Thursday, May 17, 2018

Some Notes on Greg Boyd's Crucifixion of the Warrior God Volume 2

Pretty much the same thing as my last post, just on Volume 2. Maybe I should note that these are just stream-of-consciousness initial reactions and hence won't be very polished and might seem too negative to some. But that should have been obvious from the previous installment! In any case, I actually really liked this volume as well, despite the numerous concerns listed below. Notes (again, mostly not very understandable without consulting the book at the same time):

General notes:
-Both volumes have been riddled with innumerable typos - spelling errors, incorrect words, missing words or letters, etc. The endorsements in the first volume contained a number of errors and it just went on from there. I don't know if anyone actually proofread the book or they just didn't care, but it makes it look very unprofessional and this book certainly deserves better than the distinct lack of care it received in this area.
-It's funny that Boyd doesn't seem to often like others using philosophical considerations to determine certain things unless they are his own and for his own conclusions.
-Still demands other interpretations "bear witness" to the cross, whatever that might mean.
-A real question: Non-violence. What is meant by "violence"? What is the scope of this non-violence supposed to be? Is the principle only supposed to apply between humans or are humans supposed to treat other livings non-violently as well? But which other living things? What about plants, fungi, or microbes? Some animals or all? If violence is simply doing harm to or killing a living organism, then we and Jesus would all be violent by necessity since this happens just be living.
-I'm still not entirely sure what "deep literalism" or the "Conservative Hermeneutic" from last volume are supposed to be. Especially when applied to stories when they are thought of as fictional/fables/etc.
-Boyd doesn't seem to see that non-order comes in two varieties - simply not-yet ordered and positively anti-order. So he tends to interpret all OT imagery of non-order as anti-order and associates it with Satan.

On specific pages:
647-648 - Moves way too fast. Generally could be clearer. It seems like the crucifixion itself is being identified as identical with various other aspects of salvation or things normally thought of as consequences of it. So I'm not sure what's going on here or why. It's really hard to follow the line of thought.
650 - 'we must understand every divine accommodation to be a reflection of the self-emptying agape-love of the eternal triune God.' It's not clear what "self-emptying" means here, but is this principle so because every divine action is to be understood in this way? Or is this some special principle here? If the latter, why? If the former, it's not clear what use is going to necessarily follow without smuggling in one's own assumptions here. We'll see.
652-682 - Almost all of this is useless and irrelevant - just a chance to grind an axe against non-open theists.
652-663 - Why is this here? It doesn't deal with defenses of classical theism or responses to his "this is not enough" objection, etc. Also doesn't deal with views that only take parts of classical theism on board. For instance, transcending time and immutable yet also immanent in time, relational, and passible (since immutability and impassibility are definitely not the same thing nor is temporal change required for God to have a real relationship with us or be passible - x affecting y and x changing y are distinct in that changing is one way of being affected but not the only one). On another point, knowledge or experience of God is filtered not simply through Israel's moral beliefs but also its religious or metaphysical ones as well. Hence God's frequent modelling by Israel as a pagan god (that is, using pictures of models of God as used by ANE for gods in general). So accommodation in that sense pretty much guaranteed.
666 - A bit question-begging here it looks like...
667 - Boyd says we must "ground all our thinking about God from start to finish in the revelation of God in the crucified Christ as witnessed to in Scripture." Ground in what sense? Why? What about natural revelation? Similarly for "anchored". If we did this, he asks, would we ever think God was immutable? Sure - why not? Humans suffer and change. Christ was/is human - so he can too. In that sense, so can God. But God can still be immutable in his divinity. A lot of rhetorical, perhaps question-begging, questions here with not too much argument. Seems to confuse ordinary language with metaphysical interpretations thereof (specifically, Boyd's metaphysical interpretations, based on his own prior philosophical convictions - not coming directly from Scripture, despite his own insistence).
668 - Doesn't taking on a human nature mean a change? No, except in the creation.
671 - Not clear what "simple" means here. Looks like it should be more than "lack of parts" but this isn't explained. Also, not clear why an unchanging God "bridging the 'ground of being' with the contingent and ever-changing world" is supposed to be unintelligible. What's supposed to be so especially nonsensical about it? What does this "bridging" even mean anyway?
672 - 1st sentence. The "then" doesn't follow from the "if"!
673 - You can get about everything Boyd wants without jettisoning immutability.
674 - According to Boyd, the Bible is more interested in God's moral qualities than metaphysical, which makes the previous discussions even stranger.
680 - Again, confusing various issues with the issue of power.
686-687 - Some question-begging here, it looks like.
693-696 - Girard. I would like to sometime see some real evidence in favor of his stuff. Is it true?
722-725 - Parts of this seem a bit off. Partly because of a reliance on a bad translation of Galatians 3:24.
731-734 - I don't really see what the biblical evidence is that all these laws of passages were meant to be mere object lessons. Boyd quotes from a bunch of people who agree with him, but there isn't really any biblical evidence of convincing depth on display here. So why accept this as opposed to just saying "I don't know why this is here"? I guess relying on that mistranslation again? Other explanations seem to fit actual biblical evidence better. It seems right for some stories, though...
739 - "It follows that" - no, it really doesn't.
772 - The argument vs. immutability in terms of Jesus' feeling divine abandonment isn't very good. It wrongly associates it with Nestorianism (though, since Boyd seems to be leaning into monophysitism, I guess a more central orthodox view would seem more Nestorian). More unnecessary swipes at non-open theists, in other words.
894 - Confused - if the future exists and God knows it from eternity there is no fact of what they will choose eternally preceding it. That fact, if facts exist and have any location at all, is going to be located in my actually performing that action, not as some prior thing constraining or forcing it. Boyd treats such facts as if they were mere programs that somehow the universe is being made to run, which is completely baseless. What he's doing is, in a sense, smuggling his own views of the future into opponents' views and getting the obvious results from that. Why is this here?
908 - Says God restrains, takes options away, but this is supposed to be somehow non-coercive and not violating free will. That sounds good, but doesn't really elaborate enough to see whether what he says is in fact true. How God does this matters, but Boyd doesn't really say how. But we need to know how in order to be able to assess whether it is really noncoercive,etc. or not. He says his view is clear but it isn't - at least not here. Doesn't really address the objection, I think.
923 - Whether we can imagine something and whether it is true or false are two different things.
936-938 - Not really relevant. Guilt-by-association/appeal to supposed consequences not really pertinent. Issue is whether it's true.
965-968 - Argues based on different sources, ignoring his earlier dictum that he was going to deal with the final form of the text. The question is not what sources were like or meant but what does it mean as it is in fact now? What is the meaning with these put together as they are now? Literal hornet  argument not very plausible. No evidence that there was going to be a hornet annoying them so much they would leave of their own accord.
976 - Something's been bugging me and at this point it became clear. Despite his protestations that he is bracketing out historical-critical stuff and focusing on the story itself, he seems to me at least to be confusing the two. He wants to say the conquest was not God's idea. But that's a statement about what really happened - that there was a conquest and that God wanted something and that the Israelites misunderstood. But Boyd is saying he isn't talking about real life, just the story. In the story itself, however, Boyd wants to say it really was God's idea. But he's supposed to be talking about the story. But he's not. That's a bit disorienting.
979-980 - What God said vs. what was heard. Better, I think, and more in tune with inspiration is to distinguish what God said (which is something filtered through culture, etc.) vs. what God meant. Maybe he said "kill" (because that is the word the human author chose in rendering God's will) and meant something other than kill. So it's not that God didn't say that but his less violent meaning was communicated through a more violent human filter.
1001 - "I trust my treatment ...has demonstrated how..." No, not really.
1013-1014 - The identification of Job's accuser and the chaotic force of Sea is not completely convincing - he doesn't seem to appear as the foe here that Boyd thinks of him as.
1061 - Boyd says the "Aikido-like manner" God won on the cross "clarifies both how and why Jesus was punished for the sins of humanity." Maybe it does that with the causal "how", but otherwise I don't really see where Boyd's explained this.
1062 - Says Jesus submitted to being killed by powers/humans and this defeats the "kingdom of darkness" because it "manifested" God's love. How does that work? This isn't really explained - the connection is unclear. Further on, concerning subverting "the myth of redemptive violence", it isn't clear how this is relevant. Again, the issue is whether it is true that is relevant, subversion or no.
1063 - "I trust it is now clear" - no, not really. Nor is the line of thought in the next sentence. At the bottom, the "then" doesn't follow from the "If so", at all.
1067 - Seems to be saying that people who disagree with him about divine violence haven't "yielded to the Spirit." Ouch.
1069 - I'm not sure all these expressions really refer to Satan.
1072 - Not again...
1087 - Again, it's truth that's relevant here, not this stuff.
1157 - Agreed that Carson is "biased in a deterministic direction" in his interpretations, but it's also just as true that Boyd himself is also but in a non-deterministic direction. Actually, though Carson is clearly biased, of course, I think it's not as strong as Boyd thinks it is.
1158 - "I cannot help but see this 'tension' as a blatant contradiction" - well, of course. That's because of your philosophical views. It's not a formal contradiction. There are a lot of statements here about what Boyd cannot do. Surely the question is about the truth of what Carson is saying, not Boyd's personal inability to agree with, understand, or imagine something. It isn't clear how any of Boyd's inabilities here actually support his historical theories.
1211 - I see no reason to think we can't "be genuinely tempted" by something we believe we cannot do. It depends on what it is and why we think we cannot do it (whether it is prevented by our character but we are physically able vs. we are physically unable to do it, for instance). I might genuinely believe it is impossible for me to kill someone but then really want to kill in a certain situation and be sorely tempted by it, even while still thinking that I ultimately won't succumb. This is different from, say, being tempted to fly when I know I don't have the wings for it. One inability is present within my "action-producing system", the other without.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Some Notes on Greg Boyd's Crucifixion of the Warrior God Volume 1

I like reading Greg Boyd but it's a bit of a love-hate relationship with his books that I have - they are generally good reads, very interesting, full of insight and creativity, clarity and faithfulness, but at the same time bad arguments, questionable assumptions, irrelevancies, and similar flaws. I'm now reading his massive two-volume Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament's Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross. I've just finished Volume 1: The Cruciform Hermeneutic. Through my reading, I've been taking notes of some (not all) of my questions or concerns as I go along. (So, to be clear, a question or concern at one point in the text doesn't mean it isn't answered later in the work - I mostly haven't seen this yet, but am hoping more get addressed in volume two). It's pretty much what I would have expected given my first sentence above and includes many (not so successful, in my opinion) seemingly needless attempts at connecting his open theism with the discussion. I should also note that there was a lot I did agree with, even sometimes when the arguments for what I agreed with were not good (a lack of good arguments doesn't always mean the conclusion isn't right). So without further ado, here are the notes I made on Volume 1 (unfortunately, this won't be very understandable without consulting the book yourself!):

General notes:
-There are way too many irrelevant accusations that various pieces of incorrect (or supposedly incorrect) theology are due in origin to classical theism.
-Much of the "proof" for some of Boyd's assertions in this book amounts to quoting other theologians. More biblical support would be nice.
-It's still not fully clear how the cruciform hermeneutic really is supposed to work. It looks suspiciously like it involves inventing meanings for texts you don't like rather than discovering the meanings they already have. But then the relevant passages would look like they are being retained in the canon in name only, contrary to what Boyd seems to want.
-It seems like in treating the cross as the center of his hermeneutic he is in fact choosing one aspect interpreted in exactly that way that can get the pacifist conclusion he wants, making it absolute, completely exhaustive without any room for further information or truths or contexts, etc. and can only be applied directly in the exact way he wants it to be. There are many weak links here.
-Claims often that opponents' views or methods "can't disclose how the Old Testament's violent divine portraits bear witness to the crucified Christ." But it's not clear what Boyd is demanding here, why we should think his particular demand (as opposed to other potential interpretations of such a principle) is the absolutely correct one, or what meeting it is even supposed to look like.

On specific pages:
70-74+ - Seems to treat the lex talionis as an interpersonal principle - that is, how as a private individual to treat someone who harms you. So he thinks Jesus repudiates the lex talionis in the Sermon on the Mount. But the lex talionis in the OT is actually a principle of legal/judicial action, not of how to respond when someone hurts you. That's part of Jesus' point - whatever might be commanded here, don't take vengeance! But that's not a repudiation of the law itself at all! Boyd doesn't really say anything to argue that the lex talionis really was intended be a principle of personal vengeance, so this section seems to fail. A lot of what follows tends to rest on the success of this, so that's not great for his argument in the larger section. (What's really weird and cuts against what he says here is his agreement that Jesus is not interested in talking about political/legal/judicial stuff)
74-75 - Weirdly, Boyd rests his case against capital punishment or killing of any kind on a story about Jesus that he doesn't think is even canonical. (Later he keeps relying on this as if it was!) I'm not sure how that's supposed to actually support him argument-wise...
150-151 - A bad anti-predestination argument (where by "predestination" I mean the Augustinian-Calvinist variety). There are better arguments than this one on offer, so I'm not sure why he feels the need to offer this seemingly rather poor one. 1) relies on a certain criteria of meaningfulness for a concept such that in order for a concept to be meaningful, those using it have to have something to contrast it with (in some sense of "contrast" not fully explained); 2) assumes that the only possible contrast with the concept of divine love must be some kind of action; 3) assumes without argument that predestination to damnation must of necessity be included in any such contrast or there is no contrast at all; 4) so he concludes that if predestination happened, then the love of God is a meaningless concept. Each of his assumptions in 1-3 are open to serious question!
161-167 - The unity of Christ's life stressed here makes it harder, not easier (contrary to Boyd) to single out the cross as the single defining event. If they're all so interrelated and mutually dependent, etc. this becomes a much more difficult task.
167-170 - Says that the resurrection is not the center since it must be understood in light of the cross. But we could just as easily argue in the opposite direction - that the cross must be understood in light of the resurrection. The atonement must be understood in light of the new creation - means in terms of ends! The resurrection is what justifies the crucifixion. So again, not a great argument here.
chapter 5 - Claims that there are no exceptions to Jesus' commands of nonviolence. But does not give proof that Jesus was speaking about things like official administration of justice within a proper legal/judicial system, etc. After all, Boyd explicitly says elsewhere that Jesus wasn't generally concerned to speak of or to such systems!
226 - Claims that if God ever acted violently that would be hypocritical. But why? Government officials can say not to confine people but are not hypocritical when they put criminals in jail nor are parents hypocritical when they tell their kids that the kids are not allowed to drive the car. Differences in context, authority, position, attributes, etc. do make relevant moral differences!
269-273 - Assumes without any argument at all that issues of divine control and of divine power are pretty much the same. But why?
274 - Not clear what is meant by "wisdom" - weird, unconvincing argument.
384-385 - Odd reasoning in favor of applying the label "Might Makes Right" to the view that divine violence is correct even if we can't see it. The argument is really nonsensical, smuggling in divine power for no apparent relevant reason and making huge, unargued and unwarranted assumptions just to be able to stick a silly label on opponents. What on earth is this even in the book for?
386-387 - Another poor argument against the same view - this time that it would make "good" unintelligible. As if "good" was a purely descriptive word, where the description is what we happen to apply it to in our own human cases (de dicto, not de re) such that any deviation would upend it. But this is pretty implausible (and this sort of argument has been ably refuted elsewhere, so there isn't really much more to add here).
387-388 - Makes claims about competing views that are both unargued and unfair (and inaccurate for many opponents). Also doesn't distinguish between instrumental and non-instrumental value. For instance, sticking a needle in someone is bad in itself but can in some cases be instrumentally good (giving medicine, for instance). Additionally, here and throughout Boyd doesn't really seem to get that there is a distinction between good and right and also between evil and wrong. An intrinsically bad action (sticking needles) can be right in some contexts, for instance. In the same pages, doesn't distinguish between God intentionally hard-wiring our brains a certain way and them being that way through some other explanation (which is odd given that his own theological views actually require such a distinction).
389 - Confuses intuitions in favor of moral rules with intuitions for the exceptionlessness of them. My points just above likely apply here as well - intuition in favor of something always being bad is easily confused with intuition in favor of something always being wrong, for instance. Is it arrogant to think we can perfectly grasp every possible reason or kind of reason such that we can rule out all of them as even possibly justifying an action contrary to a certain moral rule (and carried out by a being very different in position, authority, context, etc. from us)? There is also here an irrelevant objection relating to the supposed "consequences" of opponents' views (as if views have consequences of any kind in and of themselves!).
389-390 - Confuses analogy with qualitative identity. Seems to think we can and do know all the relevant circumstances.
390-392 - More questionable historical diagnoses of unclear relevance. Again, confuses opponents' positions as having something to do with power or the use of it.
404-406 - Thinks that the progressive revelation view which features accommodation to engaging in violence is committed to the cross not being the ultimate revelation. But isn't that rather the point of the view - that the cross is the ultimate revelation and hence the progress and accommodation for earlier violence? That is, that the earlier is merely an accommodation, not ultimately revealing? Further on, Boyd thinks character itself is only how we will or act, which seems to me wrong (character produces will and action - it isn't reducible to it). That's fine if you're a behaviorist, but otherwise it doesn't work well.
406-408 - Assumes progressive revelation can only proceed from falsehood to truth. Why not some truth, then more? Or some ambiguity or unclarity to less? None of these require falsehood and it's weird that he mentions these and then seems to ignore those options.
497ish - Seems to sometimes be saying that it is only via the cross that we can uncover revelation in many OT passages. If so, how then were these passages revelation for its original audience before the cross? If not, what is being said here? What was the nature of OT believers' access to the revelation in the OT in these places?
498-502 - The "Indirect" vs. "Direct" revelation analogy between the cross and the Bible seems a bit strained - they don't seem very analogous here at all. To me, anyway, this seems to confuse rather than clarify.
504-509 - Wants an analogy between proposed exegesis and "prosopological" exegesis which is supposedly in the NT. But it's not clear whether such a thing is even present in the NT as opposed to something similar which uses Scripture in a related way but without it being an exegesis of it.

Friday, May 4, 2018

"You Asked for It" Week 5: The Compatibility of Evolution and a Creator

Notes again:

Preliminaries:
There are roughly three-ish basic Christian views about God’s creation of the world (young-earth, old-earth, and evolutionary forms of creation) and a lot of variety within those three. There are smart, well-informed people on all sides who disagree based on different views or interpretations of the Bible, philosophy, theology, and science. There are many people of each of these types who are faithful, believing Christians who simply want to follow truth but disagree about what that is. And there are people right here in this church whose views fall into each of these categories! So let’s allow that people in the church will - and should be allowed to - disagree about issues surrounding creation and evolution.

With that in mind, it’s important to note that answering this question doesn’t depend on taking any particular position on evolution. The question is purely hypothetical - IF there is a creator then COULD evolution be possible? Or, what is logically equivalent, IF evolution happened, WOULD that mean there was no creator? So we need to put the question of WHETHER it happened aside and consider what would be true IF it did.

So, for those who reject evolution, why would this question still be important? Many people believe in evolution who are not Christians and are convinced it happened. If the existence of a creator is compatible with it, this removes one obstacle to the faith for them. In addition, many Christians believe in evolution or are unsure whether it might be true. For such Christians, the compatibility or incompatibility of a creator and evolution will be a crucial issue.

On to the question:
Is a creator compatible with evolution? Suppose evolution is correct. There still could be a creator since the creator could have simply used evolution to create. Just because someone uses a tool to make something doesn’t mean they weren’t the one to make it. A sculptor might use a chisel or other tools on a piece of marble to make a statue but that wouldn’t mean the sculptor wasn’t the one who made it. Similarly, evolution could be a tool used by a creator to create - a creator could use physically random mutations to shape new species, etc.

So evolution appears to be compatible with there being some kind of creator - but what about a creator in the biblical sense? That is, could evolution be compatible with a biblical God creating in a biblical sense of “creating”? (Note that this is not asking whether it is compatible with biblical accounts of creation - just with the biblical sense of what it means to create or be a creator)

To address this, we should consider both whether the biblical God uses tools to do things and also whether, in the biblical sense, the creator could use tools to specifically create. (Note that these tools could be any kind of intermediary - nature, natural laws, physical material, created beings, etc.)

So first, does the biblical God use tools to do things at all? A quick look at the Bible reveals a definite affirmative in answer to this. God uses things as diverse as plagues, human armies, free actions, prayers, humans and evil spirits in rebellion against him, and more to accomplish his ends. There is no contradiction, for instance, between “The doctor saved my life” and “God saved my life” - God can use doctors to accomplish his ends as well as anything else. The Bible can slide easily back and forth between ‘So-and-so caused A’ and ‘God caused A’. (For instance, compare II Samuel and I Chronicles on who instigated David to take a census) (Side note: Not only are there tons of events which have no predetermined physical explanation or are not determined by natural laws (e.g., quantum mechanics), but even if there weren’t, it seems important to note that the biblical God is the creator and sustainer of everything that is not God - he not only created space, time, matter, natural laws, etc. but every second, every event, every natural law, everything that is, is directly dependent for its existence on God. God is the source of natural laws and the one who sustains them in place. Anytime any things interact by virtue of natural laws, for instance, God is there. Colossians - all things held together by him. Acts - in him, we live and move and have our being. When the doctor saves the patient, God is there sustaining the natural laws and physical interactions that will make that a success, even if everything is just going according to physics, biology, etc. God works under and through the natural processes)

Given then that he uses tools, could a biblical God use evolution as a tool to create in a biblical sense of “create”? The first thing to note is that the notions of create and creator in Israel (and in the ancient Near East more widely) do not necessarily entail a creation out of nothing without any tools at all (not that there was no ultimate creation ex nihilo, just that the concepts themselves don't require it in every case). Instead, in the ancient Near East, the most important aspect of creating and being a creator is that of ordering - producing order and arranging things so that they function appropriately - with little to no restriction on how this order is accomplished by the one creating. We see this in Genesis, for instance, when God creates humans using already present material, or when in creating land animals God explicitly calls on the land to produce these same animals (there are more potential examples of intermediaries in the creation accounts here as well). We in a sense acknowledge this when we say things like “God is my creator” or “God created me”, even though we know that our parents probably had something to do with it. So the use of tools is compatible with creating in a biblical sense. (Side note: Early Genesis presents a picture of a creation that is very good but not yet complete - the creation (specifically, under the direction of humans as the priest-kings ruling as God’s intermediaries) is itself supposed to participate in completing God’s act of creation, which now we know won’t be accomplished until after Christ returns - humans were meant to be co-creators with God)

So given that the biblical God uses tools and can use tools to create, it seems that evolution would be compatible with the existence of the biblical Creator God since that same God could use evolution as his tool to create.

(Whether or not evolution is compatible with the specifics of the biblical accounts of God creating or with the scientific evidence is, as already said, a separate question, of course!) 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"You Asked for It" Week 4: "How Could a Loving God Send People to Hell?"

More notes for the next sermon (these are a bit rougher than last time since I was a bit rushed in getting it out):

Here are some thoughts I put together! Hopefully some of these prove useful:

How could a loving God send people to hell? When people ask this question I think they often have a couple worries in mind:
1. It seems unloving to deprive people of heaven forever as punishment for a finite amount of sin.
2. It seems unloving to have people tortured forever as punishment for a finite amount of sin.
That is, the problem is both with what the damned don’t get as well as with what they do (and the amount of it too).

Underlying worry 2 is an idea of hell as involving literal torture applied to the damned. While this is a popular picture of hell, the biblical images of damnation are a bit more nuanced. In the Bible, damnation is described in terms of fire, darkness, shame, rubbish, destruction, and death. These pictures are ways of depicting judgment and separation from God and his kingdom. In other words, hell or damnation involves a split between the person and God and between the person and God’s rule on earth. That’s the center of the concept, not hell-as-torture-chamber with God-as-head-torturer.

So just as we can think of heaven as the place of God’s presence and will - and hence of Christians as already in heaven and bringing heaven with them to the earth (Ephesians) - so we can also think of hell as the place of God’s absence and deviance from his will - and hence of people as already in hell in their separation from God and bringing hell with them to the earth. “War is hell”, “I went through hell”, and similar sayings, then, aren’t so far from the truth!

This helps us not only understand worry 2 but worry 1 as well. The damned fundamentally, at the core of their being, do not want God’s kingdom - they don’t want themselves or how they live or think conformed to God’s will nor do they want to live in a world that does so; they simply don’t want the kind of relationship God offers nor do they want to value things the way God values them. Some may want some kind of heaven or paradise or a divinity - just not the actual one on offer!

Not only do the damned not want God’s kingdom, they would not be able to enjoy it even if they were somehow to find themselves there. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.’s paraphrase of John Henry Newman: “Heaven is not for everyone: it is an acquired taste, and hard to acquire while our taste buds still resemble a crocodile’s back. An unholy person would be restless and unhappy in heaven.”

In sum, the damned are not fit for the kingdom of God nor do they want to be. The kingdom and the damned simply cannot work together. The damned are unfit for the kingdom like a fish is unfit for dry land and would suffer there. Placing the damned into God’s restored creation would be like shoving a rusty tool into the moving gears of a working engine - both will be ruined.

In the kingdom of God, in God’s restored creation, God’s will is done. By definition, the damned are outside this - they do not conform to God’s will nor do they want to. So when the kingdom fully comes to earth and God’s will is fully done and earth and heaven are made one, the damned cannot, will not, and would not take part in that. In character, in deed, and in will, they place themselves outside the kingdom and outside what is to them God’s intolerable presence.

This ability to place ourselves outside God’s will - to place ourselves into a state of hell! - is part of our original design. We were designed to be God’s helpers in shaping creation - and part of that creation is ourselves - and are given the freedom to conform to God’s will or not. Hence, we can shape ourselves in a way in conformity with that will or not. In other words, we can make ourselves through our actions into who we will become – we decide in the present our future character. We become our choices.

In a sense, then, God does not send people to Hell, we choose to become it.  Romans 1:28-32.
“Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others…but you are still distinct from it.  You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it.  But there may come a day when you can no longer.  Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine.  It is not a question of God ‘sending us’ to hell.  In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.” C. S. Lewis

Being condemned to Hell is nothing other than being condemned to self.  Hell is our chosen “freedom” from God. “There are only two kinds of people – those who say ‘Thy will be done’ to God or those to whom God in the end says, ‘Thy will be done.’  All that are in Hell choose it.  Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be Hell.  No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.” – C. S. Lewis

As others have said, the gates of hell, therefore, are locked from within. God doesn’t want to exclude anyone from his restored creation but some people voluntarily exclude themselves. This is why responding to the gospel and turning to Christ is so important - it is a turning to the kingdom, to God’s will and his future restored creation. Those in Christ are ultimately conformed to his will - they embrace it, they want it, they live in harmony with it around them.

(None of this, of course, answers questions like “What about babies” or “What about people who never hear or understand the gospel?” While these are great questions, they are separate from the question considered here, whether a loving God could send anyone to hell - the question here is could not who!)
(There is also the further question of whether God will allow the damned to continue in their ever-deteriorating state or instead will ultimately purge them from creation - traditionalists say yes to the former, annihilationists like John Stott say yes to the latter. That obviously goes beyond the current question!)

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"You Asked for It" Week 3: "How Does Prayer Work? Why Do Some Prayers Get Answered and Others Don't?"

Some notes to help with the sermon:

I wrote these notes along the lines of how I’d approach most topics - by looking at the big picture and zeroing in on the issue from that perspective. Whether that’s necessarily the best approach for the sermon is a separate issue, but hopefully some of this might be helpful! So here is a basic framework someone could use for understanding prayer:

Humans were created to be God’s representatives to the rest of creation, bringing his will, his plans, and his goals into effect. We were made to be God’s intermediaries to the rest of creation.

Sin and rebellion have set creation off track, diverting it from God’s will, his plans, and his goals.

Jesus won ultimate victory over sin and rebellion.

Jesus has therefore brought to creation God’s kingdom (God’s rule) - his will, the fulfillment of his plans and goals for creation.

The coming of God’s kingdom - the full compliance with God’s will and fulfillment of his plans and goals - is not yet fully complete until Jesus returns, so sin, rebellion, death, and disease still occur despite Jesus’ victory over them.

In prayer, we fulfill our original purpose - we participate in God’s rule and in bringing more fully his kingdom to earth. God wants his will done but part of that will is that that will be done through human beings. God gives us a say in how things go and listens to what we request, which is how things were always meant to work. In prayer, we can have access to some of that kingdom authority and power we were always meant to have.

We fulfill God’s will not only by praying for things but also by, often, enacting God’s answer to prayers! (This might seem to many of us to be a pretty risky thing - why use unreliable human beings to get your will done? But that’s part of our calling!) Consider: The person who prays to God to heal a treatable disease and refuses to see the doctor may be the one at fault when the disease isn’t healed since it may have been the doctor that God intended to use to heal the disease in the first place. That’s not a case of having faith in God, that’s a case of not having enough faith in him, that he can and does and intended all along to use human beings to get things done in this world. Or consider: instead of simply asking “Why hasn’t God given my neighbor the food I prayed for?”, maybe we should also ask “How can I be used by God to get my neighbor the food I prayed for?” Prayer can and often will change not only the world outside the one praying but also the world inside them (and sometimes do the former precisely by doing the latter).

The Bible has a lot of verses that look like they promise that anything anyone prays for will be given to them every single time without exception. When we look more closely, however, there is always some kind of qualification or some sort of restriction given by the context. We have to look at these qualifications and these contexts - and the wider context of Scripture - to get a better idea of exactly how such a “prayer promise” supposed to be understood. The following points are what we find.

“Whatever you ask for, you’ll get” is true of the kingdom of God. It is what happens when the kingdom of God is there - when God reigns, when God’s will is being done.

Since the kingdom of God is present in principle but not yet fully come, this promise is true in principle but not always in application - the old system of sin and death is still around to cause trouble. There is still opposition and sometimes it can achieve apparent victories, at least in the short term. Satan, death, sin, evil, and illness are still around until Christ returns. (For similar promises, true in principle in the kingdom but not always in application since God’s rule isn’t fully come yet, see many of the statements in John’s writings (i.e., that believers do not sin, will not die - but they do sin and do die!).)

In faith, in love, in following Christ, in being led by the Holy Spirit, we participate in God’s kingdom - his rule is operative in us and through us - and thus our prayers are also going to participate in the kingdom - they will conform to his will and be vehicles through which his will is done in the world. See James 5 on Elijah and the powerful prayers of the righteous person. Prayers not from faith, prayers that are unloving, that are outside God’s will - these fall outside the prayer promises almost by definition. Even prayers from faith can fail since even these prayers are subordinate to God’s will. See Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane!

The prayer promises in the Bible, then, are meant to give us confidence, not unrealistic expectations. Christians will still suffer and still die, sometimes precisely because they are Christians and are being attacked by the world or the evil one.

Ultimate victory is God’s. The ultimate answer to all our needs and heartfelt cries are certain even if immediate fulfillment can sometimes seem wanting.



Example “prayer promise” passages:
Matthew 7:7-11 is speaking only of asking for “what is good”, with the context seeming to specify this as specifically the things needed to fulfill the Sermon on the Mount’s kingdom vision. The parallel passage in Luke 11:1-13 gets even more specific and replaces “what is good” with “Holy Spirit”.
Matthew 18:18-20 is, in context, about church decisions/authority/power in the power of the kingdom.
Matthew 21:18-22/Mark 11:12-25 is talking about prayers done in faith and in the context of forgiving others (esp. Mark). This passage is meant to highlight the church as the new spiritual power center/dwelling of God/place of prayer vs. the temple, now under judgment.
John 14:13-16 is talking about empowerment for doing good things by the Holy Spirit - specifically, undertaking God’s mission and loving others.
John 15:7,16 is about prayers in the context of abiding in Christ, producing fruit.
John 16:23-27 concerns knowledge of God. “In that day” is “end times” language, marking this as concerning the coming kingdom.
Many of these also qualify the prayers as happening “in Jesus’ name” - that is, on his mission, in union with him (it doesn’t just mean you use the name “Jesus” in your prayer!).
I John 3:18-22 is in the context of having the Holy Spirit, not sinning, and loving.
I John 5:14-16 requires that it be “according to his will” and is about help not sinning.
James 5:13-18 is about prayers offered in faith by righteous people who confess their sins.



Further notes based on interaction with other people:

Libby's question is really interesting:  "Does prayer really change things? Can the Sovereign Lord, who knows the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end (see Isaiah 48:3), really be persuaded to change His mind or alter His long and deeply laid plans? If not, what's the point of making our requests known to Him (Philippians 3:6) in the first place?"

Here are my thoughts (trying my best - not necessarily succeeding - to not get too technical):
First, I would note that the first and second questions aren't equivalent - prayer might change things in the world without changing God's plans, just as my dropping a vase on the concrete might change things (the vase breaks) without changing God's plans (maybe God always included in his plans my dropping and breaking the vase). So God could always have intended that I pray for X and X happen as a result. From Scripture, prayer does seem to change things in the world - rain falls, people are healed, etc. - whether or not it changes God's overall plan for all of history. 
As for the second question, I think we can distinguish between God's plan being changed by our prayers and it being affected by them. Suppose God and his plans do not change at all. It still could be the case that certain features of God's plan are the way they are because of our prayers (maybe God's plan from all eternity includes A being healed of cancer in 2020 and it includes this because of the prayer of A in 2019 - so that 2019 prayer affects the eternal plan without changing it since it has always been true that that plan included the healing precisely because of that prayer and it never was any other way). 

Short version: If you pray, God heard that prayer from all eternity and took it into account in making his plans. That's good reason to keep praying! 

(Interesting side note: Suppose you don't know what happened with a certain past situation - this means that you could pray and affect (not change!) what happened with that, even though from your perspective it already happened, whatever it was. You could pray that someone made it to a certain destination safely, for instance, and (maybe) actually make a difference as to whether they in fact did so. That is, if they in fact made it safely that could be precisely because of your later prayer.)
(Another interesting side note: This might be getting too off the beaten track, but, along the same lines of the whole discussion above, in the Bible God often makes provisional plans - proposals, threats, etc. - and directs them to people to get them to discuss and have something to say about them and about what happens (this happens with Moses especially often). I think we can say that the answers people give God took into account in making his plan in eternity.)


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bibliography: Second Half of 2017

A bibliography similar to the previous one. This one covers July-December 2017. Again, it's not necessarily complete and contains only whole books, not articles or primarily reference works. I'm also trying to only include books that are newish - i.e., not on the previous couple lists. (Childrens' books also generally not included!)

Nonfiction

Adeyemi, Femi, The New Covenant Torah in Jeremiah and the Law of Christ in Paul.
Arand, Charles, et al., Perspectives on the Sabbath: 4 Views.
Bahnsen,  Greg, et al., Five Views on Law and Gospel.
Baker, David L., Two Testaments, One Bible: The Theological Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, Third Edition.
Baker, David L., The Decalogue: Living as the People of God.
Barr, James, The Concept of Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective.
Benin, Stephen, The Footprints of God: Divine Accommodation in Jewish and Christian Thought.
Blaising, Craig, and Darrell Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism.
Burge, Gary, Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology.
Carson, D.A., ed., From Sabbath to Lord's Day: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Investigation.
Church, Philip, et al., eds., The Gospel and the Land of Promise: Christian Approaches to the Land of the Bible.
Das, A. Andrew, Paul and the Jews.
Davies, W.D., Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology.
Davies, W.D.,  The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine.
Dunn, James D.G., Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians.
Dunn, James D.G., The New Perspective on Paul.
Dunn, James D.G., ed., Paul and the Mosaic Law.
Feinberg, John, ed., Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments: Essays in Honor of S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.
Fuller, Daniel, Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum? The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology.
Gane, Roy, Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application.
Gaston, Lloyd, Paul and the Torah.
Gentry, Peter, and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants.
Goldingay, John, Approaches to Old Testament Interpretation.
Gräbe, Petrus, New Covenant, New Community: The Significance of Biblical and Patristic Covenant Theology for Contemporary Understanding.
Green, Bradley, Covenant and Commandment: Works, Obedience and Faithfulness in the Christian Life.
Hamilton, James M., Jr., God's Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments.
Hamilton, James M., Jr., God's Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.
Heschel, Abraham, The Sabbath.
Hübner, Hans, Law in Paul's Thought: A Contribution to the Development of Pauline Theology.
Ladd, George E., Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God.
Martin, Oren, Bound for the Promised Land: The Land Promise in God's Redemptive Plan.
Meyer, Jason, The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology.
Pate, C. Marvin, The Reverse of the Curse: Paul, Wisdom, and Law.
Perrin, Nicholas, Jesus the Temple.
Poythress, Vern, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses.
Räisänen, Heikki, Paul and the Law, Second Edition.
Rapa, Robert Keith, The Meaning of "Works of the Law" in Galatians and Romans.
Rosner, Brian, Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God.
Ryrie, Charles, Dispensationalism, Revised and Expanded.
Sanders, E.P., Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion.
Sanders, E.P., Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People.
Schnabel, Eckhard, Law and Wisdom from Ben Sira to Paul: A Tradition Historical Enquiry into the Relation of Law, Wisdom, and Ethics.
Schreiner, Thomas, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law.
Sparks, Kenton, Ethnicity and Identity in Ancient Israel: Prolegomena to the Study of Ethnic Sentiments and Their Expression in the Hebrew Bible.
Sprinkle, Joe, Biblical Law and Its Relevance: A Christian Understanding and Ethical Application for Today of the Mosaic Regulations.
Thielman, Frank, From Plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul's View of the Law in Galatians and Romans.
Thielman, Frank, Paul and the Law: A Contextual Approach.
Thielman, Frank, The Law and the New Testament: The Question of Continuity.
Thurén, Lauri, Derhetorizing Paul: A Dynamic Perspective on Pauline Theology and the Law.
Todd, III, James M., Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community.
Tomson, Peter, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Vern, Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses.
Vlachos, Chris, The Law and the Knowledge of Good and Evil: The Edenic Background of the Catalytic Operation of the Law in Paul.
Vos, Geerhardus, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments.
Walker, P.W.L., Jesus and the Holy City: New Testament Perspectives on Jerusalem.
Walton, John H., and Andrew E. Hill, Old Testament Today: A Journey from Ancient Context to Contemporary Relevance, Second Edition.
Walton, John H., and J. Harvey Walton, The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest: Covenant, Retribution, and the Fate of the Canaanites.
Walton, John H., Old Testament Theology for Christians: From Ancient Context to Enduring Belief.
Watson, Francis, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective.
Wellum, Stephen, and Brent Parker, eds., Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course Between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies.
Winger, Michael, By What Law? The Meaning of Νόμος in the Letters of Paul.


Fiction

Brontë, Emily, Wuthering Heights.
Bulwer-Lytton, Edward, Zanoni.
Twain, Mark, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
Wells, H.G., War of the Worlds.