Monday, July 26, 2010

Trusting God’s Revelation

Steve Hayes at Triablogue wrote a great article recently where he makes an observation about miracles and applies it to some arguments against the “apparent age” theory of the creation of the universe.

“Take the case of Jesus healing the man born blind (John 9). The blind man had some congenital defect which left him blind all his life.

“When Jesus restores his sight, this doesn’t merely affect the future. It also, or so it seems to me, erases any physical trace of his past affliction. An ophthalmologist, examining the man after Jesus cured him, would be unable to detect the fact that this man ever had that particular birth defect. So it doesn’t merely change the present. It also changes the evidence of the past.”

He correctly notes that this isn’t an argument for Young Earth Creationism (YEC) per se:

“Critics object to mature creation (or “apparent age”) on the grounds that this would implicate God in a web of deception. Deceptive appearances.”

And, “I don’t cite this as a positive argument for YEC. I merely cite this to question a facile objection to YEC.”

To be sure, many good YEC-ists make the same argument. Ken Ham wrote as much and his Answers in Genesis organization holds the same position.

I have two observations to make regarding this matter. One is that Steve Hayes observation regarding miracles implies an understanding of Creation that has not been much investigated and the second is that this understanding of Creation is helpful in drawing our attention to a reason God may have for making things appear other than what they are.

Many Christians have not thought in depth about the nature of creation given that God is eternal and creation is not. It’s not too difficult to get the idea from Genesis 1 that God created everything and then left it to go on as it will without his interacting much with it.

God is here represented by the large red dot. His act of creation is represented by the red arrow. The large blue dot is creation. And subsequent blue dots are the progression of creation from event to event on into the future with the blue arrows representing causal relationships.

The problem is that other scripture revelas that God didn’t simply create once and from that point on allow natural cause and effect takes its logical course. Even if he did, God, being omniscient, would know what would happen given the details that he created initially. So he could easily fix the details to cause what he wanted to happen. But we know that God not only created “In the beginning” but he sustains his creation (Heb 1:3) and creates constantly (Psalm 139:13) and provides for his creation (Job 38:41). I suggest that Genesis 1 was given to us as a pattern to follow. God didn’t need a whole week to create. He could have created all things instantly. But not only did God create all things, he also created all causal relationships:

I present this as a more accurate understanding of God’s creation.

As a parenthetical, I often vilify existentialism as a false worldview. I do this because it speaks directly against God’s creation of this world. For a picture of existentialism, imagine each blue dot with a blue arrow going to a cloud of red dots. That’s existentialism. It’s the idea that the things of this world control the things of the spiritual which is backwards and opens up the door for the denial of absolute truth that pervades popular philosophy. Back to the discussion:

Steve Hayes observes that a miracle “doesn’t merely change the present. It also changes the evidence of the past.” In the terms that I am employing here, a miracle interrupts the causal relationship between events and replaces the history we remember with a history that never happened, and apparent history. The history that never happened was indeed created by God although it has no real place in time and space.

The green causal chain is the new one created by God. As it is, there is no “replacing” of a real time line with a new one since God creates even the causal relationships. It is a miracle precisely because he creates an event that is uncaused by anything in this world.

This is the point at which the argument can be made that God doesn’t deceive. I would agree that this is a very valid argument. God doesn’t deceive. In fact, he is clear in scripture that something miraculous has happened. But I suggest that God is up to something else.

We might expect unbelievers to pursue naturalistic causes to explain miraculous accounts. But here we have even creationists arguing that what the Bible indicates is a divinely caused event, when viewed naturalistically, would be a deception of God.

As one who has studied physics in some depth, I have long thought it strange that beginning of the universe cosmologies often fell short in calculating the effects of special relativity on the universe at large in the early stages. To be sure it has been considered to some degree, but temporal passage tends to get evened out on a macroscopic scale where extreme forces don’t warrant. That is to say that scientists talk about the universe aging relatively uniformly where there is reason to think it hasn’t. As far as YEC cosmology goes, Dr. D. Russell Humphreys has taken gone the direction I’ve always wondered about and provided a viable YEC cosmology, involving a “white hole” that produced the rest of the universe at a greatly accelerated rate compared to that of the earth, that aptly explains the history in starlight.

But as I have explained, while his cosmology requires an economy of the miraculous, it is largely dependent on natural physics. That is, in order to avoid calling the history already present in the light arriving to earth of the deep universe a practice in deception by God he has resorted to mostly natural explanation.

My final observation is to ask the question: If God tells us what he did and we observe something different using naturalistic assumptions, why do we think God is deceiving us? Rather, is it not an opportunity to trust what God has said regardless of whether he created the universe using a white hole or not? So I contend that perhaps it is possible that he has created a history that hasn’t happened in the natural course of our powers of observation. He has indeed created the stars as signs. Interestingly, the miracles Christ performed on earth were done to provide signs of his authority according to scripture (John 2:23; Acts 2:22,43).

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Relevance of Presuppositions

Presuppositional considerations are relevant epistemologically. That we know anything begs the question of how we know it. So if we start there, it is empirically that we discover presuppositional options. We therefore weigh these options and from them use the one that best fits our desires - our visceral presuppositions. If we desire something to be true, we go with whatever presupposition results in that conclusion. The only exception is if our primary desire is to honestly know the Truth. This desire is given only by God and always results in the conclusion that God as revealed in Christian scriptures is the only true God.

HT: Triablogue

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Relationship Between Science and Christianity

From an ongoing discussion on the Pyromaniacs blog noting Biologos' disregard for the authority of scripture, Blogger 'one busy mom' posted a comment outlining an apt metaphor for the difference between science and the revelation of God through scripture. I have also included my first comment.

Blogger one busy mom said...

Phil: excellent post!

You seem to be having trouble reconciling science and faith, and although I'm the theological lightwieght here, I'm going to dive in with some suggestions. I too love science. I grew up with science. My late father was a very highly esteemed scientist in his field both in the US and abroad.

Here are some tidbits I've gleened:

We only know a small percentage of the facts that can be known & some of what we think we know we've actually misinterpretted.

Let's compare this to a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. We'll generously say we know 10% of all that can be known - so we randomly pull out 100 pieces from the box. Now, since some of what we think we know is not correctly interpretted - take 15 of those 100 pieces and replace them with random pieces from other puzzles.

Now, do your best to arrange those pieces without ever looking at the picture on the puzzle box. Then extrapolate and try to recreate the original picture. Chances are the results will be interesting, well thought out, and appear correct...but chances are even better that it won't look much like the actual picture.

As Christians, we have a huge advantage - we have the box with the picture on it: the Bible. So we can look at the current arrangement of puzzle pieces and say "nah - this part here or that over there just doesn't work".

We shouldn't get upset or defensive just because the pieces don't match the picture. Seriously, without the picture what would the odds be of it ever matching? Nor should we be so foolish as to throw out the picture cuz it didn't match the current arrangement of the pieces! (As BioLogos appears to be willing to do) Instead, we should get really excited when the pieces and the picture differ- that's where discoveries are waiting to be made!

Once, when looking over some of my dad's many patents, I asked him how he knew where to look to make new discoveries. He said that was really "the million dollar question" for any scientist, but the best place to start was where there were discrepancies - where things didn't add up.

God says to prove Him, and see if He's true. He will never be found to be a liar. As believers, we need to trust that He meant what He said, take His Word literally, and have the courage to rearrange the puzzle pieces to fit the picture - not vice versa. Because of the nature of some of the areas of discrepency, I'm firmly convinced some of the most dramatic discoveries have yet to be made: but they won't be made by those who already believe they have the answers.


Blogger Jim Pemberton said...

one busy mom: very cogent metaphor, apt and true.

And I agree with with the following comments explaining the foundational nature of Biblical truth. It's what is often misunderstood, overlooked, or intentionally skewed in these discussions.

Mike correctly pointed to the definition of science as being rather vague and oft unaddressed for clarity. To be sure, inasmuch as we think about who God is we may be generally classified as theologians. Likewise, inasmuch as we observe the observable world around us and make predictable assumptions based on the consistent properties that we see we can all be generally classified as scientists.

However, there is are classifications of theologians and ministers who are defined as those who are particularly studied and interact with communities of other such theologians and ministers. Likewise, there are classifications of scientists and engineers who are particularly studied and interact with communities of other scientists and engineers.

It's the distinctions between schools of presuppositional thought that are often at the heart of disagreement or even discredit between communities of scientists. So if we talk about what science is "valid" we get a different answer based on what community we use as our basis for scientific thinking. As it is, the naturalists happen to have the upper hand in popularity by virtue of their proliferation on the staffs of many schools and universities. So non-naturalistic science tends to be dismissed by most scientists as invalid, not because it's not science, but because it's not naturalistic.

BioLogos seems to have bought the naturalistic party line and are using it's presuppositions for defining what science is "valid". But orthodox Christian presuppositions are decidedly not naturalistic. Therefore science that uses the same presuppositions as orthodox Christianity looks different than naturalistic science. Naturalistic science cannot be reconciled with Christian orthodoxy. But there is a science that is integral to Christian orthodoxy.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Perfect Church is Not Perfect

Looking for the perfect church? It doesn't exist for two reasons: First is because churches are made of people who are at best still undergoing sanctification. That is, we have been saved from the penalty of our sin, but we are still in the process of learning how to live like it in a world that remains fallen.

But the second reason is similar to the first: Sanctification provides the rest of the world with a practical view of the nature of God. It's one thing to say that we are graciously forgiven. It's another thing to handle ongoing sin as though we are graciously forgiven.

We may be called to glorify God individually in how we handle our sin, but it's a mistake in light of original sin to think of sin as being a purely individual phenomenon. More importantly than how the individual handles sin is how a church body handles sin.

Therefore, if you are looking for the perfect church, look for how a church handles sin and submit yourself to the church that will help to purify you in a practical way - not because the church is perfect, but because the people therein have been through their own struggles with sin and have submitted to the same pattern of corporately ministered mortification of that sin.

Stay away from any church that makes you feel good about yourself and ignores your sin. That provides the temptation to worship the church rather than Christ. Submit rather to churches that demonstrate humility in overcoming struggles with sin with honesty, repentance, grace and reconciliation.

HT: Resurgence

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Finding Comfort in the Will of God

I was involved in a discussion the other day regarding the will of God and what comforts us in times of great trial, specifically the loss of a loved one. The other side of the discussion consisted of a vague notion that God wouldn't allow bad things to happen. I can't state an incoherent argument coherently except to say that the reason it is incoherent is because it is essentially visceral and not scripturally based.

I pointed out that God is sovereign, all of us deserve to die and that unless Christ returns in a premillennial fashion we will all die, physically that is. So the truth is that there is nothing wrong with the observation that God causes us all to die one way or the other. He is right to do so and it is his will.

In response, I was told that people who were suffering loss shouldn't be told that the death of their loved one was the will of God. Additionally, it was pointed out, such a discourse to someone who was suffering loss could be driven away from God if they thought that God caused their loved one to be taken from them.

I'm sure my reply was not fully understood at the time, but I responded with our desire for the true God as our source of comfort. To elaborate:

First, we are all sinners who deserve death. Therefore, no means of the death of sinners is intrinsically evil. For example, a tornado that kills sinful people is not a bad thing. Or a murderer killing sinful people is not a bad thing. It is evil to murder, but that a sinner was murdered is not evil. The distinction is important to understand. God, who has no sin, is not a murderer for killing sinful people in cold blood. That we are horrified by the death of sinners should not inform our thinking on the nature of death as a result of sin. Otherwise, we fail to understand the nature of sin and our dire need for a savior.

Second, our desire is to be for God. It's not that we can try to desire God and succeed, for the very act of trying is founded on the desire we already have. Therefore, the desire is always first. But if we desire God then we would desire his will, whatever it is.

Now it is true that there are many who desire God according some misconception they have about God, but this is a desire for a false God because it is based on the notion of a god who does not exist. That is, that if our concept of God is not according to his revelation of himself to us then we have construed a false god in which to place our faith.

It may be that there are aspects of God that have not been revealed to us or that we have not come to a full understanding of God as we continue to learn about him. However, inasmuch as the gospel of Christ is central to his revelation to us, as long as we get the core of the gospel right, then we understand the essentials about who God is and the rest we ponder and refine throughout our lives as we grow in faith.

But with regard to the gospel, if we do not apprehend the depth of our sinfulness and God's sovereignty as creator, then we cannot understand the gospel of Christ. (There are other things to know in order to understand the gospel, but these two are key to this discussion.) If we think in any way that we are intrinsically worth saving, then we have to think that God has relinquished some aspects of his sovereignty in creation to us or we will think God blameworthy of the deaths of good people everywhere.

However, if we know the depths of our sinfulness, then we know that any desire we have for God comes from God himself and we rejoice in his sovereignty. For such who know this, it is comforting to know that the death of a loved one is the will of God. We may weep sorrowfully if we knew they they rejected God and we will see them no longer. On the other hand, if we saw the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, namely faith in God and the atoning work of Christ, then we can weep for joy in knowing that they have gone on before us and we are parted only for a short time.

For one who doesn't know the gospel as such there is no comfort except a false hope in a lie. For those who know it truly such as have fully placed their trust in Christ the only comfort is in the will of God; and as we display that comfort, God is most glorified.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Meekness of Moses

Moses considered himself "meek" (Numbers 12:3) and in the same context God called him "faithful" (Numbers 12:7). What does "meek" and "faithful" look like from the account of Miriam and Aaron's detraction against Moses in Numbers 12?

This was the same Moses who had become content to keep sheep in the land of Midian but had been called by God to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt to Canaan and to give them the law. This was the same Moses who came down out of the mountain, tablets in hand, only to find the Israelite worshiping a golden calf; and he ground the calf to bits and made the Israelites drink it; and he had three thousand of the Hebrews killed for it. Does this sound like a meek man?

In Numbers 11 Moses had just petitioned God to have some of the people help him bear their burdens and God had granted his request as one that was reasonable. After this, Moses' older siblings, Miriam and Aaron, apparently find fault with Moses for marrying a woman of a different people. However, their complaint ends up being an attack on Moses for having a power over the people that they don't have. Their real issue was their own desire for power. Consider that Aaron was already chief over all the priests and had stood with Moses before Pharaoh through the plagues. Aaron was no insignificant man. Yet his sinful flesh desired more for himself.

When Miriam and Aaron came out against Moses, we read nowhere that Moses spoke one word in his defense. Except that Moses had this account written, he doesn't stick up for himself. Instead, God calls Miriam and Aaron to task and defends his calling of Moses. He punishes them, Miriam in particular with leprosy. But Aaron repents and Moses pleas for her healing.

So Moses is faithful to defend God even by the edge of the sword. But he is meek in that he does not defend himself. Christ did this also who defended his disciples against the false teachings of the Pharisees but did not defend himself against the charges brought against him. If he did anything he fled as though on the lam until the appointed time to be delivered into their hands. Paul was also faithful to defend the young churches under his discipleship against false teachers but did not defend himself when attacked. The only time Paul sought a defense was through an appeal to Caesar to defend him as a citizen of Rome by birth. But he did not defend himself. He made the occasional reference to his calling as one of the apostles, not to defend his calling however but to establish his teaching about God.

So we must have a heart of boldness in faithfully ministering God's truth, especially in the gospel, but a heart of meekness in relying on God for defense against detractors.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

Christian Polemics and Desiring God

The problem with Christian theological polemics is that it leaves the impression that the end of the pursuit of Christian truth is to be right about what we believe. While it is good to be right, and we need to be right about certain key things, it’s not always necessary to be right. Or from another angle: many people pursue truth so they can satisfy their itch to master the knowledge of God rather than to know God in such a way as to be satisfied with him. It’s better to ignorantly be wrong about some things and still desire the glory of God than to knowledgeably be right about these things and stop short of God’s glory in a desire for mere knowledge. And if you desire God, then you will want to improve your understanding of him.

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Gone and Back Again

I'm back from an absence of a few months while I accomplished some tasks. Among them:

1. Editing the video for last year's Christmas program at my church:

2. Recording and editing a few tracks for a CD with Jessi Shannon. This was a quick turn-around project, but it still took considerable time and effort for three engineers to put together in a couple of months.

3. Preparing materials for a trip to India where we held a pastor's conference and women's conference, and took the gospel door-to-door as well as presented it in an open-air format. i may yet post some photos.

Despite not writing during this time I have not thought less. I have slowly worked through Van Til and am still working on reading Bahnsen. I may publish my final broad analysis of presuppositional apologetics as presented by these two. Many of the things I have thought I have boiled down to pithy quotes and posted as Facebook status updates. But I also have a couple of more recent considerations that I have written and will post in short order.

So, to myself, welcome back.

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