirmation bias. When a thought affirms classical Christianity, it is good. When it does not affirm it, then we are putting our own judgement and ethical intuitions above God.

Your view requires us to ignore our ethical intuitions and our own judgements when making decisions about various views of the Bible and of God. But we can't even begin to accept or deny various views about the Bible or God without our own ethical intuitions and judgement. It's self-refuting.

I will leave the discussion here. You are welcome to the last word - I will publish it on my blog along with our other conversation. Thanks again for a spirited and, most importantly, good-hearted discussion! I appreciate your efforts towards a coherent theology. Good luck to you and perhaps we will converse again some time soon,

Steven

Paula said...

"But if words like good, best, better, etc. only have meaning because of what God says is so, then any world God created would be the best possible world"

I disagree. The best possible world is a matter of God's choice among all possible worlds; he only chose one out of many. The fact that God allows people to be sentient beings means there can be less than optimal worlds.

"In your definition the words "good", "better", etc. lose all relevance to how they are used in the everyday world. They are God's "mere opinion"."

Yes, as I've said, they are arbitrary according to God's choice. But whose choice would not be arbitrary? And no, God cannot change, although his boundaries for us may change. The rules have changed through history, but it has been a path to an end, and that end is Jesus Christ; he is the final revelation. Think of it as good parenting; you don't give a toddler the same responsibilities as a teen. And if God cannot be considered "firm footing", who or what would you propose as a replacement? God is not fickle like the god of Islam whose sovereignty does operate in a moral vacuum.

"On the contrary, a relative position is one of strength. It doesn't mean everything changes all the time, it means that everything depends on everything else."

I'm sorry, I don't see this as an improvement over the fact that God himself never changes, and that he has brought us to a point in time by the path of his choosing. What you're describing is the opposite of a firm footing, something like a world where the laws of physics may vary from day to day. A world where nothing can ever be depended upon is completely meaningless and purposeless. Aren't you arguing that "good" is meaningless then? Would it be okay with you if tomorrow child molesters were seen as heros?

"This doesn't seem to support your view of heaven = God, hell = not God where God equals all goodness. As you say many atheists have many very good qualities, and assuming they will be the same people in hell, I'll have to surmise that there will be some aspect of God in hell - and of course that a "universal reconciliation" where "God is all in all" will never really happen in your view. And yes, perhaps the Dalai Lama will be trying to help the poor in hell - why not?."

(continued...)

Paula said...

(... continued)


The only reason we can claim being "good" is by Jesus' imputed righteousness; that's why he came. But this imputation is not forced on anyone; you have to choose it by your own free will. So the only truly "good" people are those who are in Christ, and they will all be in heaven. And everyone in hell will be "poor" and needy, but no one will be given aid. Hell is not a picnic or a party.

"In conclusion, I think that your overall view, as I understand it in this context, shows a confirmation bias. When a thought affirms classical Christianity, it is good. When it does not affirm it, then we are putting our own judgement and ethical intuitions above God…"

I disagree. My view is based upon the evidence for Jesus having risen from the dead, and for more reasons than I can put in a blog comment, that he is God. Therefore all things are to be measured by him, and he has told us his values and requirements in the Bible. In contrast, the foundational "givens" of atheism are based upon nothing outside of ourselves. And since we only know a portion of what God knows, we have to trust him for the rest. Faith is all God asks from us; faith in who he is.

And in all honesty, I think even the most hardened atheist has to admit that by their own definition, they too suffer from a confirmation bias. They begin with the premise that human reason is the measure of all things, such that whatever doesn't match up is "bad". I don't see any difference between my alleged confirmation bias and yours.

"Your view requires us to ignore our ethical intuitions and our own judgements when making decisions about various views of the Bible and of God."

Again, I disagree. You keep ignoring the fact that God is not limited to this life or dimension; your view requires us to make the finite the judge of the infinite. I've explained these things to the best of my ability, but your own philsophies are far less satisfiying IMHO. I could ask you how anything could ever come into exsitence out of nothing, or how a giant explosion could possible result in complex order, or how information can ever arise by chance. Atheists typically brush off the question of origins because they claim they are only concerned with change. But if they can ignore questions about origins, they have no right to demand answers about origins from theists; it's a two-way street. This all ultimately comes down to whose presuppositions are better, and I've never seen an atheist give a satisfying defense of theirs.

I agree that we've pretty much exausted this, since arguing about presuppositions can never be resolved. And I thank you as well for being calm and reasonable, unlike so many other atheists I've encountered. But let me leave you with this:

I am a Christian for one reason: Jesus rose from the dead. I believe he is God in the flesh, and I accept the testimony about him. I believe he is trustworthy, and I relate to him as family. This is no academic exercise for me, but something much more, a relationship with my creator. I want to spend eternity in his presence, and try my best to encourage (not frighten or lay guilt) others to do the same. Being reconciled with God is what this is all about, and it happens by believing what Jesus said about himself, about his rising from the dead. I don't have all the answers, any more than anyone else, including atheists. But I have a package that makes sense to me, and I look forward to eternity as a time when "bad" is no longer remembered for those who did the one, simple, free thing required to escape evil. I hope someday soon you'll come to see that God really does love you.