Am I Missing Something? January 15, 2013Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: 2 Corinthians 6:14, 20-year old sermons, Al Mohler, Barak Obama, Christian, Disinvitation, Evangelical Christian, Homosexuality, ills of society, Immoral behavior, Implicit Endorsements, Inauguration, incriminating evidence, Invitation, Jesus Christ, liberal establishment, light and darkness, Luoie Giglio, moral collapse of America, not voting, political correctness, politics, President Obama, Presidential Inauguration, repentance, Savior, Sin, society, voting
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Normally I try and stay out of the fray when it comes to the frenzy around popular scandals and sensationalistic stories. Maybe I should make more social commentaries than I do, but guess that I would rather immerse myself more deeply in God’s word and trust people to have a little common sense that can be applied to a situation strange or otherwise. Yet there has been an odd buzzing around evangelical circles and I am feeling compelled to at least comment in the hopes that this buzz will go along the wayside sooner than later.
It seems that recently, Atlanta pastor, Louie Giglio was first invited and then disinvited to offer the benediction at the second inauguration of President Barak Obama. It is said that the invitation came as a result of Giglio’s work to raise awareness about sex trafficking in the United States. The disinvitation came as a result of a twenty-year-old sermon where Giglio presented the Biblical testimony that homosexuality is sin. And now, it seems that every major figure in evangelical Christianity along with major figures in the liberal establishment are offering us commentaries — folks, enough already! Yet, let me ignore my own advice and make a couple of comments:
1) Why in the world would the Obama Administration invite an evangelical evangelist to offer the benediction? And why, oh why, did Giglio accept said request? Think about it. Perhaps it would be flattering to be asked to offer such a benediction, but there comes a point when one ought to decline.
Though I have never been asked to offer a prayer at such an auspicious occasion (and don’t expect to be), as an area pastor I do regularly get asked to pray or offer a benediction at community events. In these cases, the first question that I ask is always, “Am I allowed to pray in the name of Jesus Christ?” If the answer is, ‘no,’ then my answer is ‘no’ as well. Inclusivity in presidential politics is no new thing to the scene and clearly guidelines and rules would be established for such a benediction that would water down the intentional Christian spirit of the prayer.
One might counter that this is a pluralistic nation in terms of religious beliefs, and indeed it is, but I am not a pluralistic pastor — I am a Christian pastor, and so is Louie Giglio — and thus my loyalties lie with Christ and any authority I have to offer a blessing upon the lives of others also comes from Christ.
Furthermore, when one shares the stage in a setting like an inauguration with someone, that offers an implicit endorsement of the person with whom the stage is shared. Why go down that road? How can an evangelical endorse any politician that supports the gay agenda, the pro-choice agenda, and the agenda of those who are seeking to marginalize the Christian voice from civil life (in our schools, our courts, etc…)? What fellowship does light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
2) While my intention is not to slam Pastor Giglio here, it seems odd to me that those pursuing a liberal agenda would have to go 20 years back to find something “incriminating” against him in his sermons. Surely, I would hope, that nearly any evangelical pastor would regularly be speaking in a way that those who pursue sin would find offensive. My grandfather (a Methodist minister) used to say, “if you are not stepping on toes, you are likely not preaching the gospel.”
As preachers, part of our responsibility is to address the sins of our time in a way that reflects God’s word and not the fickle preferences of men. We are to call the culture away from its self-destruction and not chase the culture to the praise of men. We should be calling people to repent of their sins — homosexuality being just one of such wicked lifestyles our world has embraced. We should also be calling people to repent of sexual immorality of all kids, including sexuality outside of wedlock. We should be calling people to repent of pornography, slander, gossip, unforgiveness, anger, pride, adultery, and the list goes on! We should be proclaiming the truth that we are fallen sinners and that there is forgiveness in Christ Jesus alone — there is no other way to the Father but through the Son. Surely that too must be greatly offensive in our politically correct society!
This does not mean we are wagging our fingers at the world, for we point toward our own fallenness as well, and we proclaim that in Christ there is grace and forgiveness — yet Christ himself also calls us to turn away from our wicked lifestyles, not to become comfortable in them or accepting of them. “Go and sin no more” are words from Christ that echo down through the centuries.
When the issue of homosexuality was raised with Giglio, rather than to use that opportunity to speak truth into the culture, he soft-pedaled the matter and stated that the question of homosexuality had not been in his “range of priorities in the past fifteen years.” Really? Surely homosexuality is one of the most significant issues eroding the morality of our society over the past fifteen years…am I missing something? Especially given that much of Giglio’s public ministry has been focused on calling kids to “making much of Christ,” does one not think that one’s lifestyle is part of that? Were one to have a ministry that focused primarily on our older generation (let’s say 65 and up…sorry Mom and Dad!), then it would be easy to see how this social issue would not play a role in the forefront of his ministry because that generation in our culture was largely raised on Biblical moral teachings. The younger generation was not and has been encouraged to experiment with sin. One ought to keep that in as much of the forefront as sex trafficking, the use of drugs, and other self-destructive behaviors. Giglio clearly is committed to the Biblical truth on the matter, given the language of his released sermon, but why has he played down the question when raised?
3) It is true, as people like Al Mohler point out, that Biblical foundations are being eroded from our culture and that society is actively seeking to marginalize the influence and presence of evangelicalism from public life. That said, why do we assume (as evangelical Christians) that having an evangelical pastor pray for our president (one who rejects what evangelicals stand for) will change the current state of affairs? Don’t get me wrong, we are to pray for all of our leaders — in this case, I would argue for conversion — but the public prayer at an inauguration does not seem to be the kind of thing that Paul was speaking about when he wrote those words to Timothy.
And why should it bother us if our president would choose a liberal pastor, a unitarian pastor, or even a Muslim Imam to pray for him at his Inauguration? Why not find someone to speak words that will be meaningful to the man being Inaugurated?
Yes, as Christians we may not like the idea of our Christian presence being lost in the Presidential Inauguration, but is it really there just because a Christian offers a prayer and the President swears on a book he cares nothing for? It is said that of Evangelical Christians in America, only about 20% eligible to vote did, so why bother getting upset now? And why bother getting upset at anyone but ourselves. If we have chosen (as evangelicals) to refuse to be salt and light, then it is we who need to repent for our bashfulness. We have bought into the idea that if we put up the pretense that we are a Christian culture we will be…sadly, the Bible calls that hypocrisy. We are a nation grounded in Christian roots, but we have strayed far from the spot where we began. We need a political revival like the spiritual revival that took place in Josiah’s day, calling people in our nation back to the foundation upon which we began — the foundation that God blessed and made our nation the great beacon of freedom and liberty that is — though as we stray further and further from that foundation, we will lose more and more of that freedom and liberty that made our nation great.
The bottom line is that these kinds of things (disinvitations and the like) are not the problems; they are only symptoms of the problem. We, like ancient Israel, have fallen into a time where every man does what is right in his own eyes — and we are paying the price for that sin. No, I don’t think I am missing something.
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death! June 01, 2012Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: American Church, Anarchy, Can God do anything?, Chaos, Constraints, Ethical Norms, Freedom, God's constraints, God's Liberty, Government, inalienable rights, Jefferson, Liberty, Liberty of God, Perfect Liberty, Political Liberty, unalienable rights, Unlimited Liberty
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It seems that these days people speak a lot about liberty, protecting their liberties, and how their liberties are being threatened by this legislation or that group of people. “We live in a free society!” people proclaim and use that status to excuse or protect all sorts of behaviors. When the government speaks of laws that would restrict gun ownership, the conservatives yell that their liberties are being compromised. When the government speaks of controls on the spread of pornography on the internet, the liberals yell that the freedom of speech and of the press is being compromised. When a homeowner’s association tries to restrict the way renovations are done to a house, homeowners cry out that their liberties are being infringed upon. Even in theological circles, the matter raises its ugly head. When Reformed Christians begin speaking of God’s absolute sovereignty over a person’s life, death, and salvation, the Wesleyans wave the banner of libertarian freedom for the human will. And so the debates ensue.
But do we really even understand what it is that we are saying? There is no question that there are things we oppose, and with good reason, but is liberty and freedom the right plank to stand upon when taking a stand for one or more of these matters? In fact, do we even know what these words mean in the first place? True, we know the mantras. Patrick Henry is famous for proclaiming, “Give me liberty or give me death!” in the face of British oppression. We have a giant statue personifying liberty standing in the New York Harbor. As Americans, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” But if we do not understand what is meant by these statements, then the mantras become nothing more than repetitious slogans fit to adorn bumper-stickers and drink coasters and are useless when it comes to living out one’s life.
So, what is the definition of liberty and freedom? The dictionary defines liberty as “the state of being free within a society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s life, behavior, or political views” and “the power or scope to act as one pleases.”1 Liberty comes from the Latin word, libertas, which means “freedom or independence.” The word free is derived from the German word, frei, which has roots in the Indo-European word meaning, “to hold dear.”2
But what does this imply? If freedom means that I can do whatever I feel like doing, then a free society sounds more like an anarchy than something that would honor God. Surely there must be some qualifications placed on our liberty lest a free society become a horrific place to dwell.
To really understand the implications of these ideas, we need to begin by looking at the source of freedom and liberty, God himself. Though Jefferson was anything but an “evangelical Christian,” he did get one very fundamental idea correct…that is that we derive our “unalienable”3 rights from our creator — a creator who has these rights within his person in a perfect sense. God has perfect liberty, but does that mean that God’s liberty is absolute in the unlimited sense of the definition given above? Particularly for those who have grown up in a culture that has told them that “God can do anything…”, the answer to this question may be surprising. For God cannot do anything (he cannot lie, he cannot sin, he cannot cease to be God, he cannot cease to be perfect and infinite, he cannot make a bolder so large that he cannot move it, etc…). Instead, God can do anything that is consistent with his person and perfections.
You see, it is the perfection of God’s own character that limits his own liberty. That does not mean that God’s liberty is imperfect, far from it. The liberty to be chaotic and inconsistent is hardly a true liberty at all; instead, it is deprivation. In God’s perfect4 liberty, he acts in a way perfectly consistent with his attributes and perfections (His holiness, righteousness, joy, etc…). At the same time, his liberty is restrained by his character so it is expressed in a fashion consistent with his character and ethical norms (which flow out of his character).
Thus, while we often talk about our need for unlimited liberty in society, such liberty is no liberty at all, but chaos and anarchy. What is best for us is liberty that is constrained by an ethical norm, yet if this ethical norm is not outside of us as humans, it cannot provide a consistent norm within which we can enjoy our liberty. And, since human government is nothing more than a gathering of people exercising authority over other people, neither the individual nor the government can establish such norms — as mentioned before, anarchy is the result of the former and governmental oppression is the natural result of the latter. What is necessary is to appeal to a norm that is transcendent and greater than human existence who also is benevolent, not malicious, in his character.
With that in mind, then, true liberty becomes living in a way that is consistent with one’s character and personality (not under coercion or intimidation) but that is also in accord with an ethical standard established by God. In turn, when we pursue immoral ends, we sacrifice our liberty by degrees that are equivalent to the immorality that we have chosen to pursue. When Jefferson argued that we have the unalienable right to liberty, this is the sense by which he understood liberty (remembering that this liberty he speaks of is endowed upon us by our creator — if we share God’s liberty as a result of the Imago Dei, then our liberty must be of the same kind and category as our creator’s liberty). He sought to advocate for perfect liberty in contrast to unlimited liberty, which is no liberty at all.
Sadly, as a society, we have lost the vision set before us by our early American Fathers and our Christian Theological heritage. It is neither taught in school nor in church and then we stand and wonder why it is that our culture has gone astray and that moral chaos reigns in the culture. The book of Judges is an excellent commentary on American life today; when every man does what is right in his own eyes, the culture will fall into immorality and bondage. Christ has established the church to be the agent by which the culture is preserved (we are salt and light); yet, the message of the church has been anything but preservational. We have feared the culture rather than fearing for the culture (given the direction it is bent toward). And thus the church has tended to follow rather than to lead. And, with that in mind, it is well past time where we begin to step out and engage once again, bringing truth into dark places and the life-preserving salt of mercy to those in our midst. And in that, let us learn ourselves first what it means to exercise perfect liberty and then teach the world to do the same.
1 From the Oxford American Dictionaries.
2 Not surprisingly, the word “friend” also comes from this Indo-European root.
3 Unalienable means that something can neither be given up nor taken away. It is part of the very essence of the thing. Thus, were humans to no longer have these “unalienable rights” we would cease to be human. The only way that such a right can be part of our essential being is if we are made in the image of one who also has these rights (in an ultimate sense) as part of His essential being. As Christians, we refer to this as the Doctrine of the Imago Dei — we are made in the image of God and thus these rights that are perfectly found in God are also found in us, though in imperfect ways.
4 Notice that I am using the term, “perfect” and not, “unlimited” here.
The Desires of our Heart May 29, 2012Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: Apologetics, David, Delight in the Lord, Desire of our Heart, Find pleasure in the Lord, God will give you, not being misled, pop Christianity, Psalm 37, Psalm 37:4, Solomon, Test every spirit, Truth
“Take pleasure in Yahweh;
And He will give to you the petitions of your heart.”
Recently, I my wife was listening to a popular Christian radio station in our area and I heard, during one of the breaks between songs, a commentator saying, “God wants to give you your heart’s desires…” Ultimately the man went on to explain that the more we delight in God the more God will bless our lives. And as I was standing there listening to this, I said to myself, “that’s surely not what David meant when he wrote these words.” By human terms, David’s life was a mess. His brothers did not like him much, his first wife was embarrassed by him, his father-in-law (King Saul) tried to kill him multiple times, and he spent much of his life hiding in the wilderness from the King and his men. Even as a king, David spent much of his time at war, he murdered one of his close friends, committed adultery, lost a child because of his sin, had another son take his kingdom out from under him, was denied by God in terms of building the Temple, etc… Yet, David understood where to go for peace and sanctuary. A life of trial and strife surely could not have been the desire of his heart (read the Psalms!), but he did take ultimate pleasure in Yahweh. If the radio commentator is right, David is doing something wrong. I think that the radio commentator is wrong…and so go all those who would read the Bible out of context.
In many ways, Psalm 37 reads more like a chapter in Proverbs than in the Psalms (then again, it would be one of David’s sons who would write the former). It contains a series of reflections or ponderings about living life well in this fallen world, and here in verse 4, we find the language that the radio commentator was drawing from. English translations tend to render the language similarly, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” The language seems pretty straightforward, and it is, but to understand this passage we need to make sure we do not gloss over the implications of what it is saying. The problem arises when people separate the first part of the verse from the latter part of the verse. The commentator was reading the verse this way: “If I delight in God then God will give me the things that I desire.” But, if we genuinely delight in something (or in this case, someone), isn’t that one in which we delight the desire of our heart? Indeed, it is!
The point is that God does not want to give us the desires of our hearts; God wants to be the desire of our heart! And when God is the desire of our heart, God gives more and more of himself to us, not the “stuff” that this world is filled with and we so often allow to become our treasure. Jesus said to set your treasure in heaven (on God! — Matthew 6:19-21) for where our treasure is there our heart will be. The reason that David could write these words in the midst of so many trials of life was precisely because God was the one in whom David delighted. And as David delighted in God, God gave to David more and more of himself…a place of refuge in a time of trial.
This world is filled with things and people that will try and become the desire of your heart. This world is also filled with well-meaning people who study their Bibles in the light of their own preferences. All of these things are pitfalls and traps that we must avoid. John the Apostle instructed us that we are to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), that means all the spirits you encounter, even those that wear the garb of Christianity. There are many that will mislead and under their influence we will set our hearts on other things. Do not fall into that trap. Make God your soul desire in life and he will richly bless you with himself.
Knowledge Without Understanding March 25, 2012Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: AI, Chinese Room, Knowledge, Reality Check, Searle, System of Life, System of Thought, understanding, worldview
It seems that we have an addiction to knowledge without an interest in understanding. We go to conferences and seminars but we return home and little ever changes. In the church, we hear sermon after sermon exhorting us to live this way or do that and, like a fad diet, we might try out a few suggestions for a day or two and then let it go by the wayside. We have become junkies for academic degrees but tend to divorce what we are learning from life. Game shows glamorize those who have memorized endless strings of facts with absolutely no emphasis placed on being able to apply or to interpret those facts in a way meaningful to life. As the early church father, Tertullian, lamented, “What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?” Or perhaps, to put it in today’s vernacular: “What does real life have to do with book learning?”
In the world of Artificial Intelligence, there is a running debate over the question as to whether it is possible for a computer to “think.” In other words, can a computer ever be designed and built in such a way that it will be able to use inductive logic and make inferences based on new situations. Though the science-fiction community has been toying with the idea of thinking robots for quite some time, science-realty has not been able to produce such a machine. The simple reason is because no matter how fast or sophisticated the computer processor or the algorithms that make up the software, a computer is little more than a processor of information.
The Philosopher, John Searle, developed a useful analogy to help understand the limitations of computers. He described a man placed in a room that contained nothing but two books written in Chinese. There was also a slot where pages could be put in and a slot where pages could be sent back out. Imagine, he continued, that a man were put into the room that had never studied or even heard the Chinese language. The process would look something like this. A page of paper would be put in through the first slot that contained Chinese characters. The person in the room would then compare the characters on the paper to the characters in the first book. When he found the matching character, that book sent him to a page in the second book and then the man would write down the characters he found in the second book on a page of paper and send it back out the second slot.
Over time, one might expect that the man in the Chinese room would become proficient at his task and thus become both very swift and very accurate in his writing of the symbols. In fact, the man might become so proficient that he would no longer need to use the books as references. Yet, at no point will the man ever learn Chinese. The symbols themselves only carry meaning in terms of which symbol he is to write and not with the thing or idea that the symbol represents. And essentially, a computer chip is little more than a man in a Chinese box (just much smaller!).
Yet, as computer engineers seek to develop a computer that “thinks” more like a human thinks, humans are becoming conditioned to think more like computers…essentially as repositories of vast quantities of information but never applying that information to life. We gorge ourselves on information, but never slow down and reflect enough to incorporate all of the data we ingest into a unified system of thought and life.
The reality is that technology surrounds us and has become a part of our daily lives. While we can control our obsession with information, we cannot step away from the reality that information is a part of the DNA of our times. What we can do, though, is to better filter that information through a mature and unified worldview…one based upon the Scriptures of the Bible. All the while, always discerning how new ideas fit into the whole. If ideas are consistent with the fabric of the Bible then they should naturally fit into ones system of though; if not, it should be held in suspect while seeking to understand the Biblical ramifications of the new view. Is it corrective or destructive to the whole system? The one direction that we cannot afford to go, though, is the direction we are traveling…that of holding many contradictory ideas in tension, never unifying them in a system, but affirming any bit of information as equally valid and considering that knowledge of many things is more valuable than the understanding that comes from being able to apply those things to the whole.
The Problem of Thanksgiving for the Unbeliever November 21, 2011Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: America, Apologetics, atheism, chance, consistency, Determinism, fatalism, fate, intellectual consistency, kinds of thankfulness, Lady Luck, lucky, Paganism, personal thankfulness, providence, random, Reality Check, thankfulness, thankfulness toward others, thankfulness toward that which orders life, Thanksgiving, Unbelief, worldview
I suppose that I should make one qualification up front. And that is that I personally know a number of non-Christians who are very thankful people and who thoroughly enjoy the celebration of this American holiday. There can be no doubting the deep Christian roots of this event, but regardless of one’s faith (or lack thereof), there is much in life to be thankful for as Americans. I should also state up front that many people (Christians included) live out their lives holding to a variety of inconsistencies without paying them any mind or suffering as a result of said inconsistencies — such is the natural end of living in a post-modern world. My intent here is not so much to argue the merits of a thoroughly consistent worldview, but rather to raise the question of Thanksgiving for the atheist, assuming the value of a consistent worldview.
To begin with, there are several categories by which we may mark our thankfulness. The first, we could think of as “personal thankfulness,” which would reflect a certain sense of satisfaction for having made choices or having done something that brought benefits to your life. “I am so glad that I chose such-and-such a restaurant for dinner” or “I am thankful that I chose to strive for this goal” are the kinds of mental thoughts that would accompany this kind of thankfulness. This thankfulness is good and important, but I would suggest that it makes up a smaller percentage of the state of our thankfulness than one might initially think. Simply put, often that restaurant was suggested by a friend or we were helped to the particular goal by others and the timing was perfect for you to be successful. Thus, this kind of thankfulness often is at least partially dependent on events or persons outside of you as an individual.
And that, then, leads us to the second kind of thankfulness: thankfulness toward others. This reflects the kind of thankfulness that is directed towards another human being who has done something that has benefitted you. It might be a nice gift, but it also might be found in the form of advice, counsel, or even a rebuke. As I look back on my life, I am very thankful toward certain friends of mine who had the integrity to tell me that I was about to make a stupid mistake if I took this or that action. I might not have felt thankful at the moment, we seldom do when people speak truth to us, but over time, once my ego stopped swelling and my self-defense mechanisms returned to their proper place, I realized the wisdom of what was told to me and was thankful to have such friends.
Yet, again, this kind of thankfulness, while common to our experience, likely does not make up as large a proportion of our total thankfulness as we might think. The reality is that even in cases like this, there are still elements of providence (the atheist would likely call them coincidence) that are outside of the control of either you or the person toward whom you are thankful. For example, there are chance meetings that brought about conversations that led to the advice (or whatever) you happened to be given. And how did you make such a friendship? The singular friendship that I have maintained from my years at the University is that of a lady with whom I happened to get lost on campus. It seems that the two of us were given wrong information as to where a certain English class was to meet and we both ended up in the wrong corridor together at the same time. The typo on our course-lists, the fact that neither of us had received the correction (when most of the class did), and the timing by which we bumped into each other were all elements that were outside of our direct or indirect influence. I am thankful for all of these events because she and I have kept up correspondence over the years and have encouraged one another as we have both gone our separate ways in life. If we are honest as we survey the landscape of our experience, there are numerous such events that can be traced in our lives for which we are surely thankful. Again, some would call these things coincidence, from a Christian perspective, I choose to use the term “providence.”
Thus far, at least in the immediate sense of personal satisfaction and thankfulness to someone for kindness, there is no contradiction between the atheistic worldview and said thankfulness. In fact, were an atheist choosing not to be thankful for these things, one would have to draw the conclusion that something was wrong with the person’s thinking. Yet here is where the consistency comes to an end, for how is it that someone can direct their thankfulness toward someone (or something) in which he does not believe? Let me explain.
If I am given a gift, while I am thankful for the gift, I will typically express that thanks toward the one from whom the gift came (to do otherwise would be considered rude). That is easy enough to do when a friend or neighbor gives something to us, but what about when providence shines its face upon our lives? To whom (or to what) does the atheist express his thanks? Arguably, one of the reasons that ancient man began worshipping idols was to solve this dilemma. At least in the stone representation of that which his imagination dictated was the source of good things, one could then direct one’s thanksgiving. Yet, the atheist does not set up idols of wood or stone.
The likely answer to this dilemma that the modern atheist will bring to the table falls into one of two categories. One view is to argue that all things are determined by a sequence of cause and effects and thus these things took place and they could not have not taken place. This worldview is referred to as “fatalism” and is a form of deterministic approach. The atheist who holds to this view ought, then, be thankful for nothing (for what happened logically must have happened and could not have been otherwise) or recognize that their thankfulness also is simply a result of chemical interactions that are a result of causes (and again could not have been otherwise), thus making the idea of thankfulness devoid of meaning (it is simply an experience). Any discussion of thanksgiving, from a fatalistic perspective, reduces itself to meaningless absurdity and is thus neither internally consistent nor helpful if one is trying to be consistent with their worldview.
The second, and arguably more palatable, solution of the dilemma as to whom shall we express our thankfulness is to argue that what I am referring to as “providence” is nothing more than pure random chance and thus, I am not thankful to chance, but thankful for chance, in turn, never directing one’s thanksgiving toward someone or something. Yet, how can one be thankful for something that is purely random? Even the craps-shooter praises “Lady Luck” for his good-fortune with the dice. It is not that which is random that we are thankful for, but we are thankful for that which guides or superintends that which is perceived to be random. Granted that the atheist will likely counter that we simply perceive someone guiding “chance events,” but our perception is little more than a figment of our own imaginations. Certainly, the question as to whether God is a figment of our imagination or not is a discussion to be pursued, but not here because this response of the atheist is meant to do little more than to distract from the question at hand: can an atheist be thankful in a meaningful way while still being consistent within his atheism. The answer to the matter must be “no,” for thankfulness must be directed outside of oneself, particularly for the events and circumstances that we have no control over. I am thankful, for example, that I was born and raised in the United States of America in a middle-class home with a family who loved me. This very fact has afforded me opportunities that I would not have had were circumstances different. Yet there is not one aspect of these circumstances that I can say that I had any control over. I might thank my parents for loving me and for their choice to reside in America, but their choice to do so was also based on events that were outside of their sphere of influence (where there were jobs, etc…).
So, where does that lead us? No, I do not expect a run of atheists coming into the church, giving up their unbelief, and accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior because their worldview has inconsistencies. Sure, it could happen, but that would be a work of the Holy Spirit, not the work of a logical argument. In addition, it should be noted that Christians are not the only ones who can appeal to this kind of argument, any religious institution that envisions their gods interacting with the lives of men can appeal in similar ways. My purpose is to appeal to what I believe is an inward desire that we each have — and that is to have a worldview that is consistent with experience, reason, and itself. I have had atheists say to me, “I am thankful for my inconsistency,” but deep down, is that a very satisfying way to live? Is intellectual inconsistency either satisfying or something to thank oneself for? I would suggest it is not and would counter that intellectual consistency is not only satisfying, but it is something we desire deep down (and ought to because we are made in the image of a God who is perfectly consistent with himself).
Bread and Circuses November 12, 2011Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: America and Rome, American Life, ancient hospitals, atheism, Bread and Circuses, changing the culture, Christian compassion, Christian living, compassion, Culture, Evangelism, Grace, hospitals, learning compassion, Love, Mercy, Paganism, pantheism, radical compassion, Roman Life, Rome, transformation
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Let me paint a picture for you of a culture where the Senate ruled over the people and the “commoners” had little say over what laws were enacted in the land. The culture that I am describing was one where many flocked to the cities of jobs, though they would only earn poverty level wages. Healthcare was available, but only for those who had the wealth to afford it; most suffered under whatever folk remedies happened to be available. Infectious disease was rampant in the poor sections of the cities and the government did little more than turn a blind eye to their situation. About the only thing that the society could expect in terms of assistance was a little bit of free grain and free tickets to an occasional arena even — “bread and circuses.”
I am trusting that this description sounds fairly familiar, but I am not talking about our own society, but am instead talking about the first century Roman empire. For the elite, it was a comfortable time in history: there was art, culture, relative order in the empire, abundant access to wealth, and there was rule of law to keep the “rabble” in their place. For the poor, it was a life of hard labor, starvation, and death. The bread was meant to keep the poor working and the tickets to the games was meant to keep the poor from revolting — the ancient precursor to television, one might argue. And it is into this world that God chose to send his Son, taking on flesh and living not amongst the rich, but amongst the poor.
It has been said that compassion is a character trait that is learned, not one that is natural to us. Our default is typically to take care of “ol’ number one” first and others second. If that is the case, and I think that there is merit to the idea, then the ultimate teacher of compassion is God himself. In both Hebrew and Greek, the same word is used to describe both compassion and mercy, and that is what God was doing when he sent his Son to come into this world, to live amongst us, and to die to atone for our sins.
But the question of compassion must not end with the compassion of God. We need to ask the question as to whether or not we have learned compassion from His example. You see, compassion cannot be modeled by the pagan gods, which are made of wood and stone — they neither move nor see nor hear, so how can they extend compassion to any? Compassion cannot be modeled by the gods of nature, for nature is cruel and only the strong survive. And compassion is not modeled by the god of the atheist, for their god is their own mind and reason, thus any action taken will be self-serving. If the God of Christianity, then, has modeled compassion to us, shouldn’t then we who have received the compassion of God also be the most compassionate people in the world?
In ancient Rome, that became the case. One of the first things that Christians did in ancient Rome was to establish hospitals that welcomed all, rich and poor. These hospitals were staffed with doctors, pharmacists, teachers for the children, caretakers for orphans, nurses, people to care for lepers, surgeons, cooks, priests, laundry women, and pallbearers. Never in the history of the world had such institutions been established and the Roman elites looked at the Christians and just did not understand why believers were doing what believers were doing. And Christianity thrived even in an empire where professing Christians were persecuted and sentenced to death within those circuses that everyone attended.
Something has happened though. Today, it would seem, Christians are often seen as self-serving and insulated from the pain and misery of the world around them. Pagans no longer shake their heads in disbelief at the compassion we are willing to show to the poor and suffering, but describe Christians as being just as “self-seeking” as the next group of people.
So what is the solution? The solution is not to win more political elections and gain power to enact laws to protect the “Christian way of life.” Such laws are not bad, but legislation cannot transform a culture. The early Christians turned Rome inside out without ever getting a seat in the Roman Senate. The early Christians turned Rome on its head by sacrifice and compassion for those in need. If we, as modern Christians, desire to see America turned on its head, this is the model that God himself has set for us — radical compassion, grace, and mercy. Such is what God demonstrated when he sent Christ to us as a baby in that manger and such is the kind of compassion that we ought to emulate as we live our lives amongst a people who reject the truth for which we stand.
Embezzled Grace October 27, 2011Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: being good to the wicked, benevolence, Common Grace, Embezzle, Embezzlement, Goodness of God, Grace, Jesus Christ, Judgment, righteousness, Salvation, Saving Grace, why do good things happen to bad people?
“Nevertheless, love those who are hostile to you — do good and lend money without disappointing anyone — and your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is benevolent to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate just as much so as your Father is compassionate”
“Yahweh is good to all; his mercy is over all his works.”
“In the generations which have gone by, he permitted all of the nations to go on their own paths. Yet he did not abandon them without a witness. Doing good giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and cheerfulness. Even with these words, they barely caused the masses to cease sacrificing to them.”
When Christians talk of God’s grace, we talk about it in two separate ways. We talk about God’s Saving Grace, given to those that God has elected from all of the earth, by which he draws men and women to himself. And we talk of God’s Common Grace, which is the grace that he gives to all of the world — the rains in spring, the sun to make the crops grow, joy, laughter, and fellowship — things that the believer and the unbeliever enjoy alike, things which come from God’s own hand. Scripture tells us that this Common Grace is given so that no people at no time can ever say that they have not known the reality of a God who created the earth and who created them (Romans 1:18-20), yet the masses of people in the world choose to worship the created order or the works of their own hands rather than the one who created them.
The question that this raises is why does God show Common Grace to the world and when will that grace end? In the broadest sense, the answer to the question, “why,” stems back to the character of God. As the psalmist states, God is good and as a result of his goodness, he is merciful to all of his works. Jesus clarifies that statement even further in the Sermon on the Mount where he states that God is benevolent to the ungrateful and to the wicked and then, of course, God’s benevolence becomes a model for our benevolence toward the same class of people.
Yet, to narrow this matter down somewhat, we can pose another related question. What is the purpose of this grace? In a portion of the Apostle Paul’s sermon to the people at Lystra, Luke records Paul teaching that God has given his grace in this way as a witness to them — a sign of his existence with the intention that the sign would point people toward seeking the God who had set the sign into the world. In his letter to the Romans, Paul develops this line of thinking further by stating that because of this Common Grace, all men and women of the world instinctively know and understand the “invisible attributes” of God — his power and divinity (Romans 1:19-20). In turn, all mankind, because of God’s Common Grace, are left without excuses in terms of the day of judgment for their actions.
For the unbeliever, Common Grace is just as undeserved as Saving Grace is undeserved for the believer — yet, there is a distinction that must be made. While the believer is undeserving of Saving Grace, the cost of that grace was paid for by Jesus upon the Cross of Calvary. If you will, by his perfect life, he earned the glory of heaven and by his sacrifice, his shed blood atoned for the sins of those trusting in him as Lord and Savior. Believers stand before a righteous God clothed in the righteous work of Jesus Christ, not in our own works.
And thus, Common Grace is not so much the design of Jesus’ work on earth as it is the byproduct of what Jesus did. Were Jesus not to have agreed with the Father to take on flesh and to atone for fallen man, there would have been no reason for God to have done anything other than to enter into judgment and to allow this world to become as bad as it could be…a veritable “hell on earth.” Yet because of Jesus’ work, redeeming the elect through all of the generations from Adam to the end of time as we know it, the goodness of God can be seen by all through Common Grace. The unbeliever who will not trust in Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior — those whose names have not been written in the Book of Life since before the foundation of the world — benefits from Common Grace because Saving Grace is given to others.
The term “embezzle” means to misappropriate something that does not belong to you though it may happen to be in your trust. Thus, an accountant who steals from his employer by fudging the books is called an “embezzler.” Common Grace truly belongs to God and is shed into this world because he has given his Son as Savior to those who would come to him in faith. But, as mentioned above, Common Grace is also designed to demonstrate to the unbelieving world that God does exist and that they stand guilty in rejecting the God who has given them such grace. Thus, the one who would receive such Common Grace and not acknowledge the God from whom that grace is coming, is in a real sense, guilty of embezzlement. Certainly, it is not embezzlement without God’s knowing (like an accountant who would embezzle from his employer); God knows and allows it to go on as the unbelievers enjoyment of the benefit of Common Grace simply heaps judgment upon his or her own head. In a sense, it is like the employer who discovers his accountant is stealing from him, but lets it go until the accountant has stolen so much that any judge in the land would throw the book at him without question.
And indeed, the book of the law will be proverbially thrown at the unbeliever in the day of judgment. Thanks be to God for the redeeming work of Jesus Christ that I and all of those who are trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior will not receive what we rightly deserve were we left to our own devices. The question for us really is whether or not we will continue to allow those we care about to embezzle the grace of God to their own destruction, or whether we will share the good news of Jesus Christ with them that they too might be saved.
The Culture Wars October 11, 2011Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: 2 Corinthians 10:3-6, American Culture, Changing Culture, Christian Culture, Christian School, Church, colere, cultivation, Culture, culture wars, discipleship, Discipling others, eliminating prejudice, erasing prejudice, Evangelism, Gospel, Great Commission, How to change culture, living in a hostile culture, microcosm, Prejudice, Reality Check, School, School as a microcosm, society's microcosm, Strongholds of Satan, Western Culture, What is Culture, wiping out prejudice
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In Christian circles, we talk a lot about the culture wars and at least vaguely, I think, most people have some sense of what is meant by that. As we look around us, the western culture has grown more secular and less markedly “Christian” as a whole and the culture war is the crusade that many have engaged themselves in to turn back the cultural influence toward one that is more markedly Christian. And, as one who has spoken and written on the importance of Christians living out their faith in every aspect of life (both inside of the church and outside of the church), this cause is one toward which I am very sympathetic. Having said that, can we talk?
First of all, I am not entirely convinced that we are going about things the right way in terms of what we are trying to achieve. Is it the culture we are called by Jesus to redeem or is it the people we are called to evangelize? One might respond that both go hand in hand, and they do, but which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The group that would broadly be defined as leading the culture war would argue that as we see a change in the culture, we will see a change in the people. There is a certain degree of truth to this line of thinking as it would seem that most people will go with the flow and do what is acceptable to the culture.
When the “Blue Laws” were in place, people’s lives revolved around church because there was little else to do. There is no question as to the sociological benefit of these laws as even the most basic moral teaching of the Bible affects people’s lives and behavior. Yet, when the Blue Laws were repealed, church attendance dropped, which indicates that the percentage who left were only there because of the cultural expectations upon them and not because they had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus did say that in the final judgment there will be many who will cry out, “Lord, Lord!” and to whom Jesus will say, “Get away from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23). So, did the “Christianization” of the culture build the church? The church as an institution perhaps was built up, but the word “Church,” in a Biblical sense, normally refers to a body of believers that have been called out from the world and into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Arguably, then, the church was not built up by simply existing within a Christian culture.
It should be noted that we use the term “culture” in a variety of different ways. In addition, we talk about cultures and sub-cultures within a given culture. There are also various “cultural expressions” that people may embrace as well as the “culture” of certain pieces of music, art, or literature. In addition, when you are sick and go to the doctor, he or she may take a swab and apply it to the back of your throat to take a “culture” to see what kind of bacteria may be developing in your body. So, when we talk about a “Culture War,” what kind of culture are we talking about and is that even the proper term that we ought to be throwing about?
Typically, when speaking of a “Culture War,” we are referring (as do sociologists) to those shared norms, ethics, linguistic expressions, histories, folk-stories, values, and beliefs that bind a group of people together. We might talk broadly of the “Western” culture that has been dominated by the thought of the Greek Philosophers and Latin thinkers, the European Renaissance, and the Christian religion (as this was the dominant influence in the development of Europe for well over 1,000 years.
We might narrow the discussion down further and talk about the “American” culture or even about the evangelical sub-culture within America, but bottom line, it still gets back to these shared beliefs and histories that bind a people together. But how do these beliefs get propagated? Certainly they are not innate as cultural expression varies widely throughout the world. They are taught then, by one generation to the next, either intentionally or unintentionally, by those who hold said beliefs. And unless one makes a deliberate effort to “break out” of a cultural norm, that culture will continue into another generation.
Interestingly enough, the word “culture” comes from that Latin term colere, which means “to cultivate or tend,” and was originally used to describe the way that a farmer would work the ground and tend to the crops that he has planted. This is a valuable note because there is nothing unintentional about the way a field is cultivated. The farmer chooses how he prepares and fertilizes the plot of land, the kinds of seeds that are sown, and the way those plants are tended and harvested. Similarly, culture is created by those within the community.
Yet, if culture is created by those within the community, does the idea of a “culture war” really make any sense at all? It presents a picture of workers in a field warring over which seeds to plant — one side fighting to plant corn and the other fighting to plant wheat. Does it not make more sense to focus on changing the hearts of the planters?
Prejudice is one of the things that people have been trying hard to change in our culture (and rightly so). And in many areas, the work has been very successful. But what is bringing the most success? Is it laws that are written outlawing prejudice or is it people’s hearts being changed and choosing not to propagate the prejudices of their parents in the lives of their children? I would suggest that the latter is the tactic being used with success. I would also suggest that the families where people marry across ethnic lines is where you will see the most pronounced removal of the prejudices because hearts change when people are in fellowship with one another.
Does this mean that Christians should not engage the culture? Of course not, we are called to tear down the strongholds of Satan in this world (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). As Christians, we should express the faith that we hold in every area of life. That being said, we will not fulfill the Great Commission by once again having Christian thought and principles dominate the cultural norm; the Great Commission needs to be fulfilled by discipling people. And for people to be discipled, their hearts must first be changed by the power of the Gospel.
One final note on this line of thinking from the five years that I taught Bible in a Christian Academy. It was amazing how often I had students who could answer all of the questions correctly on a Bible or a Worldview test but when left on their own, would live as an unbeliever. The culture at the Christian School was intentionally Christian. The curriculum was also designed to foster a Christian worldview. As teachers and administrators, we had won the “Culture War” at our school (at least on the surface). Yet, we had many kids who could live in the Christian culture, yet were not being discipled because the Christian culture was not the culture that they had embraced as their own. The solution for the school environment was not to institute more rules or to offer more Christian “cultural” experiences. The solution is to get to the heart of the student and apply the Gospel in the hopes and prayers that God would regenerate their dead hearts and give them life.
The school tends to be a microcosm of the community and the Christian school is a microcosm of a community that is dominated by Christian culture. If we aim to change hearts by changing the visible culture, we will likely lose both. Yet, when hearts are changed, the culture will be changed by default. The “Culture War” as described is at best a crusade that will change small pockets of life — we may take the promised land by force, but for how long will it be held? Instead, let us wage war against the powers and principalities of Satan, seeking to evangelize the hearts of men, for this will be the “Holy War” that will bring long-lasting and spiritual fruit.
Friends September 27, 2011Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: Abraham, Being Friends, Friend of God, Friends, Friendship, John Watson, life together, Love, Presence, Sherlock Holmes, Story, trial
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So what makes a friend a friend? And when I speak of friends, I am not thinking of those we might casually refer to in that way, but those with whom you have a close and enduring bond — a bond that is strengthened, not weakened by trials and difficulties and with whom love is the only right word to describe the affection that you have for one another. When I was a teenager and in my early twenties, I used to describe this kind of friend as one who you would trust with your car, your girlfriend, and your credit card. Now that I am older, I would describe such a person as the kind of person that I am content simply being with in life together…you know, the kind of person that it doesn’t really matter if you are doing something in particular, but simply being together is enough. It is the kind of person with whom you can disagree and it doesn’t really matter because your relationship is not established on points of common opinion, but instead is built on life together.
It is the kind of relationship that Sherlock Holmes is portrayed as having with John Watson; the mysteries that Doyle wrote about simply provided the backdrop; what made the stories was the relationship between these two men — these two friends. While this is the kind of friendship we ought to have with our spouses, it is often not limited to our spouses. It is the kind of friendship we ought to have with our families, though families often fall short and it is typically not limited to family relationships. And, this is the relationship we ought to strive for with other Christians, though such relationships are often had outside of the church. And, it is a relationship that typically is built over time, while going through the ups and especially through the downs of life together. If our lives are described as part of the tapestry of history, these friends would be the strands that not only are intertwined with our own but also whose color so blends with ours that at a glance, the two threads almost appear to be one.
I have been doing my devotions of late in the scripture passages that deal with the life of Abraham. And what strikes me as remarkable is that despite the messiness of his life and despite his failures and sins, Abraham is not only called the father of the faithful (Romans 4:11-12,16; Galatians 3:7), but Abraham is also called “Friend of God” (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). Scripture tells us that God spoke to Moses face to face as one speaks with a friend (Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10) and Jesus says to his disciples at the last supper, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15), but it is Abraham that history has marked off as the one having such a relationship with God that he is called “friend of God.”
So, what marked Abraham’s relationship in this way? Certainly this was God’s design, but what can we learn about this friendship that can be applied to our relationships with each other and to our relationship with God? The first thing that we should note is that while God was always faithful on “his end” of the friendship, Abraham was not. Yet, Abraham’s failures did not compromise the friendship he had with God. We should secondly note that their friendship was not defined by the destination or by the promise. Abraham spent nearly his entire relationship with God as a wanderer in the land of Canaan and Egypt. He knew that God had promised him the land, but he also knew that it would be distant ancestors that would actually inherit the promise after spending more than 400 years in Egypt (Genesis 15:13-14). Abraham would die long before the promise was fulfilled. In fact, Abraham received the initial call from God to leave the land of Ur prior to receiving the promise that God would make his descendants a great nation (Acts 7:2-4). It would only be in connection with the call to leave Haran after his father’s death, that the covenantal promise was given (Genesis 12:1-3). We might suggest that the friendship was strengthened by the covenant and promise of God, but clearly it did not begin with these things.
If I were to speculate, I think that it would also be safe to say that Abraham’s relationship was also not based on common likes and dislikes or on common experiences. Certainly Abraham disliked many of the things that God dislikes and it is true that God enters into our experiences as we are in relationship with him, but this still seems to be a superficial place to ground our understanding of this very special friendship. There is no questions that these things, whether experiences or the covenant, were part of the maturing of this friendship (at least on Abraham’s side), but they do not seem to be the essence of the relationship.
I would suggest that the essence of the friendship that Abraham had with God was not in knowing where they were going or how they would get there, but in knowing that they were going in that direction together. And I think that this principle applies to our friendships with other humans as well. We began not by asking about Abraham’s relationship with God, but with the question of what makes a friend a friend — or, what distinguishes the deep and genuine friendships from the casual (and often superficial) friendships that we have. The answer is that those deep friendships are built not so much upon what we do, but upon doing it together — even when we are not doing anything in particular.
God could have taken Abraham on a trek that extended across the breadth of Africa or into the mountains of Tibet and it would not have mattered so long as they were making the trip together. Sherlock Holmes, apart from John Watson, was depressed and bored with life, even to the extent of experimenting with mainlining cocaine to free him from his boredom. It was Watson who kept Holmes grounded, focused, and (in most cases) clean from his drug use. It was nothing Watson did, it was Watson’s mere presence. Husbands and wives often do many romantic things as they are building their relationship, but ultimately there comes a point (because life otherwise gets in the way and struggles arise), where they are forced to realize that what really matters is not so much those romantic episodes, but that they are living life together, facing trials together, hurting together, and loving together.
Moses said to God that what made God’s people distinct from all of the other nations of the earth was his presence with them (Exodus 33:16). That indeed is true of the church in a corporate sense and of Christians in a personal sense, but that is also true of friendship as well. What makes your friendship with me genuine friendship is your presence with me and vice-versa. The deepest friendships are marked by presence — a presence that is needed, desired, and even yearned for — and as a result of that common presence, our stories become so intertwined together that from a distance they almost seem to be one and inseparable.
Cogito Ergo Sum August 29, 2011Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: Anselm, Apologetics, Aquinas, being, bohu, Cogito Ergo Sum, Descartes, existence, formless and void, Good, Hinduism, Islam, Kant, non-being, non-existence, redeeming disorder with order, redeeming emptiness with fullness, redemption of non-existence, Shamanism, tohu, True God
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Descartes made his famous statement, “I think; therefore, I am,” to communicate what he held to be the most fundamental and irrefutable truth: his thought about whether or not he existed was proof that he did exist. He argued that everything else could be an illusion, but that this was the one principle that he could not deny. He would go on to argue that logically, the only way we can have any confidence that the things we believe to be true are true is to posit the existence of a good and all-powerful God, for without such a God, one could logically have no confidence that what he perceived was not part of a grand deception. In addition, combining elements of Anselm’s Ontological Argument and Aquinas’ Proof from Degrees, he posited that the idea of an all-powerful good God was inherently greater than that of an all-powerful demon, it must be that of an all-powerful God of good that we ought to expect to be in reality.
Whether one is compelled by Descartes’ logic or not, my purpose here is to raise the question about existence and non-existence in relationship to God’s creation. God, of course, is the one self-existent being that was necessary to bring into being all that is. Prior to God’s work of creation he existed in perfect blessedness and in perfect relationship within his Triune self. His creation was done not because of a need within him that had to be filled; his creation was done as a revelation of his glory and he created us to be in fellowship with him so that we might enjoy the fullness of his glory.
One of the key elements in medieval logic, that drove Anselm, Aquinas, and Descartes was the principle that existence is greater than non-existence. For most of us, that seems to be more or less a common sense position as a pound of meat in the hand of a hungry man is more valuable to him than the idea of a pound of meat. Yet, later on, there would be philosophers like Immanuel Kant who would challenge that notion, arguing that existence is not so much a quality of something that could be found cumulative with other qualities, thus making that which existed better than that which did not exist, but that existence simply was a reflection of an item’s state of being. It either does or it does not exist, with no value statement assigned either way.
Despite Kant’s insistence to the contrary, I would put forward that the medieval view that existence is greater than non-existence is closer to the Biblical standard. Certainly a God who does exist eternally and is self-existent beyond the created order is greater than one who exists only in our imaginations, for who then brought creation into being? The naturalist would argue that nature is self-existent and has always existed, but nature is un-thinking and un-reasoning and how could an unthinking and unreasoning entity produce such uniform design throughout the cosmos? From the smallest genome to the largest stellar body, complex design is evident and design demands a reasoning designer. Hence, there logically must be one who is self-existent and transcendent from nature from whom nature receives its design — once again returning us to the necessity of a self-existent God who is existent.
As we then reflect on the nature of this self-existent God, we must first note that the God of the Christian Bible is the only God that fits the description of being both transcendent and self-existent. The Hindu gods, for example, are part of the created order and are not considered to be self-existent. Similarly, one can say the same of the many spirits worshiped in various forms of shamanism and new-age philosophy. In each case, the gods are understood to exist within the natural order, not outside of it. The one potential exception to this would be Islam, which holds to a transcendent god, yet their god presents himself as a great deceiver, which of course would eliminate him from being a candidate for being absolutely “good.” Thus, as Descartes points out, without an absolutely good God, we can know nothing for sure — even the faithful Muslim will have to confess that he does not have any confidence as to whether he will go to heaven or enter into judgment. The Christian Bible would go further in its claim about a god who is a deceiver and clearly point out that he is the Devil (John 8:44) or serves the devil (2 John 7).
Thus, if the Christian God is the only candidate for a transcendent and self-existent God, we will use the Bible (God’s self-revelation) to be our rule for understanding the characteristics of this God — namely that he is not only all-powerful and self-existent, but that he is all-knowing. This attribute is essential to our discussion of existence and non-existence. For, when we state that God is all-knowing, that means that God can learn nothing — he knows and has always known from the beginning all that will ever take place. This is a position that even most Wesleyans and Calvinists can find agreement on. The Wesleyan would argue that God knows all things because he is outside of time and thus looks down upon the whole of time and observes the events of man from beginning to end, a view popularized by the philosopher Boethius. The Calvinist would argue that God knows all things because he has ordained them to take place, a view that is arguably more consistent with Paul’s use of terms like election and predestination in his epistles.
Thus, regardless of which side you may fall on the Reformed/Calvinistic vs. Wesleyan/Arminian debate, there is agreement that God knows all things within orthodox Christianity. God knows all things and in turn, can learn nothing. The implication of this is that before God entered into the act of creation, the idea of his creation and of all created history existed in his mind. Surely, were God to have thought like Kant, there would have been no need to create, for existence and non-existence are simply states of being, not qualities of value. Instead, God does not simply let the idea of a created order exist in his mind, but he chooses to create and bring into existence all that is known.
This raises an interesting thought. While there was nothing lacking within God to cause him to create, it may be suggested that there is something lacking in non-existence. The lack is not in a sinful way, for sin did not enter into the world until the fall and sin can certainly not abide in the presence of a holy God, but the principle that existence is better than non-existence implies that that which exists in reality is better than that which exists only in the mind. Thus, in creating, God redeems non-existence by bringing creation into being. In a very real sense, this makes the entire creation account a redemption story. God begins by redeeming non-existence by making it exist then continues by addressing the formlessness and void. God redeems the formlessness by giving it order in the first three days of creation and then redeems emptiness by filling it in the latter three days of creation. Existence to non-existence, order to disorder, and fullness to emptiness, God redeems each and makes them “good.”