Monday, 28 October 2013

Monday quote

The left leaning Christian frequently mistakes God's condemnation of unrighteous behaviour with vices that should be criminalised.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Monday quote

When people complain that they don't get what they deserve, they don't know how fortunate they are.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The authority of Scripture

Augustine writes
On such terms we might amuse ourselves without fear of offending each other in the field of Scripture, but I might well wonder if the amusement was not at my expense. For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the Ms. is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error. Far be such arrogance from that humble piety and just estimate of yourself which I know you to have, and without which assuredly you would not have said, “Would that I could receive your embrace, and that by converse we might aid each other in learning! (Letter 82:3)
His approach to Scripture is that it is always true, though there may be problems at the level of
  • Manuscript quality
  • Translation accuracy
  • Personal interpretation
If there are no issues identified in these 3 components then what Scripture teaches is true and completely free from error. He yields to Scripture by virtue of it being Scripture, but only to other literature in as far as it convinces him by reason.

This is my approach and as such makes Scripture completely formative. Where I disagree with Scripture I am incorrect and I must modify and correct my worldview to accommodate Scriptural teaching on the issue. It is a little more subtle in that there are passages that are quite tricky to understand and I do not need to come down definitively on a conclusion. Further, I think all Scripture is inerrant thus I need to consider what I have learnt elsewhere in the Bible. Even so, as much as I am aware and am honest with myself, my beliefs are subservient to the word.

Now other books can be formative as well, I have learnt a lot from literature over the years. Yet I still pass judgment on the truthfulness of books. I fell free to agree with anything from 0 to 100% of what a book claims. Again, I may defer a conclusion awaiting more information on a topic. The difference is that I place myself (and Scripture) over what I read, not because I am an expert on everything I read, but because I am (somewhat) responsible for what I choose to believe. Conversely I place myself under what Scripture teaches. God is its ultimate author and therefore the Bible is God's authority over my mind.

As Geisler writes in Christian Apologetics,
Jesus is God incarnate. As God, whatever He teaches is true. Jesus taught that the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament are the authoritative, written Word of God. Likewise, Jesus, who is God’s full and final revelation, promised that the Holy Spirit would guide His twelve apostles into “all truth.” The only authentic and confirmed record of apostolic teaching extant is the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Hence, the canon of God’s revelation is closed. With these sixty-six books we have the complete and final revelation of God for the faith and practice of believers. Every spirit or prophet who claims to give a new or different revelation is not from God.

This does not mean that there is no truth in other religious writings or holy books. There is truth in Greek poetry (Acts 17:28), in the Apocrypha (Heb. 11:35), and even some truth in pseudoepigraphical writings (Jude 14), as is manifest from the New Testament of these books. The point is that the Bible and the Bible alone contains all doctrinal and ethical truth God has revealed to mankind. And the Bible alone is the canon or norm for all truth. All other alleged truth must be brought to the bar of the Holy Scriptures to be tested. The Bible and the Bible alone, all sixty-six books, has been confirmed by God through Christ to be His infallible Word

Hat tip: Calvinist International

Monday, 14 October 2013

Monday quote

Though the Bible forbids God's people to deify God's servants, it commands us to esteem them highly. Christians frequently show more skill using the critical knife than tendering grateful thanks to parents, pastors, mentors, friends or educators who have labored to lead them in the grace and wisdom of God.

Dale Ralph Davis, Such a Great Salvation.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

On analogies

I find people's inability to understand analogies frustrating. Many deny an analogy because they claim that the issues differ, but the point is not that they might differ, the point is how they are the same. When Jesus said he is like a thief (Mat 24:43) he is not saying he steals the way a thief steals, he is saying his return is unexpected the way a thief is unexpected.

Alan Jacobs clearly explains how analogies work in this post.
Very few people understand how to evaluate analogies properly. An analogy will have explanatory value if the things or experiences or events or ideas likened to one another are indeed alike in the respect called attention to by the analogy. Far too many people think they can deny the validity of an analogy between X and Y by pointing out ways in which X and Y are different. Yes, and if they were not different you couldn’t analogize them because they would be the same thing. In Thomistic terms, you do not discredit an exercise in analogical predication by gleefully announcing that the predication is not univocal.

Here’s the proper way to evaluate an analogy:
  1. Ask this question: Does the person making the analogy between X and Y explain the respect in which he or she claims that X and Y are similar?
  2. If not, ask the person to clarify that point.
  3. If so, think about whether X and Y are indeed similar in the respect specified. If so, the analogy is legitimate. If not, the analogy fails.
  4. Feel free at this point to pursue other questions about the analogy, e.g., whether even if legitimate it identifies an important similarity, or whether the analogy does the intellectual work its maker thinks it does.
The use of analogies can be for clarity, emphasis, or rhetorical purposes. People may show poor judgment in their choice of analogy, but one's disapproval of a component of the analogy does not invalidate it.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Does an ideology measure up?

John Tertullian mentions 4 (non-exhaustive) criteria in judging an ideology. They appear quite useful. How does an ideology measure up to
  1. Loving one's neighbour as oneself;
  2. Doing as you would likewise have done unto you;
  3. Focus upon one's own faults before trying to correct others; and
  4. Truth telling versus lying.
In as much as a belief system breaks these rules as part of its modus operandi then it can be dismissed as false. For example is if a system knowingly lies to outsiders to increase its effect or credibility it should be dismissed. Quite a useful sieve.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Bible College in prison

Angola is a high security prison in Mississippi. It was notorious for its violence in the 1970s. Significant improvements have come about in the last 2 decades after a local seminary offered theological training.
In Mr. Cain’s view, the biggest change came in 1995 when, as he took over the prison and faced drastic cuts in school funds, he invited the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to open a seminary. To his surprise, he said, the eminent seminary agreed, covering the costs with outside donations.

“The Bible college was the game changer,” said Mr. Cain, 71, a portly man with granny glasses and a shock of white hair. “It changed the culture of the prison.”

Some other experts say the college is one of many factors, but the softening effect of religion on life here is evident.

Beyond the bachelor’s degrees, the college has granted hundreds more certificates or associate degrees, producing a cadre of men who lead churches, provide informal counseling in their dorms and take on what many describe as their hardest task — informing fellow inmates when a loved one on the outside has died. 
Candidates must have highschool qualification, which they can gain in prison, be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years, and have a record of good behaviour. The 4-year bachelor degree is rigorous and includes Greek and Hebrew. They have had 241 graduates so far. The seminary also offers a range of diplomas.

The cost is covered by the college, that is donations to the seminary; not government. This seems preferable and should allow the college to set course requirements as it would on its non-prison campus.

As to Warden Cain's comment about changing the culture of the prison: 2500 inmates attend church weekly.

The grace of God extends to the most wicked of men if they repent of their evil and follow him. May he continue to bless the men who have found forgiveness in jail and may many more at Angola and elsewhere turn to him.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Monday quote

There is freedom in submission and bondage in rebellion.

Lisa Bevere.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Does evil cause us to question God's existence?

This is a common claim in the secular West though I am not certain it is true globally or historically. Besides the fact that evil is evidence for theism which I will not deal with here, evil need not lead us to question God's existence, or even his goodness. Rather it may lead to us pleading ignorance of the ways of God. And for many it draws them closer to God as they seek comfort in the mist of suffering.

How may a Christian deny that evil challenges theism? Genesis clearly tells us that God made the world perfect. The world we now live in is broken and evil just reminds us of this fact. The ongoing presence of evil does not raise the question of God's existence over and over again, rather it raises the brokenness of the world over and over again. It shows us day after day the the world really is broken, thus really needs fixing. The more grievous the evil the more convinced we are of the world's brokenness and how utterly broken it truly is. This realisation can bring much comfort. The man who knows God has promised to fix the world can be secure in God's promises because he knows how desperately the world needs fixing. It drives him to God to plead for him to restore the world.

Difficulties may also expose our weaknesses. We do not just ask that God fix our environment, we ask him to fix us. It not just the world that needs perfecting, it is our souls. This could lead to depth of despair when we realise that we are as broken as the world; though it need not. Despair would be an appropriate response given the darkness of our fallen souls were it not for God's promises. The problem is not the despair (though this is a problem), the problem is us. But the promise is that we need not despair as God need not condemn us as our souls deserve, nor do our souls need to remain blackened. His grace is offered so that the offence is removed, and so that we can be remade. If we believe God's promise then the presence of evil need not lead us to question God's goodness but rather question our own goodness; and the question of God's existence may not even arise as a potential question in the presence of suffering. Further, when we see our lack of goodness then the goodness of God is more readily seen. I do not necessarily write the ideas of men who have not known evil, this is the experience of many who have suffered greatly for the kingdom.

Right belief does not make suffering any more pleasant, but right belief matters in how we respond to suffering. To those who falsely believe that the presence of evil logically questions theism, the experience of suffering may lead to such claims; but to the man who has trained his mind in the truth, such suffering, while just as unpleasant, can lead to different questions. To question God's existence in the face of evil is not more authentic. Others may question his goodness, and still others their own goodness. Suffering is the path to the kingdom (Act 14:22), so trusting God in the face of hardship and training ourselves to think rightly about God may make a difference in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

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