My life is a text. Is there meaning in that text?

Posted on 03/19/12 167 Comments

Jerry Rivard asks: “I would really love a short, direct, easy to read explanation of Christianity.  I am confused about it, always have been, and I don’t think I’m alone.”

Christianity is first of all a form of theism. Why be a theist? Why believe there is such a being as God? This little essay will offer one approach to the matter.

***

When I went to university I majored in English. It was a natural step as I had always been an avid reader. My first triumph was Mr. Pine’s Purple House, a delightful exploration in the futile quest for non-conformity which I read at the age of four. Soon I was consuming Richard Peck, Judy Blume and E.B. White. By the time I was eleven I was reading Richard Adams’ Watership Down and William Horwood’s Duncton Wood (I was big into animal fiction for awhile). And so it went. Consequently, it was a natural step to focus on English in my university education.

As I began my study I gradually came to confront a most extraordinary fact. Many literary critics and philosophers were profoundly skeptical about the very notion of authorial intention. That is, they doubted that authors could place meanings in texts which could be identified by readers. I kept hearing about the “death of the author”. I was told the only meaning to be found in a text is the meaning that the reader brings to it.

While I was reading this from the critics, I wasn’t getting it from my professors. I was studying at a Christian liberal arts university, and my professors disagreed sharply with the skepticism of many of their secular peers.

I shared the skepticism of my professors. The whole idea that we should deny objective meaning in texts seemed not only wrong, it was downright preposterous. (And for those literary critics busily writing essays to undermine the notion that there was authorial meaning to be found in texts, it seemed that it was self-refuting as well. As philosopher John Searle pointed out, these critics deeply resented it when people misread their texts.)

I didn’t have all the problems with this skeptical literary criticism sorted in my mind. But I knew enough to be deeply suspicious. I was unapologetic about retaining the primacy of authorial intention in my engagement with texts. There was objective meaning to be found in texts. It wasn’t always easy to find (Faulkner, Joyce…) but hard work would be rewarded with increased understanding.

And so I kept reading texts with a commitment to their objective meaning and the drive of finding that meaning. I may not have had a clear rejoinder to all the skeptic’s reasons for denying that objective meaning, that real presence. But to deny the presence of that objective meaning was absurd. And so instead I rejected the skeptics.

Our lives are like texts. In the same way that the reader searches for an objective meaning, an authorial intention, in the words written on a page, so we naturally search for meaning in the texts of our lives.

And just as there are skeptics who declare the death of the author and who claim the only meaning to be found in texts is the meaning we bring to them, so there are those who proclaim the death of the author behind the texts of our lives and who claim that the only meaning in our lives is the meaning we bring to them.

Is “Winnie the Pooh” a post-existentialist exploration of the deconstructed homoeroticism of youth? It is if you want it to be, or so says the reader who thinks he’s at liberty to create his own meanings.

I demur. “Winnie the Pooh” has nothing to do with the morbid imagination of the wayward graduate student. The author has not been lost and he is not dead. He is to be found in the text, if we only have the time and care to read and listen.

In the same way that some people think they can make of a text whatever they want, so some think they can make of a life whatever they want. They claim that the only meaning to be found in a life is the meaning the one living the life brings to it. Our response to the story we find ourselves in is the beginning and end of meaning and purpose.

This is wrong. Objective meaning exists as surely within the texts of our lives as it exists in the texts of our libraries. And just as our successful engagement with a literary text depends on our getting at that meaning, so it is with our lives.

The author is not dead.  Let us read carefully the texts in which we find ourselves.

Share
  • http://ferlans.wordpress.com/ ogtracy

    My English professor told me the same thing. I, too, was deeply suspicious of it – because I’m skeptical of relativism as a whole.
    When I pressed her about it, she said that one can’t just pick any meaning one wants in the texts, but that there are only a limited number of interpretations and they must be supported by evidence from the writing itself. So, for instance, I can’t say that your post is about dancing bears.

    I did consider the idea of it being self refuting, by asking her if her words had objective meaning and she said they didn’t. Mostly, she just confused me.

    • randal

      “Mostly, she just confused me.”

      You’re in good company. In a famous written debate Derrida mostly just confused John Searle … and most other people too.

  • L.M. Muffett

    “Faith: No one word personifies the absolute worst and most wicked policies of religion better than that. Faith is mind-rot — it’s a poison that destroys critical thinking, undermines evidence, and leads people into lives dedicated to absurdity. It’s a parasite that’s regarded as a virtue. I speak as a representative of the scientific faction of atheism here — it’s one thing we simply cannot compromise on. Faith is wrong, and at the same time faith is a central tenet of just about every religion on the planet. We can’t ignore that — that’s the thing we are interested in fighting.”–P.Z. Myers

    • randal

      Muffett,

      Thanks for sharing your deep faith in P.Z. Myers with us. The rich unintended irony is merely icing on the cake.

      • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

        Is quoting someone evidence of faith in that person… or in their ideas and the way they’re expressed?

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          Yes!

          • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

            Actually, it doesn’t have to be both. I have a large collection of quotes that get randomly appended to my emails. A few of them are from people or works I actively dislike or don’t respect. But, if the quote is wise, or witty, or (ideally) both, I’ll quote ‘em anyway. For example:

            “Suffering is good for the soul, but it is usually best to wait until the body has no choice in the matter.” – Stephen Donaldson (I really didn’t enjoy the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, but… when you’re right you’re right.)

            “I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.” – William F. Buckley, Jr. (Don’t agree with him on a lot, but…)

            “Believe this, not because it’s true, but for some other reason…” – Screwtape, “The Screwtape Letters”, C. S. Lewis (Needless to say, I disagree with C.S. Lewis rather sharply on some points, but…)

            “Naturally the common people don’t want war… [but] it is always a simple matter to drag the people along… [T]ell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” – Hermann Goering (I don’t have to explain how little faith I have in Goering, right?)

            “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” – Philip K. Dick (Never been a fan of his writings, and he really lost it at the end, but…)

            “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (I have, er, substantial disagreements with Nietzche, but…)

            “Even in the wake of an event so invasive and frightening as September 11, not one person in a leadership position in America asked anyone to really give up or rethink anything… Yes, we were asked to do very little, and we responded. That’s the bargain we tacitly make with our presidents: we won’t ask too much of you, if you don’t ask too much of us.” – Bill Maher, “When You Ride Alone You Ride With bin Laden” (Bill Maher is a libertine, not a libertarian, and an anti-vaccine whackjob to boot, but…)

            “U.S. planes have thus far showered defoliant on more than 200,000 acres, killing not just coca plants but entire ecosystems: damaging legitimate crops, poisoning water supplies, killing fish and livestock, uprooting entire villages, and causing people to suffer fevers, diarrhea, allergies and rashes. And that’s why they hate us: because, to keep drugs out of Bobby Brown’s glove box, we kill peasants in Putumayo. If we did this kind of thing to the Arabs, they’d actually have the kind of beef with us that they think they do.” – Bill Maher, “When You Ride Alone You Ride With bin Laden” (ditto)

            “If you have any trouble sounding condescending, find a Unix user to show you how it’s done.” – Scott Adams (The author of Dilbert is a thoroughly unlikable human being, but…)

            “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” – William Paley (I don’t have to tell you I don’t have a lot of faith in the famous articulator of the ‘design argument’, but…)

            And that leaves aside the hundreds attributed to people I know nothing about, just that I thought some particular of their words pithy or instructive or both.

  • Walter

    I am curious, Randal, in what you think the objective purpose of our lives really is? Was God lonely? Is it no fun to be a deity unless you have worshipers? Why would a mind as advanced as God’s even want to have any kind of relationship with beings that would be lower to him than ants or amoebas are to us? If you could create an artificial life form with the intelligence of an ant, would you seek a relationship with your creation? Or would you just get a kick out of watching it in its little glass-sided ant farm?

    Curious for your thoughts.

    • randal

      What do people say when they reflect at the end of their lives?

      (a) I wish I’d spent more time in the office.
      (b) I wish I’d spent more time with the people I love.

      I have never met an argument against the existence of the author stronger than my intuition that there is an objectively preferable answer, and that in that answer lies one dimension of that authorial meaning.

      • Walter

        Are you saying that our objective purpose in life is to love and be loved?

        I am not arguing against your conclusion, I am just seeking clarification of your position.

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          I would say something like that. Our objective purpose in life is to love what is lovely.

          • Walter

            Thanks, I’ll try that line at the singles bar this weekend.

            • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

              Hehe.

              “Hey baby. How would you like to experience a robustly doxastic realization of the ultimate objective of life?”

        • randal

          That’s a start.

          You read the first sentence of Watership Down. You don’t know all the significance of the book but you know that there is objective meaning in that first sentence. And that leads you to an author as the source of that objective meaning. You don’t need to know all the significance of our lives to know that there is objective meaning in our lives and that leads you to the author as the source of that objective meaning.

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    This post reminded me of Sophie’s World. What a great book.

    • randal

      That’s good company to keep.

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    Walter, I’m also curious to hear Randal’s take on this. According to the Bible, Yahweh desires adulation:

    Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. Matthew 22:37-38 (KJV)[I prefer Luke 10:27 because there it comes out of the mouth of a lawyer]

    • randal

      Do you have a problem with the second commandment? I assume not. But if you don’t complain when Jesus commands us to love imperfect creatures, why would you raise a stink when he commands us to love the perfect creator?

      • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

        My answer to that question is best explained by this excerpt from the only one of my Irreligiosity columns that has been rejected by my editor to date:

        In the unlikely event that the Judeo-Christian God exists, why is He so insecure? Why does He feel the need to have humanity glorify and worship Him? I wonder if anybody has ever undertaken a psychoanalysis of God? Why does he have this infinite need for everyone to bow down at His altar? If He was better adjusted, you would think that he would be content to score celestial touchdown after touchdown without insisting that the crowd cheer Him on.

        I fondly remember playing rugby during my university days. On the rare occasions when I would score a try (i.e. a touchdown), I never put on any excessive display of celebration. I would just pass the referee the ball and run back to my own half beaming inside. It was nice when onlookers cheered or my teammates congratulated me but I didn’t need that. Scoring was satisfaction enough. The Christian conception of God is like a football player scoring a touchdown, pointing to Himself, doing a celebration dance and then asking every member of the crowd to kiss His feet.

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          Let me propose two premises.

          A: A complete concept of God is that of a being which exemplifies infinite beauty and loveliness.
          B: The greatest possible joy is to love that which is lovely.

          Given these two premises, does it not follow that benevolence requires God to effect love in his creation?

          • randal

            Right.

            The disanalogy between God as defined by Christians and a rugby player demanding that the crowd kiss his feet is so absurdly glaring that it heightens my point about TAM lacking an important critical objectivity when it comes to Christian theism.

            • Robert

              Well, it would be nice if the Bible (or some other so-called revelation) consistently actually said that. If people like TAM are “lacking an important critical objectivity when it comes to Christian theism”, then God could simply correct them — without, you know — threats of sexual violence, eating children, or eternal fire.

              If God is so awesome that we should want to love him, then he can start acting awesome. He could start communicating in such a way that the most of the 7 billion people on this planet actually hear what he has to say.

              • randal

                It would also be nice if William Faulker wrote more like Ernest Hemingway. That’s probably why I didn’t get a second degree in English lit: low tolerance for semantic turbidity.

        • randal

          “In the unlikely event that the Judeo-Christian God exists, why is He so insecure? Why does He feel the need to have humanity glorify and worship Him?”

          You’re starting from a false premise, i.e. that God commands we do x because our doing x is necessary for his “security”.

          “The Christian conception of God is like a football player scoring a touchdown, pointing to Himself, doing a celebration dance and then asking every member of the crowd to kiss His feet.”

          No the Christian conception of God is of a maximally perfect being, the source of all good, who recognizes that human flourishing is ultimately found in right relationship with that perfect being that is the source of all good, and thus who directs us to live accordingly.

          • Robert

            Hello Randal,

            “No the Christian conception of God is of a maximally perfect being, the source of all good, who recognizes that human flourishing is ultimately found in right relationship with that perfect being that is the source of all good, and thus who directs us to live accordingly.”

            This is the key truth here. God as a maximally perfect being (who exists as a trinity with the Father, Son and Spirit in perfect relationship and loving relationship) had no need to create. If we consider what God values, especially when there was no universe. The two highest values appear to be personal relationship and love. If this maximally perfect being then decides to create this universe, he does so not for his own sake but for our sake. How so? In order that other beings could experience love and personal relationships he created these beings (both men and angels) with the capacity to have a personal and loving relationship with Him. So the greatest realities that we can experience are love and personal relationships. This also explains Jesus’ two great commandments (Love of God and love of others) as well as the repeated emphasis throughout the New Testament on love and personal relationships (incuding the need for forgiveness because we sin against each other).

            It is interesting that some here in rejecting both personal relationship with God and love of him, end up attacking both love and personal relationships. If love is merely a feeling or an emotion, then it comes and goes as feelings do, and it also cannot be commanded. We are commanded to love our enemies. This cannot and does not mean to have nice warm feelings about them. It does mean to consider their physical needs and to provide for them.

            As important and useful as science is, science cannot give you love or personal relationships. And most persons across all traditions (both religious and atheological), with time find that love and personal relationships are the greatest experiences that we can have. Didn’t some non-Christian authority once say: “All you need is love . . .”? :-)

            Robert

            • randal

              “God as a maximally perfect being … had no need to create.”

              Unfortunately many modern/contemporary theologians have failed to grasp this point in their affirmation that God somehow requires us in order to actualize himself.

        • Robert

          “My answer to that question is best explained by this excerpt from the only one of my Irreligiosity columns that has been rejected by my editor to date:”

          There could be some very good reasons for that rejection of these words:

          “In the unlikely event that the Judeo-Christian God exists, why is He so insecure?”

          How is He insecure, as a maximally perfect trinune being, he has no unfulfilled needs?

          “Why does He feel the need to have humanity glorify and worship Him?”

          It is not that he has the need that we glorify and worship Him, it is that he has the love to create us with the capacities necessary to glorify and worship Him. Big difference.

          “I wonder if anybody has ever undertaken a psychoanalysis of God?”

          I don’t think so, just as it would be difficult to get him into a lab or into a test tube, it is difficutl to get him on the couch! :-)

          “Why does he have this infinite need for everyone to bow down at His altar?”

          Again he has no needs, instead, he creates some beings (men and angels) who have the capacity to love and be in personal relationship with this maximally perfect being.

          “If He was better adjusted, you would think that he would be content to score celestial touchdown after touchdown without insisting that the crowd cheer Him on.”

          He doesn’t need to have us cheer Him on, he does however create us with the capacity to appreciate, take joy in and delight in this maximally perfect being.

          “I fondly remember playing rugby during my university days. On the rare occasions when I would score a try (i.e. a touchdown), I never put on any excessive display of celebration. I would just pass the referee the ball and run back to my own half beaming inside. It was nice when onlookers cheered or my teammates congratulated me but I didn’t need that.”

          And neither does God NEED our worship or anything else. Instead he gives us the capacity to take pleasure in Him and love him and have personal relationship with Him.

          “Scoring was satisfaction enough.”

          God already has perfect satisfaction within Himself, specifically in the love between the three members of the trinity. He does not need any satisfaction from anything we do, though he takes pleasure in us. Compare it with a human father who takes pleasure in the imperfectly done self made birthday card made by his small child. A store bought card will have better spelling and a perfect photo of some scene. And the self made birthday card does not add some great thing to the Father’s possession. And yet because it comes from the child, in their own efforts, in their own words, and it expresses love for the Father. The Father takes pleasure in these actions of his child. Our Heavenly father is the same way. In the movie CHARIOTS OF FIRE, the Christian runner at one point in the movie when challenged about why he does something so “secular” and unspiritual as running fast, responds: “But I feel his pleasure when I run.” That is how God is with us. He takes pleasure in our efforts at worshipping him, obeying him, serving him, when it is done out of love and devotion.

          “The Christian conception of God is like a football player scoring a touchdown, pointing to Himself, doing a celebration dance and then asking every member of the crowd to kiss His feet.”

          That is not the Christian conception of God,that is your own intentional mispresentation of Christianity.

          Why don’t’ you read some Eastern Orthodox writers for example when they talk about God not needing to create the world and yet doing so out of love for other beings. Until you do so, it might be helpful if you discontinue the misrpresentations of God as some needy person. He has no needs . . .

          Robert

      • Walter

        I doubt that I can love anyone on demand.

        • randal

          I assume you’re thinking of love in terms of a warm emotional disposition. Jesus always rooted his understanding of love in action. We can act and the feelings follow.

          That, of course, is the basis of the real love in countless arranged marriages throughout history (and a few self-arranged ones too).

          • Walter

            I assume you’re thinking of love in terms of a warm emotional disposition…
            Yes.

            Jesus always rooted his understanding of love in action. We can act and the feelings follow.

            That sounds like God is demanding servitude rather than love. I am ordered to serve God and darned well better like it while I’m at it.

            • randal

              “That sounds like God is demanding servitude rather than love.”

              Spoken with all the autonomous incredulity of a denizen of a western democracy in the early twenty-first century.

              What could possibly be wrong about being the servant of an infinitely perfect being and why would that servitude be incompatible with love? Isn’t the perfect marriage about service to one’s spouse?

              • Walter

                Isn’t the perfect marriage about service to one’s spouse?

                I wouldn’t know. I am not married. :)

                I would like to think that the perfect marriage would start with that warm emotional disposition kind of love before servitude began, not the other way around. Do you suppose that the Dear Leader, Kim Jong il demanded “love” from those forced to serve him?

                • randal

                  How about we don’t draw analogies between rum swilling bot-bellied East Asian despots and an infinitely perfect being?

                  • Walter

                    You are supposed to be providing us with apologetic arguments for the existence of a God who is goodness itself. You have yet to get that far, so we haven’t established that God’s personality is not similar to that of the Dear Leader. You’re jumping ahead.

                    • randal

                      If a person’s intuitions point them toward there being an infinite good, and the good life being one lived in accord with that infinite good, and that infinite good is associated intimately with an agent, then where exactly does the rum swilling bot-bellied East Asian despot enter the picture?

                    • Walter

                      You have a lot of ifs in that comment.

                      I am trying to point out that love is not something that can be commanded nor is it something that must necessarily arise out of servitude.

                    • randal

                      “You have a lot of ifs in that comment.”

                      One, actually.

                      “I am trying to point out that love is not something that can be commanded….”

                      I explained why you’re wrong. Love is not the funny feeling Donny Osmond crooned about in “Puppy Love”.

                      “nor is it something that must necessarily arise out of servitude.”

                      I never said love necessarily arises out of servitude.

                    • Walter

                      I explained why you’re wrong. Love is not the funny feeling Donny Osmond crooned about in “Puppy Love”.

                      Would this be an example of what Loftus calls definitional apologetics? Love is not really love as I understand it, it’s a special love one feels when serving a being of infinite good. A being, BTW, that you have yet to establish exists.

                      In one sense I can love a good book or movie. Loving a family member or good friend is another kind of love. Intense romantic love is a third kind. I cannot be commanded to do any of these. I can act as if I do but that does not guarantee the emotion is truly present.

                    • randal

                      “A being, BTW, that you have yet to establish exists.”

                      In other words, you’ve ignored the argument of this essay.

                      As for understanding the concept of love in its ancient Greek context, C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves is still a great place to begin.

                    • Walter

                      In other words, you’ve ignored the argument of this essay

                      I thought the object of your essay was to convince us that there was an Author of our lives, not that this Author is a being of infinite goodness. The attributes of the Author have not been discussed yet.

                    • Walter

                      As for understanding the concept of love in its ancient Greek context, C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves is still a great place to begin.

                      I will look into it. I still don’t believe that an emotion can be commanded. An omnipotent being can certainly demand my obedience, and such a being could even manipulate my will in such a way as to produce an emotion, but if we hold to the view that human will is autonomous and free of direct manipulation by God then I don’t see how any emotion can be commanded; I either feel a certain way or I do not.

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    Question for Randal about 1 John 5: 7-8 (KJV):

    For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

    Robert M. Price suggests that the first part of this passage is almost certainly an interpolation. I took a look at this issue this morning and found the following passage from John Stott’s The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 180:

    The whole of this must be regarded as a gloss, as must the words in earth in
    verse 8 … The words do not occur in any Greek MS, version or quotation before the fifteenth century. They first appear in an obscure fourth-century Latin MS and found their way into the AV because Erasmus reluctantly included them in the third edition of his text. They are rightly absent even from the margin of RV and RSV.

    The best (and that is being kind) apologetic I could find for this passage is in an article published by the Trinitarian Bible Society entitled WHY 1 JOHN 5.7–8 IS IN THE BIBLE/b>: http://www.trinitarianbiblesociety.org/site/articles/a102.pdf which concludes:

    The view on 1 John 5:7 through the centuries, held by many Godly men, has
    been that the passage and its testimony of the Trinity by every right must maintain its place in the Scriptures. Thus the Trinitarian Bible Society continues to uphold this passage as inspired by God and profitable for doctrine. As we go into the twenty-first century we maintain the faithful testimony to the Biblical doctrine of the
    Trinity as found in 1 John 5:7–8 in order that all men may know our Triune God: Father, Word and Holy Ghost.

    What’s your take on this issue and how do Biblical inerrantists deny overwhelming evidence of interpolations/redactions?

    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

      This was for Randal, I know….but I’m compulsive like this.

      1 John 5:7-8 absolutely contains an interpolated gloss. Brief research shows that the Trinitarian Bible Society is just another Independent Fundabaptist King James Only parachurch. I have very little patience for any of them.

      The original autograph of 1 John 5:7-8 read: For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. The Trinitarian reading was likely a marginal note accidentally incorporated into the Latin Vulgate around 800; it occurs in none of the old Greek manuscripts and the early church fathers did not include it when they quoted this passage. Really, the only group who seriously maintains the authenticity of the Comma Johanneum is the almost-cult-like Indie Fundabaptist horde who idolizes the old King James.

      So yeah, that’s that. Personally, I’m almost offended whenever anyone cites the KJV. It’s full of errors and poor translation and the archaic language is in many instances wholly unintelligible. If an argument cannot be made from the ESV or NASB, it probably isn’t a good argument.

      “….how do Biblical inerrantists deny overwhelming evidence of interpolations/redactions?”

      Bit loaded there, eh?

      I don’t really consider myself an inerrantist per se, but I’ll still take the bait. With the exception of the fundabaptists, the “Biblical inerrantists” don’t deny interpolation and redaction. It’s really, really obvious.

      Of course there are many errors in the various extant manuscripts we have. Thankfully, though, textual criticism allows us to reconstruct the original with a great deal of consistency and confidence. That’s where phylogenetic analysis really shines. So the many errors and interpolations in individual texts don’t really reflect on our basic understanding.

      • Aaron

        Off course here, but what are your thoughts of the NIV (2011)?

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          I’ve memorized a good deal in the 1984 NIV, and my fiancée studied with the NIV until I gave her an ESV. The NIV’s “dynamic equivalency” tends toward honing in on one particular aspect of a passage. It ends up losing a lot of the nuance — that’s why I prefer a textual equivalency translation like the ESV or NASB. But any modern translation is fine.

      • honest_john_law

        “The Trinitarian reading was likely a marginal note accidentally incorporated into the Latin Vulgate around 800; it occurs in none of the old Greek manuscripts and the early church fathers did not include it when they quoted this passage.” – davidstarlingm

        This is encouraging! David makes reference to the “early church fathers” re. their understanding of the original content of 1 John 5:7-8. I wonder why David still refuses to accept the position of early Church Fathers re. legitimate Apostolic succession. Legitimate Apostolic succession was endorsed by Church Fathers by the late 1st Century AD onward. Early Church Fathers relied upon legitimate Apostolic succession to protect and defend the truths of the Faith from heresy (e.g. Gnosticism).

        http://www.catholic.com/tracts/apostolic-succession

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          “David makes reference to the ‘early church fathers’ re. their understanding of the original content of 1 John 5:7-8.”

          Actually, I make reference to the fact that they quoted 1 John 5:7-8, and their quotations did not contain the Johannine Comma. It doesn’t matter who quoted it; if it had been quoted by Gnostics or Romans or anyone it would carry the same weight. It’s a historical observation.

          “I wonder why David still refuses to accept the position of early Church Fathers re. legitimate Apostolic succession.”

          I don’t argue with legitimate apostolic succession. I simply think that you’re mistaken if you believe apostolic succession was maintained past the third and fourth centuries.

          • honest_john_law

            “Actually, I make reference to the fact that they quoted 1 John 5:7-8, and their quotations did not contain the Johannine Comma. It doesn’t matter who quoted it; if it had been quoted by Gnostics or Romans or anyone it would carry the same weight.” – David

            I read what you wrote. It is interesting (and encouraging) that you did choose to reference “early church fathers” and not the Gnostics et. al. when you were making your case that “1 John 5:7-8 absolutely contains an interpolated gloss”.

            “I don’t argue with legitimate apostolic succession. I simply think that you’re mistaken if you believe apostolic succession was maintained past the third and fourth centuries.” – David

            It seems remarkable to me that someone (i.e. you) could accept that Christ personally selected a body of Apostles and conferred special authority upon them to interpret and defend the truths of the Faith… and then that same someone (i.e. you) could also believe the line of Apostolic succession would simply disintegrate some several hundred years later.

            Here is some wisdom imparted by Augustine in 397 A.D.

            “[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic,’ when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 4:5 [A.D. 397]).

            David, I earlier offered you a link to some excellent books by Karl Keating. Why not check out one (or more) of them and read about the history of the Catholic Church from a Catholic perspective.

            • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

              ” It is interesting (and encouraging) that you did choose to reference ‘early church fathers’ and not the Gnostics et. al. when you were making your case that ‘1 John 5:7-8 absolutely contains an interpolated gloss’.”

              Sorry to burst your bubble….but I don’t think the Gnostics et al. ever quoted 1 John.

              “It seems remarkable to me that someone could accept that Christ personally selected a body of Apostles and conferred special authority upon them to interpret and defend the truths of the Faith… and then that same someone could also believe the line of Apostolic succession would simply disintegrate some several hundred years later.”

              I think Apostolic succession was instituted to establish the church, not maintain it. Even if John 21 was referencing Apostolic succession, it still doesn’t require that ordinance to endure; Jesus said he would build the church on Peter’s confession, not maintain it.

              In any case, Augustine was still part of the 4th century….technically.

              • honest_john_law

                “Sorry to burst your bubble….but I don’t think the Gnostics et. al. ever quoted 1 John.” – David

                No kidding. My obvious point, David, was that it appeared to me that you were appealing to authority when you referenced the “early church fathers” in your argument that “’1 John 5:7-8 absolutely contains an interpolated gloss’.” Feel free to disavow this if you wish, but I am still encouraged by it.

                “I think Apostolic succession was instituted to establish the church, not maintain it. Even if John 21 was referencing Apostolic succession, it still doesn’t require that ordinance to endure; Jesus said he would build the church on Peter’s confession, not maintain it.” – David

                This is truly befuddling. Christ told Peter that the gates of Hades would certainly not prevail against the Church that Christ established on Earth. It is remarkable that you are willing to accept legitimate Apostolic succession and yet you are also willing to accept it would be allowed to disintegrate. If it ever served the purpose to defend the truths of the Faith (which it certainly did against the Gnostics), it does not seem reasonable to believe it would subsequently be allowed to disintegrate.

                “In any case, Augustine was still part of the 4th century….technically.” – David

                Augustine died in 430 A.D., and he was a staunch defender of the Faith until his death. Aside from that, he wasn’t the last Church Father to support this position.

                • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                  I certainly consider the testimony of the early church fathers to be a useful one, but my point is that you need not accept their authority in order to recognize that their copy of 1 John did not have the Comma.

                  “Christ told Peter that the gates of Hades would certainly not prevail against the Church that Christ established on Earth.”

                  And they haven’t — not within the Roman church or without it. The biggest defeater to the Roman claim of maintained catholic apostolic succession is the undeniable fact of Protestantism: we don’t need the pope to worship God.

                  “If it ever served the purpose to defend the truths of the Faith, it does not seem reasonable to believe it would subsequently be allowed to disintegrate.”

                  And the burden of proof is upon you to demonstrate that the purpose of apostolic succession was actually continual defense against heresy, rather than the growth and establishment of the early church….without appealing to the Church’s claims to that effect.

                  • honest_john_law

                    “And they haven’t — not within the Roman church or without it. The biggest defeater to the Roman claim of maintained catholic apostolic succession is the undeniable fact of Protestantism: we don’t need the pope to worship God.” – David

                    This is remarkable. Christ revealed himself to a body of Apostles chosen by Him, and He conferred special authority upon them to maintain the truths of the Faith. This belief was openly supported by early Church Fathers from the beginning, and their ongoing support is recorded in their writings for centuries to follow. Christ certainly did not intend for the Church to become divided. The fact that various people have challenged the authority and/or teachings and/or practices of the Roman Catholic Church does not prove it is a false or broken church. Christ must have known the truths of the Faith maintained by the Church would be challenged, and He equipped the Church from its very beginning. The Roman Catholic Church remains after nearly 2,000 years.

                    “And the burden of proof is upon you to demonstrate that the purpose of apostolic succession was actually continual defense against heresy, rather than the growth and establishment of the early church….without appealing to the Church’s claims to that effect.” – David

                    I provided substantial evidence that Church Fathers accepted legitimate Apostolic succession from the early days of the Church, and this belief was reflected in their writings for centuries to follow. You are the one who made the following claim:

                    “I simply think that you’re mistaken if you believe apostolic succession was maintained past the third and fourth centuries.” – David

                    You have provided no evidence that Apostolic succession ceased in the “3rd or 4th century”.

                    David, some of your statements sound like comments one might find in anti-Catholic tracts. I offered you reference to some excellent books by Karl Keating. Scholars like Karl Keating provide thorough responses to issues people commonly cite (e.g. the practice of granting indulgences, unscrupulous men sitting upon the Chair of St. Peter, antipopes, burning of books, teaching the Mass in Latin, devotion to the BVM, sacred tradition apart from what was revealed in scripture etc.). There are Catholic explanations re. such issues. Perhaps it is worth some additional time and effort to consider them from the Catholic perspective.

                    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                      “Christ revealed himself to a body of Apostles chosen by Him, and He conferred special authority upon them to maintain the truths of the Faith.”

                      This is the part I don’t agree with. The body of Apostles was tasked with spreading the Gospel and establishing the church, not assuming the arbitration of interpretation. You’ll have to explain your basis for asserting that Apostolic succession was intended specifically as a safeguard against heresy.

                      The Apostles certainly served in the doctrine-safeguard from time to time, but there is no evidence in Scripture (or, really, even outside of Scripture) that this was their primary role or that their authority in this area was particularly privileged compared to the church at large.

                      “The fact that various people have challenged the authority and/or teachings and/or practices of the Roman Catholic Church does not prove it is a false or broken church.”

                      No, but the fact that people have challenged the authority, teachings, and practices of the Roman Church and have maintained their own Biblical churches outside its auspices does.

                      “I provided substantial evidence that Church Fathers accepted legitimate Apostolic succession from the early days of the Church, and this belief was reflected in their writings for centuries to follow.”

                      And yet you have not provided evidence that this legitimate Apostolic succession was intended for anything other than the establishment of the church. On what basis do you assert that Apostolic succession was an enduring doctrinal safeguard?

                      “David, some of your statements sound like comments one might find in anti-Catholic tracts. I offered you reference to some excellent books by Karl Keating.”

                      I have read Catholic apologetics extensively, one of my best friends crossed the Tiber and explained all of her reasons to me, and I abhor most anti-Catholic tracts and arguments.

                    • honest_john_law

                      “This is the part I don’t agree with. The body of Apostles was tasked with spreading the Gospel and establishing the church, not assuming the arbitration of interpretation.” – David

                      Your view doesn’t align with that of early Church Fathers. If you feel otherwise, let’s leave this one at that.

                      “You’ll have to explain your basis for asserting that Apostolic succession was intended specifically as a safeguard against heresy.” – David

                      I provided a prime example re. how legitimate Apostolic succession was used as a safeguard against Gnosticism. As far as the specific powers and authority personally conferred upon the Apostles by Christ Himself, I rely upon the understanding of the Church Fathers. I do not believe it is reasonable that I can read scripture today and come to a better understanding re. this matter than the early Church Fathers did.

                      “No, but the fact that people have challenged the authority, teachings, and practices of the Roman Church and have maintained their own Biblical churches outside its auspices does.” – David

                      I wholeheartedly disagree with this. However, if you are determined to believe this, I see no point belaboring this any further.

                      “And yet you have not provided evidence that this legitimate Apostolic succession was intended for anything other than the establishment of the church. On what basis do you assert that Apostolic succession was an enduring doctrinal safeguard?” – David

                      I provided a prime example re. how legitimate Apostolic succession was used as a safeguard against Gnosticism. As far as the specific powers and authority personally conferred upon the Apostles by Christ Himself, I rely upon the understanding of the Church Fathers. If you choose to disagree, that is up to you.

                      “I have read Catholic apologetics extensively, one of my best friends crossed the Tiber and explained all of her reasons to me, and I abhor most anti-Catholic tracts and arguments.” – David

                      If you haven’t had the chance to read any of the books I referenced by Karl Keating, I think they might be worth reviewing. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

                      C.H.T.R.

    • randal

      “Robert M. Price suggests that the first part of this passage is almost certainly an interpolation.”

      That’s like claiming the earth goes around the sun. Both were cutting edge theses in the sixteenth century.

      Scripture reflects the following: (1) There is one God, (2) Father, Son and Spirit are God, (3) Father, Son and Spirit are distinct.

      Theories of the Trinity are attempts to explain those three propositions. The doctrine that the theories attempt to explain doesn’t arise from one proof text.

  • Jerry Rivard

    This is intended as an observation, maybe even a criticism, but not as an argument. Just a sort of point of order as you build your explanation of Christianity. As you correctly pointed out (last 2 paragraphs), the basic difference between an atheist and a theist is that a theist believes an agent to be “the ultimate cause of everything that contingently exists”. So the authored text metaphor speaks to theists, but not to atheists. Atheists do not believe there is an author.

    • Jerry Rivard

      I should add though that if one pre-supposes theism, then the notion of an objective meaning infused into our lives by God the Author, as opposed to each of us finding our own meaning, does seem to be more correct. I’ll further add that an author’s purpose is not for the sake of the characters created, but for the reader, who is apparently absent from this metaphor. Again, I’m not trying to form an argument, just making a few observations about the metaphor’s applicability. But I see no reason it cannot be built upon.

      • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

        I enjoy writing myself.

        One of the central goals in writing is causing your audience to identify with your characters. I suppose that the greatest possible achievement for an author would be to have the characters and the audience be synonymous.

    • randal

      You’re missing the point of the analogy here.

      The point is this: the immediate recognition that there is objective meaning in a text is more powerful than the skeptical denials of that meaning. By analogy: the immediate recognition that there is objective meaning in our lives is more powerful than the skeptical denials of that meaning.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    I think the main question is – is life a text? Is a life the kind of thing that can have an objective meaning in that sense?

    In other words, how do we know the analogy holds?

    • randal

      If you think there are better and worse ways to live a human life, and you believe that those modes of valuation are objective, and if you assume that they can be described in language (e.g. A life spent defending the poor is better spent than a life oppressing the poor) then the analogy holds just fine. Since that scenario I described is fully coherent the analogy does hold.

      • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

        A proposition about a life such as your example can indeed have meaning. Is that identical to the life itself having meaning in the same sense, though?

        • randal

          The truth of the sentence “My life has objective value and purpose” is dependent on my life in fact having objective value and purpose. The state of affairs is the truthmaker for the proposition.

          So this is my claim: my knowledge that “My life has objective value and purpose” is true is more securely grounded than any argument which would aim to demonstrate this to be false in the same way that the sentences of Watership Down as meaningful are more securely grounded than any argument which would deny that objective meaning.

          • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

            Wait, hold up – does the word “meaning” mean the same thing as the word “value” and/or the word “purpose”?

            Text expresses a proposition. Are you saying your life expresses a proposition? If so, what is that proposition, or one of them?

  • http://ferlans.wordpress.com/ ogtracy

    If I may butt in, Randal and Walter, I think your argument is based on a difference in definition. Walter thinks that love is that warm fuzzy feeling and Randal says that love isn’t the feeling itself but the feeling follows from love. (At least, I think that’s what he’s saying)

    I have to agree with Randal. When I was 3 weeks old, and waking my Mom up at odd hours of the night, I doubt that feeling was present but i do believe she still loved me at that moment.

    • Walter

      If we are defining love as a duty instead of a feeling then I will admit that God can certainly command us to perform duties.

      • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

        Hmm.

        Is there any instance in the Bible where love is a feeling rather than an action/state?

        • Walter

          The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and mind. Sounds an awful lot like God is commanding people to produce a feeling. This actually is not a problem for Calvinists such as yourself, since you guys already believe in a God who controls man’s desires. God simply implants the desire to love him within the heart of the elect.

          • http://ferlans.wordpress.com/ ogtracy

            To love with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
            It doesn’t sound like a command to produce feelings to me. Rather, it seems to describe the level of commitment we should have to this ‘duty’ of loving God.

            • Walter

              Like I said: a duty can be commanded, an emotion cannot. God can command me to serve him with a smile on my face, but he cannot command me to love him emotionally. What if I was a psychopath, incapable of emotion? All I would be able to do is go through the motions.

              • http://ferlans.wordpress.com/ ogtracy

                Well, if we assume that the command to love God with all your heart is not a command to feel an emotion, then I don’t really see what your problem is. It seems to me that you are still saying that the love in question is an emotion.

                I agree that emotions cannot be produced by the individual at will, but what does that have to do with this discussion?

                • Walter

                  Because I believe that your interpretation of the greatest commandment is tendentious. Loving God with all your heart is clearly describing an emotional state of being.

                  • http://ferlans.wordpress.com/ ogtracy

                    Well, why didn’t you just say so instead of giving me the impression that we were in agreement? I suppose one of us has to support our view now.

                    I defined love as some thing different from the feelings that we associate with it without stating exactly what it is.
                    I supported it with an example of a mother who loves her children but sometimes does not feel that emotion, but still loves her children.

                    That’s as far as I’ve explicitly outlined it in my head. It mostly just seems intuitive. You, on the other hand, seem very certain of your interpretation. Why do you think the commandment describes an emotional state of being? Is your understanding not tendentious?

                    • Walter

                      A mother may occasionally get aggravated at her children, but I doubt that a mother stops feeling the emotion of love towards a child even in moments of aggravation, frustration, disappointment or whatever.

                      Why do you think the commandment describes an emotional state of being? Is your understanding not tendentious?

                      The phrase “love something or someone with all your heart” is perspicuous. Ask ten people on the street what that phrase means to them and I guarantee that most will describe an emotional state of being.

                    • randal

                      “A mother may occasionally get aggravated at her children, but I doubt that a mother stops feeling the emotion of love towards a child even in moments of aggravation, frustration, disappointment or whatever.”

                      It simply isn’t true that loving a person requires one to feel a consistent moral warmth towards them. Sometimes, in intense moments of antagonism, a person can feel hatred for another person they love.

                    • http://ferlans.wordpress.com/ ogtracy

                      Correct me if I’ve misunderstood you, but are you saying that a mother who feels aggravated at her children feels the emotion of love in that same instant?

                      Let’s look at it from another angle. Do you feel that emotion towards those you love every single moment? I know I don’t but I don’t stop loving them.

                      Secondly, the meaning of the phrase may be plain to you, but it does not seem that way to me (and some other people apparently). I also doubt that what most people on the street describe love as has any bearing on what love actually is.

                      As for your survey, I’ll carry it out and get back to you.

          • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

            Love is a verb.

            “God simply implants the desire to love him within the heart of the elect.”

            God demonstrates the value of loving Him over and against the value of loving self. If that’s implantation….okay.

            • Walter

              Let’s not mince words, David. I am well aware of what Calvinists believe. Calvinists believe that reprobates are incapable of loving God until regeneration occurs.After regeneration you are incapable of not loving God. That is why irresistible grace has been called the holy rape of the soul.

              • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                Some.

          • Aaron

            david is right. I think the best definition of agape love in this context is exemplified by the work of Christ on the cross. He wasn’t producing feelings, in fact, in the garden, the sheer anguish reflects the work of humility that seems to be required to actually follow that commandment.

            From my own experience, humility isn’t a submission seeking the result of favor and honor, rather, an understanding of God’s love for me. It only seems reasonable in light of that, that I would give up my own desires for God’s…in this case, love.

  • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

    Walter said:

    “I still don’t believe that an emotion can be commanded.”

    What if the emotion is not what is being commanded?

    Premise: the greatest possible good is to admire and take joy in that which is perfectly lovely.

    • Walter

      Read my reply to ogtracy

  • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

    I like the approach Randal is taking, but I wanted to offer a (hopefully) brief bit in line with Jerry’s request for a “short, direct, easy to read explanation of Christianity”.

    One quick note before I start: obviously, this approach is going to be laced thoroughly with neocalvinism, but please don’t let that confuse you. There are plenty of Christians who disagree on the how and why, but we agree on what the facts are. My explanation is very personalized and specific, but it’s not wildly different from Christianity in general.

    —-

    God is maximally good, maximally wise, infinitely loving, and infinitely lovely. The combination of God’s infinite love and infinite goodness causes him to desire to increase opportunity and occasion of love. To this end, he willed the existence of human beings: social, self-aware, and physically dependent.

    Being maximally wise, God knew that self-awareness in any being of less than maximal goodness and loveliness is dangerous; self-awareness inevitably leads to selfishness, which leads to abuse of power, rebellion, and suffering in any less-than-perfect being.

    Buddhism seeks to solve the problem of suffering by removing desire and self entirely. But this approach is antithetical to the reason humans were being created in the first place, so it wasn’t an option.

    Rather than removing self or trying to quarantine humanity from the dangers of self, God chose to inoculate humanity. He provided an opportunity for self to take control, resolving to overcome self’s rebellion and pride by something greater: infinite love.

    Good is loving that which is lovely; evil is loving and valuing self over that which is more beautiful. Evil leads to decay, destruction, and death.

    In anticipation of the manner in which he would demonstrate his wisdom and love in saving individual human beings, God chose to reveal himself through a particular group of people — one that had nothing in particular to commend it other than vulnerability. To prevent rebellious, selfish humanity from decaying into complete chaos, God provided temporary laws and regulations specific to the ancient Hebrew culture. These would also serve to reveal God’s desires for human beings and human society….albeit filtered heavily through a particular sociocultural context.

    God continued to reveal more about his nature and plans while preserving this people during the rise and fall of the world’s great empires. It was at the peak of the last great world empire that God chose to implement stage two of his plan.

    It is at this point that a significant plot twist is revealed: the Godhead is a trinity. Three divine individuals: the Father representing will and purpose, the Son representing word and action, and the Spirit representing power and manifestation. They possess a single shared nature and set of attributes but three individual identities and minds.

    The Son divested himself of divine power and incarnated himself as a human being, born under the temporary law. He lived and taught the will of the Father by the power of the Spirit. In order that we might be freed from the curse of evil and the law, he lived out all the law’s requirements, then allowed himself to be killed by men. In that transaction, he took within himself all the decay and destruction and death wrought by human evil. This satisfied all the judicial requirements of the temporary law on our behalf while simultaneously providing a means for us to be freed from self. In gratefulness for his atoning work, we find something more desirable than ourselves — we have something more attractive and beautiful and powerful than selfishness and lust for power.

    The law came that evil might be kept in check; Christ came that the law might be ended and evil would be defeated, not by force or threat, but by action of love….which was the purpose of our existence to begin with.

    Having suffered and died as a man, the Son was raised from the dead by the Spirit to demonstrate the end of evil’s reign. Having fully accomplished the purpose for which he came, the Son returned to his previous glorified state, but not before commissioning his followers to spread these truths to all peoples, using the temporarily stable Roman Empire as a vehicle. Just as evil had been defeated by the action of one Man, so the gospel would be spread by the actions and words of all those it had touched. It would take at least twenty centuries before the gospel would reach every tribe and language on earth.

    The Son left the Scriptures as a record of God’s interaction with man. He left his followers to form churches to strengthen and equip those who would bear his name. Every man has a choice: to remain in sin and rebellion, cursed by evil to bear the penalties of evil, or to be humbled by the work of Christ and thus be raised to serve a higher calling, motivated by gratitude rather than by fear or selfishness. This is the call of Christ and the meaning of Christianity.

    —-

    Sorry, it got a little longer than intended. But I think that covers most of it. Any questions?

    • Jerry Rivard

      Lots of questions, but let me think about it first. Thank you very much for taking the time.

      • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

        No problem. :)

    • randal

      I’m just getting caught up with comments. Let me begin with this:

      “The combination of God’s infinite love and infinite goodness causes him to desire to increase opportunity and occasion of love.”

      The language of something causing God to do something would not be accepted well in the tradition of classical theism. However, the deeper issue is whether God needs to create in order to be God. You seem to be led in that direction and thus toward a position which looks potentially neoplatonic.

      “Good is loving that which is lovely…”

      Agape goodness loves that which is not lovely.

      “The Son divested himself of divine power and incarnated himself as a human being, born under the temporary law.”

      Are you defending kenoticism?

      “In that transaction, he took within himself all the decay and destruction and death wrought by human evil. This satisfied all the judicial requirements of the temporary law on our behalf”

      The transaction (imputation) raises questions all its own. (How does such an imputation of culpability occur?) As for the judicial requirements, do you think those are purely a manifestation of “temporary law”? If so, why didn’t God institute another temporary law that didn’t require the death of his Son?

      • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

        The language of something causing God to do something would not be accepted well in the tradition of classical theism.

        Perhaps it would better be phrased, “God desires X based on his attributes Y and Z.” His attributes do not cause him to create; but he desired to create as a result of those attributes. I don’t think that’s neoplatonic.

        Agape goodness loves that which is not lovely.

        The agape goodness of God is inherently lovely, and thus its exercise is love and good. God does not love unlovely, sinful man because he loves sin; God loves man so that man can become lovely.

        Are you defending kenoticism?

        Yeah. Insofar as the theory of kenosis denies the deity of Christ during his incarnation, it is false; however, I don’t think that’s a necessary element. Kenosis is the best way, IMHO, of introducing someone to the topic of incarnation and separating the person of the Son from the person of the Father (something that people really get hung up on a lot).

        The transaction (imputation) raises questions all its own. (How does such an imputation of culpability occur?)

        I know of no defeater to the proposition that a free individual can volunteer to accept the charges placed upon another person if the judge finds such a distribution equitable.

        As for the judicial requirements, do you think those are purely a manifestation of “temporary law”? If so, why didn’t God institute another temporary law that didn’t require the death of his Son?

        The law is temporary in terms of pendency and applicability, not in terms of value.

        “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin.”

        The law was the catalyst for bringing about the defeat of sin by the love of God.

        • randal

          “I don’t think that’s neoplatonic.”

          It isn’t so long as God doesn’t create by a necessary effulgence or emanation from his being. Your original wording suggested that creation was this type of emenation arising from God’s superabundance rather than an act of will.

          “God loves man so that man can become lovely.”

          That’s different from loving the lovable.

          “I know of no defeater to the proposition that a free individual can volunteer to accept the charges placed upon another person if the judge finds such a distribution equitable.”

          I discuss that here: http://randalrauser.com/2011/04/the-death-of-jesus-the-rape-of-a-woman-and-a-concept-called-imputation/

          • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

            Your original wording suggested that creation was this type of emenation arising from God’s superabundance rather than an act of will.

            Well then I was unclear. I thought the word “desire” underscored that creation was an act of will. Probably needs rephrasing, then.

            “God loves man so that man can become lovely.”

            That’s different from loving the lovable.

            Not necessarily. There are two ways of reconciling this with my claim that “good” involves loving that which is lovely: first, that God’s foreknowledge allows him to love us for what we will become, and second, that the process of changing someone from unlovely to lovely through love is inherently beautiful and thus an acceptable object of love. Whether you take one view, the other, or both, the definition holds.

            “I know of no defeater to the proposition that a free individual can volunteer to accept the charges placed upon another person if the judge finds such a distribution equitable.”

            I discuss that here: [link]

            While I think that penal substitution is the most useful theory of atonement, I don’t feel that it’s a requirement of essential Christianity. If I had thought about it while I was writing that summary, I would have discussed the atonement in a way that doesn’t hone in on any one theory.

    • Jerry Rivard

      Thanks for your patience. As I mentioned, I have many questions, and I disagree with many of your assertions. (For example, I don’t think of man as “fallen”, I think we’ve been rising throughout our history.) But to address all of them would take a lot of effort for us both (assuming you responded, which I’m sure you’d do) and would largely be a rehash of topics already covered. The first sentence alone could potentially lead us down at least four different rabbit holes, and it isn’t unique in that regard. So I’ll continue this discussion in the spirit of my sincere attempt to understand Christianity, and your sincere attempt to explain it in brief. I’ll focus on what I don’t understand and ignore what I disagree with.

      I think I followed you up to, and to some degree including, the trinity. I don’t understand how/why God is three instead of one, but it seems to me to be fairly unimportant to my understanding of the rest, so I can just accept the trinity as you’ve described it. It may become a problem later, but if it does I’ll come back to it. First, let me recap it up to that point in a paragraph so that we can both see how well I understand it.

      God created man as a way to increase love in the universe. But love requires self-awareness, and self-awareness leads to selfishness and other problems, so God revealed himself to some of us and gave them laws that were temporary (the best we could understand at the time) to keep evil in check as much as possible. When the time was right, God incarnated a part of himself in order to implement phase two of his divine plan.

      Maybe it’s apparent to you from my paraphrasing that I don’t get the first part, even though I think I more or less do. But I know that I don’t get the rest. Your last four paragraphs are a near complete mystery to me. I think I understand what you’re saying, but I still don’t understand the point behind it all. Here are some specific questions:

      1) Does the trinity have any direct bearing on Christianity as a whole, or is it really just an explanation for how God can be in heaven and on earth at the same time? Wouldn’t the rest of the story pretty much hold together if God were one instead of three and had the power to exist simultaneously both as a God in heaven and as a man on earth? If the trinity is a critical piece of the puzzle, could you explain why?

      2) I think you’re saying that Jesus came to teach us primarily to love one another. How does our having executed him accomplish this better than our following him peacefully would have? Were we just not ready for that? Are we now?

      3) Related to 2, why did Jesus have to die at all? Want something that would convince pretty much every non-Christian of every stripe that Christianity is true? Let Jesus remain on this planet for 2000 years and still be going strong. Wouldn’t that be a lot more peaceful and convincing than our executing him and his allegedly (and 2000 or even 200 years later not demonstrably) being resurrected?

      4) Maybe the answers to 2 & 3 are right in your text. Our execution of Jesus enabled him to “[take] within himself all the decay and destruction and death wrought by human evil”. I guess that means that some sort of purging was required. How did that work? And still, why did he need to be executed for that to happen? (I’m not being facetious here, but was it a little like the end of The Exorcist, where the priest said “come into me”, the demon did so, and then he jumped out the window?)

      5) If Jesus came to earth so that evil could be defeated and was resurrected to demonstrate the end of evil’s reign, why has so much violence been committed since, including much in the name of Christianity?

      I guess the answer to 5 may be in your text as well. “Every man has a choice: to remain in sin and rebellion, cursed by evil to bear the penalties of evil, or to be humbled by the work of Christ and thus be raised to serve a higher calling, motivated by gratitude rather than by fear or selfishness.” That brings three more questions to mind.

      6) Why wasn’t the work of an omnipotent deity more effective? (I’m not being facetious here either.)

      7) If a person is humbled by the work of Christ, but does not believe in Christ’s divinity, is he saved? If a person is humbled by the work of Christ, and does believe in his divinity, but still sins due to his own weakness, is he saved? Does the extent of the sin matter? What does saved mean exactly?

      8) Are the penalties of evil imposed by God? Does God have a choice not to impose them? If so, why impose them, especially if it means ECT? I surmise from other comments you’ve made that you do not believe in ECT, but what purpose does even a far lesser penalty serve? Or is the penalty simply annihilation without suffering?

      I’ve tried not to be argumentative, but I don’t see the point of God incarnate on earth executed by men as a means to make man better. And I don’t see where it has helped much. I’m sure that attitude comes through in my questions, but I really do mean them as questions and not as an argument. I’m trying to suspend my disbelief enough to grok the whole thing, but it still doesn’t make sense to me; and it not making sense to me is a significant part of my not believing it.

  • Walter

    Every man has a choice

    Well that might be Randal’s position but it’s not quite what you really believe now is it? Calvinist’s typically claim the choosing is done on God’s side of the fence. If lucky, you will be the recipient of grace and mercy, if not…

    How exactly does neocalvinism differ from old school Calvinism?

    …motivated by gratitude rather than by fear or selfishness.

    “Thank you Lord for not tormenting me for all eternity, like you are going to do with the majority of the human race that were not picked to receive your loving grace.”

    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

      You sure do jump on Calvinism quickly, don’t you. What exactly is your prior experience with Calvinistic thought?

      “Well that might be Randal’s position but it’s not quite what you really believe now is it?”

      I know of no Calvinists which would deny that rebellion and repentance are both choices made by human beings.

      “How exactly does neocalvinism differ from old school Calvinism?”

      Neocalvinism is the study of how God’s role in justification, sanctification, and glorification add to the beauty of salvation and the life of the believer.

      “Thank you Lord for not tormenting me for all eternity, like you are going to do with the majority of the human race that were not picked to receive your loving grace.”

      First, eternal conscious torment is not a requirement of neocalvinism. Second, like I said at the beginning, this presentation is not limited to calvinistic thought.

      So more like, “Thank you, Lord, for bearing the weight of the effects of our foolishness and evil and for using the knowledge of your work to produce in us the desire to glorify you. Thank you for making your glory synonymous with our joy.”

  • Walter

    You sure do jump on Calvinism quickly, don’t you. What exactly is your prior experience with Calvinistic thought?

    I disagree with non-calvinist Christians but I despise Calvinism. It’s hard for me not to jump on a belief that I find so morally reprehensible. But I’ll try to refrain from turning this into a Calvin-bash.

    The biggest problem that I have with orthodox Christianity is that it posits a God who condemns us for not measuring up to a standard of perfection that He himself has assured that we would not be able to meet. I believe the orthodox Christian view of humanity is thoroughly misanthropic: people are taught to think of themselves as trash that offends God with our very presence. Every time a little baby is born to the world it is just another disgusting sinner, deserving of punishment and requiring forgiveness for the crime of being born human. This view of humanity sickens me.

    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

      “The biggest problem that I have with orthodox Christianity is that it posits a God who condemns us for not measuring up to a standard of perfection that He himself has assured that we would not be able to meet.”

      Given that less-than-infinitely-good beings will always be tempted to selfishness, rebellion, and abuse of power, which approach is better: quarantine or inoculation?

      • Walter

        Let me ask you this, will you be infintely good in your fully sanctified and resurrected state?

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          No, I won’t.

          But I won’t be vulnerable to sin because I have been inoculated against it.

    • Aaron

      “The biggest problem that I have with orthodox Christianity is that it posits a God who condemns us for not measuring up to a standard of perfection that He himself has assured that we would not be able to meet”

      This isn’t how I understand it. God doesn’t condemn for us not measuring up to a standard of perfection, rather, he condemns for us rejecting the solution put forth through Jesus Christ who was able to measure up to the standard of perfection.

      • Walter

        This isn’t how I understand it. God doesn’t condemn for us not measuring up to a standard of perfection, rather, he condemns for us rejecting the solution put forth through Jesus Christ who was able to measure up to the standard of perfection.

        Orthodox believers routinely tell me that I am not deserving of hell for disbelief in the gospel stories, I deserve it because I have inherited God’s wrath due to Adam’s fall and I have personally fallen short of God’s standard of righteousness. A standard that is impossible for me to meet since the normal range of human emotions is sufficient cause to receive a guilty verdict.

        • Aaron

          The first part, “Orthodox believers routinely tell me that I am not deserving of hell for disbelief in the gospel stories, I deserve it because I have inherited God’s wrath due to Adam’s fall and I have personally fallen short of God’s standard of righteousness”, is correct.

          The second part however, “A standard that is impossible for me to meet since the normal range of human emotions is sufficient cause to receive a guilty verdict”, while correct, doesn’t leave you without choice and options. And, it’s the options that you are perfectly humanly capable of making. You either receive the gift or you reject it. Your choice.

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          Technically, you’re both right. On the one hand, it is our sin in particular that makes us deserving of judgment. On the other hand, the rejection of salvation is the proximate cause of condemnation. It’s like violating parole — you deserve prison because of your original crime; you are going back to prison because you broke parole.

          But as Aaron points out, given that our salvation was the intent from the beginning, any argument that God’s standard is unfair is rendered void by the Cross. It’s like a drug dealer protesting that he was arrested under a false warrant after his case has already been dismissed.

          • Walter

            But as Aaron points out, given that our salvation was the intent from the beginning, any argument that God’s standard is unfair is rendered void by the Cross. It’s like a drug dealer protesting that he was arrested under a false warrant after his case has already been dismissed.

            And here is where I have to strongly resist turning this into a calvinism thread since Calvinists don’t believe that the fix offered by the cross is available to everyone.

            • Aaron

              But, I’m not a Calvinist…at least I don’t think I am :)

            • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

              “Calvinists don’t believe that the fix offered by the cross is available to everyone.”

              Not in so many words. We simply deny universalism and affirm the full knowledge of God. Anything further is just speculation.

              • Walter

                Calvinists believe that the cross saves only the elect. Jesus did not come to save everybody, he came to save a particular few, pre-chosen through no merit of their own. My critique of the orthodox Christian God’s character is even more damning on the Calvinist worldview. Even worse than the problem of particular redemption, consistent Calvinists will admit that humans sin because sovereign God desired that they sin and determined that they would. Humans become nothing more than puppets manipulated from start to finish. That is not a God you love, that is one you fear mightily.

                • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                  “Calvinists believe that the cross saves only the elect.”

                  That’s what all non-universalist Christians believe.

                  Calvinists merely assert that the damning of certain individuals does not represent the frustration of divine will.

                  “….consistent Calvinists will admit that humans sin because [a] sovereign God desired that they sin and determined that they would.”

                  And you are certain that there is no possible way that God’s determination and appointment of human sin could function for humanity’s benefit or God’s glory?

                  • Walter

                    And you are certain that there is no possible way that God’s determination and appointment of human sin could function for humanity’s benefit or God’s glory?

                    Seriously, David? Shall we ask a person serving an eternal sentence in hell if God’s plan was a benefit to them? Calvinism seems incredibly self-serving to me, because what you seem to be saying is that as long as God and *you* benefit, then maybe the eternal reprobation of most everyone else is all for the best–at least as far as you are concerned.

                    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                      Where was eternal conscious torment mentioned in my summary explanation of Christianity? I do not believe that ETC is a necessary belief, and I personally find it to be unlikely.

                      I simply assert that providing an occasion for sin to rise and fall is a better method of protecting humanity from sin than simply trying to keep it suppressed.

                    • Walter

                      Where was eternal conscious torment mentioned in my summary explanation of Christianity? I do not believe that ETC is a necessary belief, and I personally find it to be unlikely.

                      Are you saying that you have no belief in any kind of eternal hell? If not, then that does lessen my moral revulsion towards your particular religious beliefs by several factors. However, the vast majority of orthodox believers do strongly believe in an eternal hell of suffering for all but the elect.

                      I simply assert that providing an occasion for sin to rise and fall is a better method of protecting humanity from sin than simply trying to keep it suppressed.

                      How about I propose a “better” method might be the one that God is going to use to restrain sin from happening again in the elect’s resurrected state. That method could have been applied from the start.

    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

      “Every time a little baby is born to the world it is just another disgusting sinner, deserving of punishment and requiring forgiveness for the crime of being born human.”

      On the one hand — yes, every human being needs salvation; that’s why the Fall happened in the first place. But an infant has not sinned until he or she sins.

      • Jerry Rivard

        Could you give an example of a hypothetical first sin? At what age might a typical first sin be committed?

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          The idea of sins being neat, discrete events easily divided between mortal and venial varieties is a very Roman one. Selfishness and abuse and anger and hatred aren’t events; they are the baseline of human emotion and attitude.

          I’m not sure about a “hypothetical first sin”, but I recall a hypothetical early example that I heard once. I think it was actually mentioned in a comment here once before.

          Infants are inquisitive, curious, and excitable, but they still show the same selfishness and anger as any other human beings. An 18-month-old infant will naturally want to touch and examine shiny objects. If you tell him, “No,” he will usually persist in his attempts. If you don’t allow him to have whatever it is that he wants, he’ll get angry and start whining and beating you away with his fists.

          As cute as this might be….that’s what all human beings would look like if they weren’t restrained by social and cultural mores. An 18 year old in that same state of mind wouldn’t hesitate to beat you senseless if you stood between him and whatever object had temporarily caught his fancy.

          That’s not to say, as Walter insists, that the infant deserves “punishment” for the “crime of being born human”. The infant, does, however, need salvation from selfishness and hatred just like anyone else.

          • Walter

            That’s not to say, as Walter insists, that the infant deserves “punishment” for the “crime of being born human”. The infant, does, however, need salvation from selfishness and hatred just like anyone else

            The corollary to your salvation from selfishness is punishment. Humans are born deserving punishment because they are…human, and humans have selfish tendencies by default. You can try and dress it up to where it is easier to swallow, but orthodox Christians believe that humans deserve hell for being born human.

            • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

              “The corollary to your salvation from selfishness is punishment.”

              The law came that man might be shown the horrible effects of selfishness and pride. Grace came that man might be saved, both from himself and from the law that condemns.

              “….orthodox Christians believe that humans deserve hell for being born human.”

              Do you deny that people do evil? If not….why are you any different from orthodox Christians?

              • Walter

                Do you deny that people do evil? If not….why are you any different from orthodox Christians?

                I would certainly agree that people do bad things, but my view of human nature is closer to that of Pelagius rather than Augustine.

          • Robert

            The infant, does, however, need salvation from selfishness and hatred just like anyone else.

            I don’t understand how an infant can be culpable unless they have a theory of mind and capacity for empathy.

            The behavior you called selfish is favored by natural selection. If God did not desire this behavior present in infants, perhaps evolution was a poor choice.

            • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

              “I don’t understand how an infant can be culpable unless they have a theory of mind and capacity for empathy.”

              They can’t be. Culpability (at least in my opinion, and I daresay most Christians would concur) is inapplicable until an individual develops a sufficiently robust understanding of empathy and morality. That’s why most Calvinists (not to mention most Christians generally) believe that those who die in infancy are uniformly elect.

              I didn’t say that infants are culpable; I said that they need salvation. This is no contradiction; there are plenty of examples of individuals who, despite a lack of moral culpability, still do evil things and still need to have their condition remedied. Under various theories of culpability, a dangerous paranoid schizophrenic may not be aware that his actions are wrong, but he still needs help (salvation) to overcome his disease.

              An infant still has the same need of salvation as anyone else even if he is not morally responsible for his actions.

              “The behavior you called selfish is favored by natural selection. If God did not desire this behavior present in infants, perhaps evolution was a poor choice.”

              The behavior I call selfish is inevitable in any less-than-perfect self-aware beings with the capacity for desire.

    • randal

      “I disagree with non-calvinist Christians but I despise Calvinism.”

      That statement caught my eye since you shift from a person (non-Calvinist) to a position (Calvinism). I take it you disagree with both non-Calvinist and Calvinist Christians. But do you despise Calvinists or just Calvinism as a position?

  • Walter

    It is good to see that no Christians are rejecting the notion that God measures us up against an impossible standard and condemns us for not meeting the standard.

    But it’s all supposedly A-OK because God provides an easy out of your default damnation: you just have to repent of your wrongdoings and believe some ancient miracle tales while declaring one of the characters in the story to be your Master. Pretty easy unless you happen to be born in a non-Christian culture. Think of what a native of Saudi Arabia or India has to overcome to accept what will surely seem like a bunch of outlandish tales in a collection of old books.

    • Aaron

      “Easy”

      Lol! Far from it. In some countries, it will cost you your life.

      Actually, there are testimonies I’ve heard about people from middle eastern countries who’ve claimed to have had visions of Christ and have become followers.

      One such fellow is an Iranian from our church who used to be a militant Islamic terrorist who had no outside evangelistic influence.

      • Walter

        If finding the correct path to God before you die is like a 5 mile race, how nice it is that God providentially places westerners in a position where they can start the race about one yard from the finish line while everyone else starts 4 miles and 1759 yards further back.

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          Odd that you think proximity to a moralistic Judeo-Christian heritage makes it “easier” for selfish human beings to humble themselves before a holy God.

          • Walter

            My discussion about “proximity” is concerning the fact that a supposedly infinitely good and fair God is providentially handicapping some cultures and privileging others for no good reason.

            • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

              In my experience, growing up in an environment which treats Christianity as the norm is probably a greater obstacle to knowing Christ than is growing up in, say, a Muslim nation. So the question is why God handicaps westerners.

              But the problem with your argument is really the notion that “fairness” requires an identical set of experiences for every human being. Do you really think that is realistic?

              • Walter

                In my experience, growing up in an environment which treats Christianity as the norm is probably a greater obstacle to knowing Christ than is growing up in, say, a Muslim nation. So the question is why God handicaps westerners.

                Yes, because we all know that there are more Christians in predominately Muslim countries than there are in Western ones. [facepalm]

                • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                  “….because we all know that there are more Christians in predominantly Muslim countries than there are in Western ones.”

                  Well, no, but I would assert that nominal Christians make up a much smaller subset of all professing Christians in Muslim countries.

                  Demographics will always effect gross numbers, so ratios are a better measure of how different cultures affect Christian belief.

            • Robert

              I probably shouldn’t even engage your comments as you merely repeat old and easily answered skeptical points. But I couldn’t resist this one, :-):

              “My discussion about “proximity” is concerning the fact that a supposedly infinitely good and fair God is providentially handicapping some cultures and privileging others for no good reason.”

              Why do you say “supposedly”?

              If God is the greatest being and creates us with the capacity to be in personal relationship with Him, how is THAT not evidence that he is both a good and loving person?

              Regarding “fair”, the bible teaches that one sin is sufficient to result in eternal separation from God (i.e. if God judged us by strict justice alone, all of us merit not eternal relationship with Him, but eternal separation from him [as one of my friends likes to put it: don’t ask God for strict justice, you will get hell, ask for mercy and you may be saved”). The bible also says that all have sinned. But God being good and loving and merciful did not leave us in this hopeless condition. Instead he provided an atonement through Christ sufficient to save all people. In the case of able minded persons, God desires a personal relationship with people involving love and trust. God’s plan of salvation, in regards to able minded persons is to save those who trust Him. Sounds pretty “fair” to me!

              Lastly, you claim that God is “handicapping some cultures and privileging others for no good reason”.

              First of all: how do YOU know that?

              Second of all, assume that he has reasons for what he does, why would YOU be the first to know His reasons?

              Why should he reveal himself to someone who mocks His Word and keeps repeatedly playing the skeptic?

              Regarding your comment about him not having good reasons, you certainly don’t know the mind of God so what gives you the justification for saying such a thing?

              Fact is, you have no way of knowing what his reasons are for doing what he does. So you are just speakig off the seat of your pants. :-)

              Robert

              • Walter

                Regarding your comment about him not having good reasons, you certainly don’t know the mind of God so what gives you the justification for saying such a thing?

                You certainly don’t either but that doesn’t stop you from pontificating at length and blathering on about God’s reasons for doing things.

                • Robert

                  Walter you have been “blathering on” throughout this thread. Espcially in your comments about love as an emotion. Others wasted a lot of time on your understanding of love as merely emotion. You confuse love with mere infatuation (a feeling that comes and goes). Some of the greatest acts of love do not involve much emotion. Sacrificing things for others, taking care of people who can give nothing in return, etc. etc. If love was mere emotion as you presented it, most relationships would not last very long, or at all, nor would marriages and other long term loving commitments.

                  You wrote:

                  “You certainly don’t either but that doesn’t stop you from pontificating at length and blathering on about God’s reasons for doing things.”

                  I have a basis in scripture for the things that I say. Some of the things that I say are also based on logic and common sense reasoning (which is also many times inferred from what God has revealed). But I already know from your other comments that if I should present the scrptural basis you would merely respond with skeptical remarks.

                  Finally regarding knowing God’s thoughts and reasons for doing things. With some things, like the things you talked about, I would make no claim as to what God’s thoughts are. And that is precisely my point, no one can confidently say what God’s reasons are for some specific events when He has not revealed his reasons to us.

                  And as a point of strict logic, God not revealing his reasons for doing things (or us not knowing his reasons for doing things) is not at all equivalent to the claim that he does not have good reasons for doing the things that he does. In regards to events such as the incarnation and atonement of Jesus, God has revealed Himself. But if I were to bring those things up, you would merely respond with skeptical comments. How is it that you mocked the revelation from God: that “oracle book”.

                  Robert

                  • Walter

                    The main difference between us, Robert, is that I do not believe the bible to be a revelation from God, and I will without a doubt question any and all religious dogmas that are foisted on me by my fellow humans. Too often I find religionists who attempt to shut down discussion by appeals to divine mystery and rebukes for daring to question their pat answers.

                    Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must approve the homage of reason rather than of blind-folded fear. Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences…. If it end in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others it will procure for you. –Thomas Jefferson

                    • Robert

                      “The main difference between us, Robert, is that I do not believe the bible to be a revelation from God, and I will without a doubt question any and all religious dogmas that are foisted on me by my fellow humans.”

                      Hmm, I never would have guessed that! :-)

                      “Too often I find religionists who attempt to shut down discussion by appeals to divine mystery and rebukes for daring to question their pat answers.”

                      I have no problem with questions, effective thinking is impossible without asking questions. I also do not think it wise to “shut down discussion by appeals to divine mystery”.

                      My problem with your previous statements Walter is that you made these claims that have no authority whatsoever because you made claims about something you have no clue about.

                      When I responded that you do not know the mind of God so you do not know whether or not he has good reasons for doing the things that he does. That was not attempting to shut down the discussion by appealing to mystery. Rather it was, as reminding you of what the great theologican Dirty Harry pointed out: “A man’s got to know his limitations!” :-)

                      I assume you have no direct pipeline to God, that God is not speaking directly to you. And now you explicity state that you do not believe the bible to be revelation given to us by God.

                      So then: how do YOU know the thoughts and intentions of God?

                      Simple answer, you don’t!

                      Further answer you have no basis for making your claims about whether or not God has good reasons for doing the things that he does. I brought that up, and you could have easily responded with: “you are correct; I really do not know whether or not God has good reasons for what he does.” Instead you attacked my comments as “blathering on” and declare that you reject the bible as revelation. You still don’t get it. My comments were directed at your smug attitude when you claimed that God did not have good reasons for doing something.

                      You cannot know that, you do not know that, you have no basis for knowing that, yet you still make the claim.

                      I also pointed out there is a difference between God having no good reasons for doing something and God having good reasons for doing something and yet us not knowing what those reasons are. I notice you made no response to that point.

                      Now you may disagree with my view regarding the bible being revelation, but that still does not change the fact that you made claims way beyond your limitations.

                      And was the quote from Jefferson meant to impress based upon some authority you believe that he has?

                      Perhaps you view Jefferson as some sort of philosophical or theological or even moral authority, I do not. When I read in theology and philosophy concerning God I never see him being quoted. I also view him as an immoral man due to how he messed around with his slaves (and that does not even include the fact he had slaves). And his treatment of the New Testament (i.e. removing all miraculous elements because he didn’t accept miracles resulting in his “Jefferson Bible”) is seen as a joke by most people. As a bible scholar Jefferson is laughable. Now I agree that we should always be asking questions and thinking things through carefully.

                      Rather than citing Jefferson to make this point, I prefer Richard Feynman and his “CARGO CULT SCIENCE” address. I really like what Feynman says in that commencement address. If only more people actually practiced what he encourages in that speech. Walter have you read that commencement address? If not, you should, I think you would enjoy it. He talks about what I would term “rational skepticism” which is always a good thing.

                      Robert

                    • Robert

                      Hi Robert (from the other Robert).

                      Skeptical theism cuts both ways.

                    • Walter

                      My problem with your previous statements Walter is that you made these claims that have no authority whatsoever because you made claims about something you have no clue about.

                      Pot meet kettle.

                      All religious discussions are speculation. You have no more of an inside track on the mind of God than I do. What I am pointing out is that observable reality does not seem to agree with the claims that Christians make. Most evangelical Christians claim that God saves or damns based on whether we assent to certain propositions about Jesus. They also claim that God is infinitely good and fair. I point out that is is seemingly unfair for God to handicap some cultures to where it is next to impossible for some to affirm belief in religious propositions that will supposedly save them from the wrath of a God who created them as flawed sinners to begin with. You appealed to a mystery with the claim that I cannot know that God does *not* have a good reason for doing that, which for what it is worth is true. Those type of answers are designed to stifle discussion. I have little patience when dealing with intolerant fundamentalists.

                    • Robert

                      Hi Robert (from the other Robert).

                      Skeptical theism cuts both ways.

                    • Robert

                      Walter,

                      All religious discussions are speculation.

                      Be careful with black-and-white thinking. Not all shades of grey are the same shade. Not all religious discussions are equally speculative.

                    • Walter

                      And was the quote from Jefferson meant to impress based upon some authority you believe that he has?

                      I quoted Jefferson because I happened to agree with what he said, not because Jefferson is some kind of secular pope to me. No religious claim should be uncritically accepted. Unless God speaks directly to me via some sort of Damascus Road experience a la Paul, then I will continue to be skeptical of anecdotal claims of revelation that come to me second-hand from other human beings who purport to be speaking for God when they tell me what to believe and how I should live my life.

                    • Walter

                      Not all religious discussions are equally speculative.

                      Perhaps not. Can you give me an example?

                    • Robert

                      Perhaps not. Can you give me an example?

                      The Bible + My Interpretation = My Interpretation could be recited to say: no matter how you interpret X, it’s still just an interpretation.

                      I call this black-and-white thinking. Some interpretations are more plausible than others, but if we label them all just an interpretation, it makes them seem the same.

                      So I think that interpretations are hard, but not impossible. The real difficultly before we even get to an interpretation is deciding on which of the many so-called “special revelations” to privilege or not privilege.

                      One might say “Well, I don’t know which of these unverifiable claims about God’s desires are actually true, but I still think he thinks A,B and C because it says so in holy book D.” To this I would reply, I hope you are not a police officer. We need some amount of evidence to even find a hypothesis, let alone to believe it is successful.

                    • Robert

                      Can you give me an example?

                      Paul wrote at least 6 or 7 books in the New Testament.

                    • Walter

                      “Can you give me an example?”

                      Paul wrote at least 6 or 7 books in the New Testament.

                      I see what you are saying, and I will admit that my response to Robert (the Christian) was a little sloppy and written in haste. What I meant to say was that when it comes to discussions about God’s reasons for doing anything (assuming the existence of such a being) then all people are on equal footing. The Christian believer has faith that he has a leather-bound revelation from God sitting on his coffee table, but I do not share in that supposition. Nor do I accept the dozens of sacred texts found in various religions around the world that purport to be revelations from other deities.

                      So when I said “all religious discussions” what I should have said was “all discussions about God’s reasons for doing X are speculation.”

    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

      “….you just have to repent of your wrongdoings….”

      Any idea what that entails?

      • Walter

        Pretty good idea. And I don’t need an oracle book to show me that some things are wrong.

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          Your background, I think, plays a disproportionate role in informing your perceptions of Christian doctrine. The disconnect between the concept of repentance and needing “an oracle book to show” right and wrong evinces this rather well.

          What do you think repentance entails — absent fringe views you may have grown up with?

          • Walter

            Pardon me. I thought you were going down the path of claiming that without the bible we can have no concept of right and wrong. We’re probably talking past each other here.

            • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

              Oh, sorry. No, I wasn’t saying that — I wondered what you thought repentance entails, not what you thought wrongdoing entails.

              Still interested to hear your answer, though.

  • Aaron

    Granting you that, do you see the drive and interest in some who risk their lives in responding to the call of evangelism? This might reasonably explain the ‘love’ that we were speaking of earlier on.

    • Walter

      Do you believe that no one has ever risked their life in converting to another religion besides Christianity? Risking your life for an ideology is not proof that that ideology is true.

      • Robert

        It’s not even moderately good evidence.

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          Ditto.

      • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

        ….but is Aaron advancing this as evidence or as explanation?

        • Aaron

          Explanation.

  • Walter

    Orthodoxy:The Worst Enemy of Christianity by Jabez T. Sunderland

    Gotta say that I agree with a lot of what this deceased unitarian preacher says.

  • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

    Walter said:

    “Are you saying that you have no belief in any kind of eternal hell? If not, then that does lessen my moral revulsion towards your particular religious beliefs by several factors. However, the vast majority of orthodox believers do strongly believe in an eternal hell of suffering for all but the elect.”

    The Bible asserts that spirit beings like the devil will be consciously tormented for all eternity, but it does not state that condemned human beings will share in their torment. Eternal hell is a traditional view, but I’m not sure that it’s particularly Biblical or particularly important.

    “How about I propose a ‘better’ method might be the one that God is going to use to restrain sin from happening again in the elect’s resurrected state. That method could have been applied from the start.”

    Exactly!! That’s just the point — it was. Or, rather, is.

    This was the main point in my summary explanation: that the purpose of this life is to free us from sin so that it will have no grasp on us in the next life. Being saved from sin in this life restrains you from sin in the next.

    • Walter

      This was the main point in my summary explanation: that the purpose of this life is to free us from sin so that it will have no grasp on us in the next life. Being saved from sin in this life restrains you from sin in the next.

      How is that supposed to work exactly? You believe that all beings short of God tend towards selfishness which in turn produces sin, so the question remains as to how your sinful and selfish urges will be suppressed when your living in New Jerusalem and why could they not have simply been suppressed from the start on this world? Why would a fallen world filled with suffering be required before God can get it right the second time around?

      • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

        Because this world is the means of negating the tendency to selfishness and sin in the next world.

        Eden (literal or allegorical) was merely a staging ground. The purpose of the Cross was not to return us to Eden, but to bring us out of it. Man was given the knowledge of good and evil so that, at the Cross, evil could be defeated by love.

        There are two ways to prevent all-beings-short-of-God from being overcome with selfishness and sin. You can keep them in constant, overwhelming fear and awe, or you can give them something they desire more than self. The Cross removed fear and provided the means of desiring God.

  • Robert

    Hello “other Robert”,

    “Skeptical theism cuts both ways.”

    Since you posted this same comment twice I assume you did so for ****emphasis****, right? :-)

    “Other Robert” have you read Richard Feynman’s commencent address called CARGO CULT SCIENCE?

    If not read it and then get back to me if you agree with the kind of skepticism that Feynman talks about in that message.

    I think the kind of skepticism that he talks about should be practiced by everyone across the board (whether they are dealing with religious issues, scientific issues, whatever). So read it and tell me what you think of it “other Robert”.

    Robert

    PS- you can find CARGO CULT SCIENCE here:

    http://neurotheory.columbia.edu/~ken/cargo_cult.html

    • Robert

      The double post was just a mistake. Thanks for the link. I have wanted to read some of Feynman’s stuff anyway, so maybe that’s a good start.

  • Robert

    Walter wrote:

    “Pot meet kettle.”

    I did not claim to know God’s mind on the subject in you which you dogmatically declared that he could not have good reasons for doing what he does. I am quite open about admitting that with regard to some situations I do not know what God’s reasons are for doing what he does. But again admitting that I do not know God’s mind on a subject is not at all like saying that he has not good reasons for doing what he does.

    “All religious discussions are speculation. You have no more of an inside track on the mind of God than I do.”

    Actually clearly we do have an inside track on the mind of God, it is called the bible. :-) The bible which is revelation from God, gives us all sorts of reliable and helpful information about God. Those who learn from it can make inferences about what God sometimes has in mind. You speak off the seat of your pants, I at least try to speak in line with what God has revealed. Big difference.

    “What I am pointing out is that observable reality does not seem to agree with the claims that Christians make.”

    That is your claim, Yes.

    “Most evangelical Christians claim that God saves or damns based on whether we assent to certain propositions about Jesus.”

    Actually we are saved by being in a personal and saving relationship with Jesus Christ, but you already know that, and reject it.

    We are not saved by mere assent to propositions. That is one of the common problems that some people assent to certain propositions but then do not live them out. We could also go further the bible says the demons believe, they know its all true, know it intimately, know certain propositions about God and salvation to be true, but THEY ARE NOT SAVED. Furthermore, if assent to certain propositions is what saves a person, then what about those who lack the cognitive capacity to assent to these propositions (e.g. like babies and the mentally disabled)?

    “They also claim that God is infinitely good and fair.”

    He is, and He has given lots of demonstration of this, most notably in the incarnation and atonement of Jesus. Again, things you choose to reject.

    You are like the guy who says: show me the proof. The compelling evidence is given and the proof made. And the guy then responds: “well I don’t like THAT evidence THAT proof!” :-) You can’t get very far when someone’s mind is made up and they deal with evidence and proof that way.

    “I point out that is is seemingly unfair for God to handicap some cultures to where it is next to impossible for some to affirm belief in religious propositions that will supposedly save them from the wrath of a God who created them as flawed sinners to begin with.”

    First of all, God does not create people as flawed sinners. They start life not being in personal relationship with God (which is a major flaw resulting from you know who: hint Adam and Eve) and then they choose to live a life independently of God.

    While living this independent lifestyle which is epitomied by the slogan: “No one tells me what to do, say or think!” They commit various sins that build a barrier between them and God.

    Second your claim is directly and explicity contradicted by the bible. But since you reject the bible as revelation, I will not waste your time citing the passage. Since you don’t believe what the bible presents anyway.

    “You appealed to a mystery with the claim that I cannot know that God does *not* have a good reason for doing that, which for what it is worth is true.”

    That is not appeal to mystery, it is a logical and rational appeal to the state of affairs we find ourselves in. An appeal to our limitations. A state of affairs in which our cognitive capacity and our access to information concering the divine mind is finite with definite limitations. Given that God exists, which you don’t deny. Unless God has given you a direct pipeline of communication with him (which you do not claim) or gives you revelation (you deny God has given us revelation), you are not in the place to make the comments that you make about whether or not God has good reasons for doing X, Y, or Z. Only a fool or a prideful person denies that he/she has cognitive limitations or affirms that he knows certain things that really no one can know.

    ”Those type of answers are designed to stifle discussion.”

    No, those type observations about our limitations set up the proper parameters for a discussion. I guess you disagree with Dirty Harry! :-)

    Besides you don’t appear interested in discussion, you merely want to parade around your skepticism.

    “I have little patience when dealing with intolerant fundamentalists.”

    Now that is both commical and revealing.

    Walter from what I have read of your comments here at Randal’s blog in various threads, you are in fact a SECULAR FUNDAMENTALIST yourself. That is why for the most part I have avoided interacting with you here. You try to portray yourself as this **enlightened skeptic** but your comments give you away.

    You are just as much a fundamentalist as the fundamentalists that you have little patience for.

    Don’t you know that one need not be religious to have a fundamentalist mindset?

    There are in fact all kinds of fundamentalists. They are everywhere.

    Even in science God forbid! You find the fundamentalist mindset.

    As a **secular** fundamentalist you are no different than Richard Dawkins or John Loftus. It is comical that you condemn the fundamentalist mentality when you see it in others, when you are just as fundamentalist as the most fundalmentalist religious person.

    You are merely the secular version.

    Robert

    • Walter

      Actually we are saved by being in a personal and saving relationship with Jesus Christ, but you already know that, and reject it.

      There is not a single verse in the bible that claims people need to be in a personal relationship with Jesus to be saved.

      (the rest of your screed wil be ignored)

      • Robert

        Walter the secular fundamentalist wrote:

        “There is not a single verse in the bible that claims people need to be in a personal relationship with Jesus to be saved.
        (the rest of your screed wil be ignored)”

        That last line perfectly represents Walter’s fundamentalism. When you disagree with another person’s comments and when you are unable to deal with them: you simply pull an ostrich manuever. Stick your head in the ground and pretend that the facts will go away, pretend the threat to your fundamentalist beliefs will just go away.

        Regarding your first line here, Walter, you display your ignorance regarding the bible. But that is not hard to understand. If you believe it is not revelation, then why would you actually know what it says or take it seriously?

        In order to publicly refute Walter’s claim Let’s consider one passage which clearly contradicts Walter’s claim.

        Walter claims that not A SINGLE VERSE in the bible claims people need to be in a personal relationship with Jesus to be saved.

        That is not what Jesus said in Matthew 7 (and Matthew 7 is within the so-called “Sermon on the Mount” one of the most famous things Jesus ever expressed, so this is not an obscure or hard to find bible verse):

        “Matthew 7:21-23
        New American Standard Bible (NASB)
        21 “(A)Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 (B)Many will say to Me on (C)that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many [a]miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; (D)DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS

        Jesus is speaking of a moment at the final judgment in which some folks will find out that though they believe themselves to be saved they never were in fact saved persons. They thought they were saved persons (evidenced by the fact Jesus says they say “Lord, Lord” to him). They thought they were going to make it into the Kingdom of God. Jesus says they were mistaken. They even claim to have done great things in his name. But note especially his final words about them: “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you’”. Now Jesus is God so he obviously knew their first names and knew all about them (including that they were not saved persons).

        So what does he mean when he says that I NEVER KNEW YOU?

        He means that he was never in a personal and saving relationship with them. Yes they declared him to be Lord, Yes they did great things in his name.

        They certainly assented to true propositions about Jesus.

        But Jesus says that he never had a personal and saving relationship with then and so they were never saved persons.

        Walter shows himself to be a secular fundamentalist. He rants against Christianity and makes claims that are easy to refute and show to be false. Like his claim about no single verse in the bible that claims people have to be in a personal relationship with Jesus to be saved. Tell that to the “Lord, Lord people” whom Jesus spoke about.

        I think I will trust Jesus and his words on this subject more than Walter the secular fundamentalist.

        Robert

        • Walter

          Now Jesus is God so he obviously knew their first names and knew all about them (including that they were not saved persons).

          LOL.

          This is good stuff.

          • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

            Matthew 7 is easily the most critical passage for disabusing errant notions of Christianity perpetuated by fundamental evangelicalism.

            • Robert

              Hello David,

              Not sure what you meant by your comment here. Could you clarify and explain what you mean here? How do you define “fundamental evangelicalism”? I know some people would consider me to be a “funnymentalist” :-) but I wanted to see what you mean by this term and how Matt. 7 eliminates errant versions of Christianity. Thanks.

              Robert

              • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                Populist mainstream evangelicalism has majored on establishing faith, belief, and sincerity as the requirements for Christian salvation. These falsehoods are then pounced upon by atheists who (by insincerity or simple ignorance) suppose erroneously that this represents the actual thrust of Christ’s teachings.

                Matthew 7 specifically and even prophetically contradicts such views, making it painfully clear that neither profession of faith nor practice of works suffice to effect salvation. Jesus won’t tell lost people “you weren’t sincere enough” or “you didn’t have enough faith”; he will say, “Depart from me….I never knew you.” Chilling as that may be, it serves to thoroughly disabuse popular notions of profession-salvation.

  • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

    honest_john_law said:

    Your view doesn’t align with that of early Church Fathers. If you feel otherwise, let’s leave this one at that.

    I certainly believe that the early Apostles and their successors did an excellent job in protecting the early church from heresies until orthodoxy had been established. If you have citations from the early Church Fathers and other sources which specifically state that protection from heresy was to be the Apostles’ primary role even after the church had been established, I’d be interested to see them. But it isn’t enough to defend Apostolic succession simpliciter — you have to be able to defend your protection-from-heresies-forever-and-always interpretation which is the basis of the Roman claim to catholicism.

    I provided a prime example re. how legitimate Apostolic succession was used as a safeguard against Gnosticism.

    My primary purpose at my current job is to write legal briefs, but I may be called upon from time to time to answer phones, interview clients, or even sweep the office. None of those, however, are my primary purpose or function. The fact that the authority of the early Apostles and their successors protected the church from Gnosticism does not mean that this was the essential purpose of Apostolic succession.

    If Apostolic succession REALLY was the sole source of proper interpretation, don’t you think it would have been explicitly mentioned somewhere along with all the far less important things discussed by Paul? Instead, Paul said (paraphrase from memory), “If we, or anyone else, or an angel from heaven, preach a different gospel to you than the one that has been delivered from us, let him be anathema.” The Gospel had already been delivered; it didn’t need a catholic Apostolic line to defend it.

    I do not believe it is reasonable that I can read scripture today and come to a better understanding re. this matter than the early Church Fathers did.

    So you have faith that their interpretation of Christ’s intentions are correct and that the Catholic Church is supernaturally protected from error, despite the many defeaters to the notion of Roman Catholic inerrancy. What evidence would convince you that your viewpoint is wrong and that Christ did not intend a Catholic Apostolic succession?

    “No, but the fact that people have challenged the authority, teachings, and practices of the Roman Church and have maintained their own Biblical churches outside its auspices does. – David

    I wholeheartedly disagree with this. However, if you are determined to believe this, I see no point belaboring this any further.

    What do you wholeheartedly disagree with? Do you think that no churches outside Rome can be Biblical? Or do you think that the biblicalness of churches which reject Rome doesn’t invalidate Rome’s claim to divine appointment?

    • honest_john_law

      “If you have citations from the early Church Fathers and other sources which specifically state that protection from heresy was to be the Apostles’ primary role even after the church had been established, I’d be interested to see them.” – David

      I provided ample evidence that Church Fathers believed in legitimate Apostolic succession, and I provided ample evidence that Church Fathers believed legitimate Apostolic succession was essential to protect to the Church from the heretical claims of the Gnostics (as one example). I also said that as far as what the specific power and authority personally conferred upon the Apostles by Christ Himself entailed, I rely upon the understanding of the Church Fathers.

      “But it isn’t enough to defend Apostolic succession simpliciter — you have to be able to defend your protection-from-heresies-forever-and-always interpretation which is the basis of the Roman claim to catholicism.” – David

      I provided ample evidence from a variety of Church Fathers re. their views on legitimate Apostolic succession. You asserted that legitimate Apostolic succession was not “maintained past the third and fourth centuries”, though you proffered no hard evidence to defend your assertion.

      “The fact that the authority of the early Apostles and their successors protected the church from Gnosticism does not mean that this was the essential purpose of Apostolic succession.” – David

      As far as what the specific power and authority personally conferred upon the Apostles by Christ Himself entailed, I rely upon the understanding of the Church Fathers.

      “What evidence would convince you that your viewpoint is wrong and that Christ did not intend a Catholic Apostolic succession?” – David

      I provided ample evidence that Church Fathers believed in legitimate Apostolic succession. Ignatius, for example, was believed to be a disciple of John the Apostle. I find his testimony (and the testimony of other Church Fathers I referenced) to be sufficiently convincing.

      “If Apostolic succession REALLY was the sole source of proper interpretation, don’t you think it would have been explicitly mentioned somewhere along with all the far less important things discussed by Paul? …The Gospel had already been delivered; it didn’t need a catholic Apostolic line to defend it.” – David

      I do not accept a proposal that the whole record of Christ’s revelation to mankind (having being propagated since then through oral tradition and sacred scripture) would remain fully intact and uncorrupted for ~2,000 years without the special provisions provided for by Christ Himself when He personally selected the body of Apostles and imbued them with power and authority. I accept the view of the Church Fathers re. what that power and authority entailed.

      “So you have faith that their interpretation of Christ’s intentions are correct and that the Catholic Church is supernaturally protected from error, despite the many defeaters to the notion of Roman Catholic inerrancy.” – David

      Perhaps you might do more research re. the Catholic Church’s claims re. “infallibility” and under what specific circumstances it applies. Here is a good start:

      http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm

      “What do you wholeheartedly disagree with? Do you think that no churches outside Rome can be Biblical? Or do you think that the biblicalness of churches which reject Rome doesn’t invalidate Rome’s claim to divine appointment?” – David

      Perhaps you will kindly read ‘Dominus Iesus’ to provide sufficient answer.

      Here you will also find an extensive Q&A with Joseph Ratzinger re. ‘Dominus Iesus’ and his replies to some of the primary objections to its content (in case you have similar objections to the content of ‘Dominus Iesus’):

      http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/OBDOMIHS.HTM

      C.H.T.R.