Sunday, November 30, 2008

Characteristics of Someone Who Desires Truth

Handling truth in a community of believers means that individuals who earnestly desire to know God share certain characteristics.

1. The person who desires to know the truth believes that what he believes to be true is actually true. As I have covered in a previous post, many people often argue for what they believe with a contrived set of presuppositions. They believe what they believe for a different set of reasons than they say they believe it. The reason is because down deep, they realize that the real reason they believe it isn’t good enough. This means that they know that what they believe isn’t trustworthy. They know that it’s not true.

When someone who desires to know the truth and offers a different argument at some point from the real reason he believes it to be true, then if his belief is indeed true, the two reasons for believing will be validated and compliment one another. Both can be argued.

Therefore, if someone desires to know the truth and discovers it, he will contend for it with certainty.

2. Despite the fact that someone who desires to know the truth can believe his beliefs to be true, he understands that his beliefs may be erroneous.

3. If the first two characteristics are true, then he will desire to have his beliefs challenged. To be certain of the truth is imperative to the believer. If what he believes to be true can be contended, then he will make the best argument he can for it. However, he always hopes to have a stronger argument and desires his beliefs to be challenged. If his arguments fail, then either his arguments weren’t good enough or his belief is in error. Since truth comes from the Creator, then even the simplest believer has arguments accessible to him that cannot be refuted. What good is a revelation otherwise?

4. If the first three characteristics are true, then he will be willing to change his beliefs when he discovers that they are in error. If we continue to grow, then we grow through refinement or correction. An investigation of the difference is perhaps fodder for some future article, but the point is that we grow spiritually because we currently lack understanding in some area. If we are to grow, then we must be willing to give up a false or less-refined understanding for a better one.

These characteristics define a process through which beliefs are refined and the truth made more certain. If this happens, then we continue to grow in truth. Therefore, earnestly seek to know the truth.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Desiring Truth in Community

For meeting our material needs, it is beneficial to have community. It is possible for someone to live completely alone until he dies caring for himself until he can no longer care for himself. At that point, he dies. He can prolong his life if he has others to share in the tasks of meeting material needs communally. This is certainly true if he has contributed to the upbringing of progeny who can tend to his needs when he becomes unable to tend to his own.

Inasmuch as believing eternal truths is a spiritual need, we need community to challenge and reinforce these beliefs. The reason is obvious when we talk to others. We typically don't believe the same things to be true. Opposing truths cannot both be true and some truths only appear to oppose one another. There are truths that are more easily discerned than others and other truths that are not easily discerned.

This is a fallen world, which is apparent: Just look at the news, drive down the interstate, go to the store or just live with someone else for a day. Being in a fallen world, we are out of communion with our Creator. Therefore, we live in a world filled with false perceptions if not downright lies. In order to make Himself sure to us, such a Creator, desiring to reveal Himself to us, would make a revelation sure. Merely appearing at one point in time or another before a certain number of people demonstrates no continuity for people who only live a short time. What revelation would bear the mark of our Creator so we could know it?

This revelation would not come to merely one person, author or prophet, but many. It would be well-documented, the writing of which is firmly established in the history it contains. It would contain specific, verifiable prophecies. Most remarkably, it would be accessible to a large number of people for public dissemination, apprehension and discussion. This is the Christian Bible.

The argument is often made that we all tend to disagree with the theology it contains: how, therefore, can we say it contains any revelation since we cannot agree on what the revelation contains? The problem with this argument is that it fails to take into consideration our fallen state. None of us get it completely accurately because the object of truth, our Creator and Savior, is rather beyond our comprehension at many points. It's like a fish trying to discover the topside of a boat by only being able to investigate that which is apparent below the surface of the water. Those of us who earnestly desire to know the truth agree with what has been shown to us (although we have trouble with "propeller" issues such as Reformed theology). We know that the boat can be trusted to float.

You see, no one of us has a corner on the truth. We need each other to help develop a more sure understanding. This must be a continuing process as we mature and die and younger believers are raised up. The truth comes from our Creator, but our discernment requires us to challenge each other.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) appears to be having an issue currently with a resurgence of Calvinism. This typically refers only to Calvin's soteriology, often as summarized by the Synod of Dort and, for the purposes of Southern Baptists, some of the founding documents of the SBC. The SBC started out rather Calvinistic, but the infusion of strains of existentialism into the pop philosophy of western culture bred a gradual change toward libertarian free will. The resurgence has been met with some vitriol among non-Calvinists to the extent that at least one otherwise good pastor was removed for no other reason than the church discovered that he was a Calvinist. The debate has been spirited and some from both sides have been less than gracious.

Earlier this year many of the more gracious Calvinists got together with non-Calvinists at the Building Bridges Conference to work toward a spirit of unity within the convention. This month some of the more vitriolic non-Calvinists got together at the John 3:16 Conference to encourage division. The one observation I want to make between the two conferences is that Building Bridges welcomed fair presentations from both sides of the issue and the John 3:16 Conference was decidedly one-sided choosing instead to present Calvinism as a straw man. Desiring to believe the truth welcomes fair challenges to our beliefs.

Something that confuses the issue are those who do not earnestly desire the truth, but engage in the debate nonetheless. There are many theologians who do not believe the Bible to be true and yet they argue for the veracity of their own beliefs from passages of the Bible, distorting its clear message as they go. If someone doesn't want to know the truth and argue that the truth cannot be known, one look at these false teachers will give them every excuse they need.

Recently, I had a discussion with a few of my church members. I was exceptional in that I was the only one who had not grown up in a legalistic church. My grandfather had been a Baptist missionary preacher who preached a true gospel but whose churches were often somewhat legalistic. In the course of my spiritual development when I was older, I was taken in by a family of wild legalistic fundamentalists. So I identified in some way with the others in the conversation. One lady said that the one thing she noticed when she first came to our church was how free it was.

We are a moral church, but we're not particularly legalistic. For example, we don't allow groups to conduct dances at the church, but we do have dancing in many of our programs.

Sociologically, groups of people who swing ideologically as a pendulum from one extreme often swing to the other extreme. Yesterday's legalism has generated much of today's liberalism. However, I've noticed that many individuals who leave legalism do so because they have grown spiritually. They keep from legalism the part that's important and leave behind that which is unimportant.

It is good that we are firm in our beliefs. It is not good to be so firm in our beliefs that we cannot change them when we are clearly shown to be in error. It is not good to be so willing to change what we believe that we cannot say we know anything for sure. We know that we will not have full knowledge in this world.

I look at my children ages 12, 9 and 5. They are growing in knowledge. They are nowhere close to understanding all that I currently understand, but I work with them so they can grow. I cannot be indignant with them for not knowing. Too many people I see are indignant when confronted with others who don’t know what they know or who don’t believe as they believe. I cannot condemn a sinner for sinning when the sinner has no conviction that they have sinned. I can and will challenge my fellow sinners according to their understanding and not mine so that they might grow to a good conviction and repent. It is not important immediately that we know all truth.

But the most important thing when seeking the truth as a community is that we all desire to know and believe it.

Next: Characteristics of Someone Who Desires Truth

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, November 28, 2008

Desiring Truth

What are our existential needs? We need sustenance. We require food and water to fuel and hydrate our bodies so we can continue to live. We require clothing and shelter to protect us from the harsher characteristics of the elements of this harsh world. That's about it. We don't need anything that doesn't contribute to these base needs.

Of course, these are the rawest existential needs we have. Our bodies can live, but we are more than merely bodies. Naturalists, today's scientific existentialists, explain every other need we have as contributing to these two somehow. For this, the purpose of life is simply to live.

If the purpose of life is simply to live, then it doesn't matter what we believe as long as it contributes positively to meeting our material needs. This is the explanation we hear from the existentialists regarding religious or other such beliefs in a God or any transcendental force of nature that we have developed no devices to test.

Regardless of our beliefs, there is a state of continuity that exists. If I have never heard of the country of Mozambique and it's citizens, it would exist aside from my perception of it. My father is alive. He existed before I conceived of him. The continuity of his existence is beyond my scope of my cognition. Therefore, his life is a truth that does not require me to belive it in order to be true.
I would argue that nothing is true simply because we want it to be true. But that's an argument for some other time.

But if that which is true is true regardless of what we want to believe, then it can be observed that we either want to know the truth so we can believe it accurately or we don't.

As it is, most people are only interested in the truth only as far as it benefits their desires. The way this works is that it can be used to justify behaviors in various situations. For example, it benefits me to believe that green beans are good to eat inasmuch as I end up eating them and am duly nourished. If I don't like green beans although they would duly nourish me if I ate them, then I may choose to believe something about the green beans that is not true in order to justify not eating them. In this respect it benefits my desire not to eat the green beans although I lose the physical benefit of eating them.

The truth is more than merely existential. In this respect, the principle whereby we are interested in the truth only as far as it benefits our desires extends to moral truth. Certain arguments can be made for morals based in natural law. However, if the natural world is established in eternal essence, then morality is not merely natural, but eternal. Therefore, it is rather the Creator that establishes morality, and this in truth. For example, it is good for a man to keep only one wife and to be faithful to her eschewing intimate relations with all others. It doesn't intrinsically benefit such a man with regard to meeting his physical needs to believe this. However, fidelity and commitment in marriage are eternal moral truths. Inasmuch as our Creator has chosen to reveal these truths to us, we can know them.

So believing eternal truths doesn't benefit our material needs, but it benefts our spiritual needs. (Here I make a distinction between spirit, or pneuma, and soul, or psuche, where the soul is anchored in both the spiritual and the physical.) There is no material reason, therefore, to believe an eternal truth to the extent that one would justify behavior on them. The fact that we do is evidence of the eternal and confounds existentialists, who inexplicably believe things to be true that themselves would be classified eternal if they were indeed true.

So, the fact that we desire to believe eternal things to be true is the work of the Spirit of the Creator.

Next: Desiring Truth in Community

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Someone Please Help Me Answer This Question:

24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24 (ESV)

Read here where a man has announced in a stunning press release that he's going to stop being so friendly because he simply has too many friends. (It's a parody.)

Here's a video the staff did for a Sunday night message a few weeks ago:

The video is about confidence, but you get the message by watching how the friend of the two suitors, Brian, reacts to each of them. By the way, do friends really do things like go to each others' houses and help them clean out their attics? Feel free to tell me if this is your experience. It would help me answer this question I hope to post on in the near future:

What is a friend?

If anyone has any insight to this, let me know. I have some ideas (you know how that goes) but there are some open ends I have to really understanding this question. It would help me understand verses like Proverbs 18:24 and John 15:13.

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Schrödinger's Tube

To all my fellow physics geeks out there:

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Beautiful Feet

Solomon's Justice: Kill the Baby

1 Kings 3:16-28

We all know the story:

Solomon prays for wisdom. Then he has this case where two women are fighting over a baby. His solution is to cut the baby in half. One woman says to go ahead and do it. The other begs Solomon not to kill the baby, but she would give up the baby so he could live. So Solomon gives the baby to the woman who would give him up for his life.

What kind of man would propose killing a baby out of a spirit of fairness?

This actually isn't a post about Barak Obama's stated policies, although I could go there.

No. Rather, turn to Exodus 32.

[Edit: I added this summary of Exodus 32.]

The Israelites make a golden calf and worship it while Moses is on the mountain talking to God. God tells Moses to leave Him so He can wipe out the Israelites and start over with Moses. Moses argues that everything God did to glorify himself in Egypt would be for naught if that happened. So God refrains from killing the Israelites. Moses goes down the mountain, grinds up the calf into water and makes everyone drink it. Then he has the Levites go out and kill 3000 people. Moses then goes back up the mountain and begs God to forgive the Israelites and if He won't, then to judge Moses along with them. God condemns only those who have sinned and sends a plague on the Israelites.

The Creator of the universe can do with His creation what He wants. Some may have a problem with God wanting to destroy all His people and start over with Moses, but if you actually believe in a divine Creator, then how could you have a problem with it? Where most people stumble in this account is on verses 11-14 where Moses apparently causes God to change His mind. Open theists answer this by claiming that God really doesn't know everything. Other libertarian free-willers answer this different ways. For example, they may say that God does know everything, but that He "limits Himself." It brings into question God's immutability.

Did Solomon actually intend to kill the innocent baby in order to judge fairly between the women? No. That's silly. I supposed they believed he would actually do it, but you don't kill an innocent person in the spirit of fairness. For Solomon, he never intended to kill the baby. He intended to discover who the real mother was, or at least who would be a good mother to the baby.

Why do we read that God "repented"? To say that God "repented" is an anthropomorphism. Where there is ever an apparent choice to make, there can only be one choice made. God's anthropomorphic repentance is what Moses needed to embolden him to accomplish God's purpose. It was part of God's whole presentation to him. God is not so ignorant a Creator to fail to plan, or even merely know, the outcome. Why else would God threaten to kill the Israelites if He knew that He would "repent" of it?

God never intended to kill all the Israelites.

Did God lie when He threatened to kill the Israelites? Did Solomon lie when He threatened to kill the baby? Technically no. They both gave good laweresque statements.

Solomon: 24 And the king said, "Bring me a sword." So a sword was brought before the king. 25 And the king said, "Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other."

God: 9 And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you."

Solomon's statement was an order that could be rescinded. It was not a statement of intent.

God's statement was conditional on Moses leaving Him alone.

Solomon's intent was to determine who the mother was.

God's intent was to teach Moses not to leave Him.

Solomon's tactic required that the true mother be willing to give of herself for another.

God's tactic eventually required Moses to offer himself up for judgment along with Israel. (v 32)

In both cases, the requirement was an act of constrained will against a previous desire. The mother desired to have the baby, but the baby's well-being was more important. Moses desired God's forgiveness, but not at the expense of God's righteous judgment and His glory.

Both Solomon and God achieved their goals.

God will achieve His goals in us. Praise Him to His glory.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Annie Moses Band

I know that few people have my range of tastes in art and music. It's rare to find a musical group that can cross some of those lines with me. The Annie Moses Band is one of those groups. The band's front musicians are the two oldest children who have each attended Julliard. Dad plays the piano, mom sings backup and other siblings sing and play various instruments. The youngest is 10.

Did I mention that they are incredible? The combine original music that follows such diverse musical genres as classical, jazz and country for a fresh sound to back up their explicitly Christian themes.

I had trouble picking from their live videos posted on YouTube to post here. Each is a noteworthy composition. Here are my selections:

Soli Deo Gloria:

Dogwood's a Bloomin'

Tough as Nails

And one of their Christmas songs: Message in a Baby:

Labels: , ,

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Mind of God in the Believer

Continuing on my observations regarding the duplicity of the human mind, I have to ask myself what causes the desire to assent, or even to submit, to truth once truth is understood? If I assent, I at least acknowledge that something is true whether I choose to alter my actions accordingly. To submit to the truth is to reevaluate the impact of that truth on all other beliefs currently held, discarding false beliefs and adopting new beliefs altered by the revelation of truth. This represents a fundamental change in presuppositional structure on the ideological level that serves to harmonize intellectual and experiential presoppositional structures.

To be sure, a similar effect can be observed by similar submission to a lie as though it were true whether the individual realizes the lack of veracity of the lie or not. I submit that truth is intrinsically discernable as such and indoctrination into false ideologies involves the intentional and deceptive disharmonization of the intellectual and experiential as though there were no contradiction.

Brian Burgess spoke along these lines a couple of weeks ago at church:

Inasmuch as truth is intrinsically discernable, I ask the question: by what means do we submit to it? There is no experience, no intellectual consideration, and no manner of human physiology that we can observe contributes to the inclination to do so. I have a study of faith on the back burner for a very long time. What is considered by many to be definitive of faith is Hebrews 11:1. The NASB and ESV both translate it:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The NIV puts it a little simpler:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

I wouldn't call this definitive of faith, but rather particular to it. In other words, I believe scripture has a much broader take on faith than this single statement, but this certainly holds true of faith. It's like saying that my car is convenient transportation for me. "Convenient transportation" is not definitive of my car, but is rather a key factor in understanding my car. However, my car is more than simply "convenient transportation". It's a sangria red 2002 ZX3 Ford Focus with a 5-speed manual transmission. If I gave you its VIN, that would be definitive as it would certainly make it distinct from all other sangria red 2002 ZX3 Ford Foci with 5-speed manual trannies.

In 1859 Jean Francois Gravelot, billed as The Great Blondin, performed a series of tightrope acts above the Niagara Falls. One was to push a wheelbarrow across. Given some of his other stunts on the rope over the falls, such as cooking breakfast, doing laundry and carrying his business manager on his back, this was not particulalry remarkable. However, the crowd loved it nonetheless and urged him to do it again. He asked if they thought he could carry a person in the wheelbarrow and they shouted their excited belief that he could. When he invited anyone to get in the wheelbarrow, he had none willing to volunteer.

I have no doubt that every person in the crowd honestly believed that he could push a person successfully across the rope in the wheelbarrow. However, none of them had the faith to trust their life to him. In the New Testament the words translated "belief" and "faith" are the same, notably in James 2:19,20 where a distinction between belief and faith is made.

Skip Cartin talked about this a couple of weeks ago:

For the believer in Christ, the primary motivator is the Holy Spirit. He reveals truth to us. He also gives us the desire for Him. One debate I had with a Muslim centered around a discussion of the Christian doctrine of the trinity. As the discussion progressed to who God is in the person of the Holy Spirit and how He indwells believers, I talked about how He reveals God to those He indwells. The Muslim stated (probably tongue in cheek) that I had the Holy Spirit and could understand these things, but he only had his own mind to think with.

David Moss, also a couple of weeks ago, expounded on this in Sunday School:

The theme of self-evaluation is prevalent in all these messages. The Holy Spirit makes us more self-aware. We become aware of our motivations more and more as we daily submit to His leadership. Without the Holy Spirit, the will of a man is bound only to the intellectual and the experiential presuppositions. There is no freedom in that. No one can make a choice outside of God's created order. No freer can a man's mind be than to be in intimate communion with his Creator. The Holy Spirit frees our will. Truth is compelling. A will so freed by God's Holy Spirit is free to chose truth over limited experience. If Reformed theology can be explicitly summed up in the five points of Dortian Calvinism, then the implicit sixth point is that not one of the elect is saved unwillingly. As such I would argue that faith once committed to action is irrevocable.

And by what power do we live in this difficult world? Skip ended the sermon I excerpted above with this:

On a final note, these series have been going on in my church for some time. This unified message was not planned and the same message has been taught in different forms for a few weks now in my Sunday School as wel as in both Sunday morning and evening sermons. I think God's trying to tell us something.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Fun in the Leaves

What good are raking leaves if you can't swim in them?

Hope's hair actually looks normal. I should have had her put her hair back. She ended up with hair that looked like the Nox from Stargate SG1:

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Duplicity of the Human Mind

I get into the occasional debate. As a Christian, one thing I notice is that people often don't believe what they believe for the reasons they say they believe. Let me unpack this somewhat.

People most often believe a thing for the reason that such a thing was normalized in their life. Through a continuity of exposure to a lifestyle or an ideology people become convinced that something is normal or true.

This is often not enough to create a firm belief especially when this exposure is unpleasant in some way. For example, many children rebel against the ideology of their parents when the ideology is enforced in an unpleasant way. Let's say a couple are involved in a church that is legalistic. They may observe that some of the children of the church grow up to be as legalistic as their parents because the legalism is positively reinforced in the home. However, this particular couple don't themselves joyfully adhere to the legal requirements of their church and only negatively reinforce them in the home. The children will grow up resenting the legalism and develop a reactionary ideology.

In either case, adherence to an ideology is initially formed in the human mind through experiential means.

Down deep, most people realize that these experiential beliefs need to have a more solid foundation to reinforce them. They need a better reason for believing these things to be true. This is often not even a conscious realization in people. What happens is that as similar beliefs are espoused in the marketplace of ideas through media, education, and associations with likeminded people more intellectual reasons are developed for believing something to be true.

When a person takes the challenge of their beliefs to a debate, it is these intellectual arguments that they offer for why they believe something to be true. The real reason they believe it to be true is often never espoused. By this time, most people are barely aware of why they really believe something to be true.

If the belief is strong enough and the belief is untrue, they will cling even to irrational intellectual arguments as though they are rational. Often, this clinging serves to distort their capacity to reason.

In a later post I hope to look at some of Christ's wise answers to people and observe how he answered them. All the arguments He made that I can think of off the top of my head suggest that He answered their hidden reason for believing something to be true while ignoring the intellectual obfuscation we too often get involved with.

More later...

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting for Judges - Who's Under Robe Number 2?

Ok, so I'm reviewing the candidates for judges for local and state courts and they all pretty much give the same answer that they can't give an answer because it's not ethical. I understand the reasoning behind this. So, my question is this:

On what basis are we to intelligently vote for judges?

If it's unethical for them to tell us what they think, how do we discern their presuppositional makeup? Or, is it that it doesn't matter - that we have turned out cookie-cutter lawyers and judges? Well, we all know that's not the case, and if you've ever had to go through a series of lawyers and/or judges in an attempt to accomplish something in the court system, you are keenly aware that they are all different.

Do we have any lawyers or judges out there who can figure out how the average joe-the-voter is supposed to know who he's voting for when the candidate is running for judge?

Labels: , ,