Wednesday, 29 October 2008

God ordained cultural structures

I currently don't mind democracy, though I am not adverse to monarchy and possibly other governmental structures. Christians are called into a different kingdom and can live under any political or economic structure, although some are more pleasant than others. Nevertheless, it is good to understand the proper role of the state; and if one finds himself in a democracy then it is good to vote well (if one thinks he should vote).

How should we frame our ideas about the state? The state is a social structure where leaders oversee community. There are, however, several God ordained social structures in this world and we need to start with the central ones.

Prior to the Fall we have Adam relating to God which is the first and highest order relationship. I think that the individual relationship and the group relationship with God—Adam and Eve pre-Fall; God-worshippers, faithful Israel, righteous Gentiles, and the church post-Fall—are all part of what will become the Bride of Christ. This is the pre-eminent social/ spiritual relationship in the universe. All of this world is building toward that relationship.

Prior to the Fall we also have marriage and family:
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man....

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2)
I have included family, however children, while very important and a blessing, are not as fundamental as marriage. They are temporary; given to us to train them to love God so they can depart to form a new unit—the son leaves his parents and joins with his wife.

These 2 relationships: God and man, and man and wife, are central to social order. Note that they both pre-date the Fall. Note also that the latter is a copy of the former:
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5)
And that marriage is temporary:
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Matthew 22)
The other social structures are the community and the state, the state being the power that oversees the community as mentioned above. We are first introduced to the embryo of the state some 1600 years after creation. Earlier judgments are made directly by God; note the examples of Cain and the Deluge. Men take things into their own hands such as Lamech and the mighty men of old, but there is no evidence this is sanctioned by God. I am not certain if we can infer anything from the existence of antediluvian cities. After the Flood God gives specific commands to Noah and his sons:
But you* shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your* lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
"Whoever sheds the blood of man,/
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image...." (Genesis 9)
God is the giver and owner of life, we are made in his image. Thus God gives commands concerning life: Men are to refrain from eating blood because of the life symbolism; and men are not to kill men.

The context suggests that it is murder that is forbidden here, as the murderer is to be subsequently put to death for his actions, capital punishment being commanded not condemned even though it removes life. These commands of God establish legality. Even if full government is not required, there needs be some community structure to deal with murderers; be that egalitarian, or community elders, or kingship, or some other structure.

So the state is enacted by God some centuries after the Fall and it is necessary because we are fallen creatures. If marriage is a temporary institution, how much more so then is the state! There is much the Bible teaches us about ideal government, what God intends leaders to do, what they should concern themselves with, how they should rule; but this is on the background of the above concepts. Our ideas about temporal government need to be tempered by thoughts on eternal relationship and our current fallen nature.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Nitrogen and warmth are good for plants, who would have guessed?

Researchers from the Forestry School at Michagan's Technological University have been investigating acid rain since 1987. They have found that increased nitrogen and increased temperatures have lengthened the growing season by 10–11 days. Andrew Burton
found that the trees grow faster at higher temperatures and store more carbon at greater concentrations of nitrogen, a chemical constituent of acid rain, providing there is sufficient moisture.
The article mentions climate change, though any long term change in temperature is climate change whatever the cause. The unqualified mention of climate change carries an implicit anthropomorphic qualifier but this is neither proven nor disproven by these findings. It does remind us that increased temperatures are generally beneficial.

Are these findings overly surprising? It is definitely useful research. However we do need to remember that coal is metamorphic biomass. If we burn coal we are releasing the components of plants back into the biosphere. Coal is the stuff of trees. If coal is burnt well (to avoid the formation of new organic toxins) the sulphur, phosphorus, nitrogen, and trace elements are what plants use. The release of massive amounts of compounds in a focused area may have some unintended consequences, but that these compounds are good fertilisers is to be expected.

Any predictions for further research? The article mentions that the trees need sufficient moisture. Perhaps an increase in CO2 (related to temperature, not burning fuels) may allow more growth with less water as seen in other research.

Hat tip: Jay

Monday, 27 October 2008

New Zealand political party policies

This is a list of topics on which various political parties have policies on. I have included all the current parties and have also included The Family Party which is not in parliament but it is an example of one of the current Christian parties running for election. Obviously these do not say what the policy is, but it gives a range of issues that parties think they need policies on. Their policies are on their websites, there are also policy lists on VoteMe.

Act
Accident Compensation| Agriculture| Climate Change| Constitutional Framework| Education| Employment| Families at Risk| Government Asset Ownership| Government Expenditure| Health| Housing| Immigration| Infrastructure| Law and Order| Local Government| National Security| Public Service| Red Tape and Regulation| Resource Management| Risk Insurance| Superannuation| Tariffs| Taxation| Welfare|

The Family Party
Abortion| Broadcasting Standards| Defence| Economic Policies| Environment| Education| Gangs and Prostitution| Health| Housing| Immigration| Justice| Law and Order| Maori| Senior Citizens| Welfare|

The Green Party
Accident Compensation| Agriculture and Rural Affairs| Animal Welfare| Arts, Culture and Heritage| Children| Climate Change| Community and Voluntary Sector| Conservation| Disability| Drug Law Reform| Economic Policy| Education| Energy| Environment| Food| Foreign Affairs| Forestry| Gambling| Green Taxation and Monetary Policy| Health| Housing| Human Rights| Immigration| Income Support| Industrial Relations| Information Technology| Justice| Maori Issues| Population| Research, Science and Technology| Sea and Ocean| Security Services| Sexual Orientation| Student Support| Sustainable Business| Tertiary Education| Treaty of Waitangi| Tourism| Toxics| Trade and Foreign Investment| Transport| Urban| Waste Free New Zealand| Water| Women| Work and Employment| Youth Affairs|

Labour
Accident Compensation| Agriculture| Arts| Biosecurity| Broadcasting| Building and Construction| Climate Change| Communications| Conservation| Defence| Disabilities| Economic Policy| Education| Emergency Management| Employment Relations| Energy| Environment| Ethnic Affairs| Fisheries| Foreign Affairs, Trade and Official Development Assistance| Health| Immigration| Housing| Law and Order| Maori| Pasifika| Rural Sector| Science and Innovation| Small Business| Social Development| Student Allowances| Tourism| Training and Apprenticeships| Transport| Veterans' Affairs|

The Maori Party
Education| Foreshore & Seabed| Health| Treaty of Waitangi| Whanau first|

National
Accident Compensation| Art and Culture| Auckland Issues| Broadcasting| Building & Construction| Commerce| Communications & Information Technology| Consumer Affairs| Defence and Security| Economic Development| Education| Energy| Environment| Ethnic Affairs| Finance and Taxation| Foreign Affairs| Health| Housing| Immigration| Infrastructure| Justice—Law & Order| Labour & Industrial Relations| Local Government| Maori Affairs—Culture & Development| Maori Affairs—Education & TPK| Pacific Island Affairs| Police| Primary Sector| Science & CRIs| Small Business| Social Services| State Services| Student Allowances| Tourism| Trade| Transport| Treaty Negotiations| Women's Affairs|

New Zealand First

Accident Compensation| Biosecurity| Broadcasting and Communications| Consumer Affairs| Defence And Veterans' Affairs| Direct Democracy| Disability| Economic Plan|
Education| Employment—Business Development| Employment—Regional Development| Employment—Industrial Relations| Employment—Industrial Training| Employment—Community Wage| Energy| Environment And Conservation| Family, Youth And Social| Fisheries| Foreign Affairs| Foreign Investment and State Assets| Health| Housing| Immigration| Justice| Law And Order| Local Government| Maori Affairs| Racing| Resource Management Act| Rural| Senior Citizens| Superannuation| Taxation| Tourism| Trade| Transport| Treaty of Waitangi|

Progressive Party
Accident Compensation| Alcohol & drugs| Art & Culture| Communications & Broadband internet| Conservation and the environment| Currency| Defence| Disability| Disarmament| Early intervention| Economic Policy| Education and training| Family| Forestry| Genetic engineering| Gun control| Health| Housing| Immigration| International affairs| Justice, law and order| Maori development and the treaty| Mental health| Pasifika| Refugees| Senior citizens| Social services| Sport and recreation| Transport| Women| Workplace|

United Future
Accident Compensation| Animal Welfare| Arts, Culture & Heritage| Broadcasting| Business| Children| Citizenship| Climate Change| Communications| Community & Voluntary Sector| Constitution| Disability| Drugs| Education| Emergency & Civil Defence Services| Energy| Environment| Ethnic Affairs| Family| Fishing| Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade| Forestry| Gender Affairs| Health| Housing| Immigration| Law and Order| Local Government| Outdoor Recreation and Conservation| Research, Science & Technology| Road Safety| Rural Life| Savings| Senior Citizens| Social Services & Employment| Tax| Tourism| Transport| Treaty of Waitangi|

Saturday, 25 October 2008

How to vote in an election

I had the opportunity to discuss politics with one of my pastors recently. He was interested in who I would vote for. Where to start? There are so many issues to discuss. I think people, including Christians, think too superficially about this issue. Even those who think in some depth often cover only a few and not all the issues. And frequently people fail to address the fundamentals.

Last election a different pastor discussed voting and suggested people think about the principles underlying policy. Many parties may have similar policies but vastly different principles leading to that policy. It is the principles that are more fundamental.

Political parties can have policies on a variety of issues. Even more foundational than what the principles are, is: in what areas do the principles really matter? How do we weigh the issues of say justice versus health or education? How do view a party that has the right principles guiding policy on minor issues or issues government should not be involved in, but the wrong principles guiding core government function?

I hope to discuss the nature of the state, what policies government should be involved in and the principles I think those policies should be shaped by.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Proof-texting unconditional election

In response to a recent post on sovereignty I received an anonymous comment suggesting my analysis contradicted the Bible. This is a bold claim, though I am prepared to defend my position. I will add that this post is an object lesson in why proof-texting can be a poor technique. While short texts of Scripture can refute error, they need to be understood and applied correctly. Anonymous did not expand on the texts or explain how they contradict my claims.

My claims and anon's quotes are in italics, my response is in roman type.

Anon: This is a sad commentary. You analysis says exactly opposite of that the Bible says.

However others thought it a good commentary. jc_freak and travelah agreed with it, and kangaroodort affirmed it and linked to it. While this particular post was short on Scripture, it was not intended to be exegesis of a particular passage. Other posts have defended my view. In this post I was trying to identify a logical error, that being:
  • I don't think sovereignty by necessity means God can force people to love him.
God can still be sovereign even if the whole whole rejects him. Our acceptance or rejection of God does not alter the fact that he is King and owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

bethyada: Calvinists have claimed that God chooses specific men for salvation because he is sovereign. Those are saved to maximise God's glory in his mercy, and others are damned to maximise God's glory in his wrath.

These ideas, I think, are incorrect. The issue of sovereignty is a logical question. And damnation, while giving God glory, does so less than salvation.

Anon:
Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory. (Romans 9:21-23)
And yet I quote this very passage latter on. Rather than interact with my interpretation you just quote it with the assumption that your interpretation of it is the right one and that alone is enough to refute me. Re-read my response. You are reading "prepared" to mean "pre-prepared." While that is possible, especially given the following mention of "prepared beforehand" other verses suggest that men prior to redemption are objects of wrath and yet become objects of grace. See Ephesians 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
If we remain disobedient God prepares us for destruction, but he desires repentance.

bethyada: I don't think it possible for God to force anyone into heaven. Or rather force anyone to love him; heaven is the destination. So I think the Calvinists are incorrect about sovereignty over who is saved because it is not an question of sovereignty.

Anon
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Romans 9:18)
And what does mercy have to do with forcing people to love him? God can have mercy on whoever he wishes, but he has said he will not do so unless we repent. And if he gives us mercy we can still choose not to love him.

bethyada: God can create, God can woo (prevenient grace), God can save, God can give eternal life, God can create freedom of the will.

None of which man can do.

However I think that if God creates us as beings that have the ability to choose or reject God then I think it logically impossible to force love from such a being.

Anon
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
This is not about our acceptance or rejection of God, it is about God giving us the ability to do what we desire to do. Just because we choose God and reject evil does not mean we have the ability to walk according to our choice.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate....

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7)
God in Ezekiel says this new heart will cause us to walk in his statutes, and while consistent with an unconditional election position, is also consistent with conditional election. God can give us ability if we desire it and he has promised it. If we desire it alone we cannot do it. God says here in Ezekiel that he will do this for his own glory, but this does not necessarily mean that he will do it to those who are evil and unrepentant. The question here is not about God's abilities to help us live by the Spirit, rather it is about whether God changes us despite our will, and whether determinism allows love.

bethyada: To have such a high view of sovereignty that claims that God can make us love him, seems, to me, as preposterous as a high view of God's omnipotence means he can make 2 + 2 = 5.

So I don't think that non-Calvinists have a low view of God's sovereignty, I think they have a more accurate one.

Anon:
...declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,... (Isaiah 46:10)
My claim was specific. I am not saying that God is not sovereign. Non-Calvinists acknowledge the sovereignty of God. The comment as it stands already refutes your response. A high view of God's omnipotence does not automatically make God able to do the logically impossible. By analogy I claim that a high view of sovereignty doesn't mean that God can make free people love against their desire. A verse reinforcing God's sovereignty does nothing to prove me incorrect. If I am incorrect it is because my analogy is incorrect or inappropriate.

Further I think God can force activity and situation outcomes against the will of man; see Nebuchadnezzar's 7 years. But Nebuchadnezzar still had to choose to love or reject God.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,... (Daniel 4)
bethyada: Further I think God does desire every single person go to heaven. I don't think any have been created specifically for destruction...Calvinists are incorrect about this being the reason for creating beings for damnation.

Anon:
This is the wicked man's portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God. (Job 20:29)

The LORD has made all things for Himself: yes, even the wicked for the day of destruction. (Proverbs 16:4)

For certain people ... long ago were designated for this condemn... [truncated by haloscan but from Jude] condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)
And I can proof-text just as easily.
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3)
I am not claiming that all men will be saved, just that God desires such. The verses from Job and Jude do not say that men were eternally elected to be evil and thus damned, they say that God will surely punish the wicked. The verses are compatible with a Calvinist interpretation, but they do not teach Calvinism. Jude could be read that the condemnation is determined before the wickedness, yet God's foreknowledge allows him to determine their condemnation prior to the event even though the condemnation is because of the event. That is, the cause is the wicked actions even if knowledge of the wickedness predates the actions. The Job passage seems an odd rebuttal as the speaker is Zophar and the conclusion is that God decrees thus because of the evil man's wickedness.

Proverbs 16 as it reads suggests that God has created men for the purpose of destruction. This is the ESV version (which I also use). But is the verse actually teaching this? The verse in the NET version is,
The Lord works everything for its own ends—/
Even the wicked for the day of disaster.
Which is compatible with God ensuring that outcomes will be just; that is, God will ensure our actions will ultimately have their appropriate consequences. Through other Scripture we know this takes into account God's mercy.

A footnote in the NET states that the word "work" means to "work out" or "accomplish." Another says that "for its own ends" means,
"for its answer." The term לַמַּעֲנֵהוּ (lammaanehu) has been taken to mean either "for his purpose" or "for its answer." The Hebrew word is מַעֲנֶה (ma’aneh, "answer") and not לְמַעַן (lema’an, "purpose"). So the suffix likely refers to "everything" (כֹּל, kol). God ensures that everyone's actions and the consequences of those actions correspond—certainly the wicked for the day of calamity. In God's order there is just retribution for every act.
Thus God makes the day of destruction for the wicked, not the wicked for the day of destruction. (See also Matthew 25:41.)

I have no problem with quoting Scripture to support truth. The problems with proof-texting come, as can be seen here, when it is done
  • poorly;
  • without regard to context;
  • with no relevance to the issue; or
  • with the assumptions of one's position which, while possibly consistent with the text, are not specifically found within the text.
It is better to interact with the Scripture and the points made by one's opponent. Documenting not just what the Bible says, but explaining what and why it means thus.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Jesus the famous

I find it interesting that many of the well known people of Jesus' day: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, government officials in Jerusalem and Judea; are now unknown or relatively unknown; and in as much as they are known, it is via the New Testament which Christians have kept.

Jesus was lesser known initially, though his fame spread quickly (Mark 1:28) and by the end of his ministry many of the people in Judea had heard of this Rabbi. Now after 2000 years most of the people of influence of that time can barely be named, and those who can are remembered for their relationship to Jesus. Moreover Jesus is called Lord by 1–2 billion people worldwide and his name is known or revered by few billion more.

Many of these previously famous men mocked Jesus or held him in derision. Ah, the irony! As well as a sense of justice God must surely have a sense of humour.
LORD, I have heard of your fame;/
I stand in awe of your deeds, (Habakkuk 3 NIV)

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

ESV Study Bible release

The English Standard Version (ESV) is my preferred translation. The ESV Study Bible is being released today. The concern with study Bibles is when people spend more time reading the notes than Scripture, but good helps and maps do improve understanding. This looks like it will contain some useful material.

The general editor is Wayne Grudem, a superb scholar. J.I. Packer is the theological editor.

It will likely have a Calvinist flavour and is unlikely to be conservative enough in some areas such as chronology, but unless I write my own study Bible... and then I wouldn't need it.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The unreasoning atheist

Sam Harris of End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation fame is studying functional magnetic resonance imaging of brains with a focus on belief. I have my doubts this methodology has the ability to discover anything of worth. Part of Harris' process is to come up with questions that give a predictable response. Of interest was the question about the reliability of the Bible concerning ancient history.

I guess I don't find this surprising but it is somewhat irrational. About 90% of self proclaimed atheists agree with the proposition:
The Bible is a very unreliable record of ancient history.
It may be anticipated that atheists do not give the Bible much credibility concerning its theological teaching—else they might be theists. And it probably is not unexpected they disagree with the first few chapters of Genesis given that abiogenesis and macroevolution is the major competing worldview, and Darwin is the darling of atheists worldwide. But to insist that Bible history is generally unreliable, let alone very unreliable, reveals an irrational anti-biblical bias.

Other ancient texts with obvious internal errors are often treated as generally reliable. People read Herodotus, Plato, Thucydides, and Manetho; and refer to records of ancient nations; and consider the material reliable, or at least give it the benefit of doubt. These ancients write with their own agendas, with religious claims, and often times refuse to document the failings of favoured men. At minimum it seems reasonable to give the biblical historians a similar standing—especially given they frequently document the failings of their people and leaders!

Further, the archaeological confirmation of several biblical claims should increase the biblical authors' secular credibility.

I think this atheistic response originates not from the realms of reason for which they pride themselves, but is the emotional reaction of their intense antitheism.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The front fell off

For those outside the Oceania John Clarke is a New Zealand born comedian living in Australia.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Random quote

The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.

Herbert Spencer

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Cannibalism and historical revisionism

Paul Moon is a professor of history whose interests include the history of the Maori people in New Zealand. His recent research is about cannibalism within previous Maori culture which he documents in his book This Horrid Practice. Unfortunately this has not passed the politically correct test. A complaint went to the (New Zealand) Human Rights Commission, the Commission suggested mediation!

An academic warned him he was putting his career in jeopardy and another professor labelled Moon as "brave" for publishing this research, going on to condemn his work without reviewing it. Moon's response:
...why should an historian have to be “brave” when choosing to write about a topic, and what does this comment say about the state of academic freedom in this country?
The fact is cannibalism has been well documented in many cultures around the world including the South Pacific. Both Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya; Solomon Islands, which was known as the Cannibal Isles; Marquesas Islands; and Fiji.

Scripture is not afraid to mention these matters though it does not condone them. During a siege 2 Israelite women made a murderous and cannibalistic pact (2 Kings 6).

Ideology drives research to an extent, it determines the types of questions that are asked. But unfortunately some people appear to let their ideology drive their conclusions. While it is reasonable to be suspicious of questionable conclusions and request further proof, to predetermine the conclusions that match your philosophy by manipulating data or forbidding (amoral) research which may oppose your worldview means that one will never come to an understand of the truth. One may even defend lying for the greater agenda.

Conclusions will often be understood within the underlying paradigm. Logically valid reasoning will not override bad premises. But it may call into question one's premises. The desire should be for truth; if the truth contradicts your belief it means that your belief does not correspond to reality. Worldviews should be both internally consistent and correspond to reality.

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