Tuesday, 31 December 2013

One of the great ironies of history

In one of the great ironies of history that only God could bring about we see him promise that the Gentiles will be brought into the Kingdom. The faith of Abraham that belonged to Abraham's descendants was to become the faith of the entire world, with all men of faith becoming the seed of Abraham.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isa 60:1-3)
Such was the in-pouring of the nations that their numbers dwarfed Israel. Abraham's descendants would number as stars and sand (Genesis 22:17). And irony of ironies, Israel did not want to be part of the kingdom; the children of the flesh refused to be children of the faith. The people of the promise would not accept the promise, but to those who saw the light of the promise the promise also came; and they came to the promise. The Gentiles join with Israel and outnumber Israel, but not all Israel is Israel (Romans 9:6). Yet when the time of the Gentiles has ended, will not God include the sons of the flesh? But not as descendants by flesh, rather by faith (Romans 11:23).

Monday, 30 December 2013

Monday quote

A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed.

G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Questions on Arminianism

In response to my post "Repairing fences" Bnonn asks
1. Historically, Calvinism has upheld the free offer of the gospel. So both Calvinism and Arminianism would have God visiting every house, as it were. But this analogy does reveal a different asymmetry between C and A, which is that God doesn't actually visit every house at all. Plenty of people never hear the gospel. That seems problematic under A, since God wants to save everyone, and certainly could have arranged it so everyone at least got a visit. But under C, there is no need for God to visit those whom he has not elected.

2. One very serious philosophical question Arminians need to give account for is why Christians choose faith while others don't. There seems to be a trilemma here. It can't be (i) because God gives Christians more grace than others, because we know God wants to save everyone equally. It can't be (ii) that Christians are just naturally better somehow than other people, because then we could boast in our salvation (it also seems to collapse into the same problem as [i], since God makes us the way we are). And it can't be (iii) that there is some external influence unrelated to either our choosing or God's grace, since that would basically make faith a matter of luck, or something else unrelated to the actual mechanics of salvation.

3. On the theological side, I don't see how Arminians can remain Arminians in light of John 6:44-45: "No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears from the Father and learns comes to me."

The logic of the passage reveals 3 propositions:

i. No one comes to Jesus unless drawn by the Father
ii. Everyone drawn by the Father comes to Jesus
iii. Everyone who comes to Jesus is raised up on the last day

Now, (i) and (iii) are consistent with Arminianism, since you can just say that the set of people in (iii) is a subset of the universal set in (i). But (ii) makes it clear the sets are actually identical. So Arminianism in conjunction with (ii) entails universalism. If God draws everyone, then Jesus raises up everyone on the last day. The context of the passage precludes universalism, however, because Jesus is clearly talking about people who come to him in this life...which demonstrably not everyone does. So the only way to read this passage is that the Father draws only those who come to Jesus, and no one else. But... that's Calvinism!
Before addressing these questions I need to point out that my goal in the post was not a defence of Arminianism in general but rather a refutation, by use of analogy, of the false claim that Arminians save themselves. Arminians never claim to save themselves, they say that salvation is a gift, and they differ from Calvinists by saying that man is able to refuse the gift of salvation. This position is logical, that is internally coherent. It also seems to Arminians to be Biblical.

As to my takes on various aspects that relate to Calvinism and Arminianism; these can be found under my labels of determinism and freewill.

Addressing Bnonn's questions.

1. If we extend the analogy and say that God does not visit every household the analogy still works; the point is one can still reject the offer of his gate being fixed.

But I did not equate the visit to every house with the preaching of the gospel but with God's desire to save. Thus the Calvinist position that if God desires someone to be saved he will be amongst the elect (some houses); and the Arminian position that God desires all men to be saved (every house), regardless of whether they hear the gospel.

As to my position on salvation, it is about who we follow. Christianity is a centred set, not a bounded set.

2. As I have said elsewhere I don't think there is an answer to why some people choose faith and others do not, beyond our capacity to make choices. We choose because we have a nature that can choose. Yes other things sway us, but we make decisions based on the fact we are agents that can do such things.

Say I have 2 options, one that brings a degree of pleasure, and I desire it, but it does not please God. The other option would please God but I don't desire it. Do I subvert my desire to my will, or do I suppress my conscience for the sake of pleasure?

Our desires compete between long term pleasure and short term pleasure. Sin and righteousness. Yielding to temptation depends on degree of perceived pleasure, previous yielding, our resistance, our requests to God to help us, tiredness, knowledge of consequences, past experiences. All these feed into our decision to obey God, or not. But because men love wickedness, many choose to reject God.

What is it specifically within our spirit that means 2 men with similar inputs choose opposite paths? I see nothing deeper than our will. Our choice to obey righteousness or wickedness. Nothing compels us. Ultimately one person chooses one way and one person the other because they do. Do they decide to love righteousness more than wickedness?  This ability to choose is part of the imago Dei in us. In the same kind of way that God can make free, non-necessary choices, so can we. God can create, or not create. And he could have created a variety of worlds, all of which are good. This freedom that exists within God he imparts to us.

Bnonn's trilemma does not pose significant difficulties. He says the reason Christians have faith and others do not cannot be (from an Arminian perspective)
  1. because God gives Christians more grace than others, because we know God wants to save everyone equally;
  2. that Christians are just naturally better somehow than other people, because then we could boast in our salvation; or
  3. that there is some external influence unrelated to either our choosing or God's grace, since that would basically make faith a matter of luck, or something else unrelated to the actual mechanics of salvation.
Interestingly I deny all 3 can be excluded. God can give more grace to some than others, though this does not cause saving faith. The faithful may be better than others because faith choices are right choices, though Christians are still sinners who require Christ's righteousness to be acceptable before God; that all fall short does not imply they fall short by the same amount. And other external forces may contribute to one's decisions as mentioned above.

Though the crux of the issue is 1. The unstated assumption is that God can increase the amount of grace to a level which will ensure salvation for each person. My position is that the amount of grace given by God is qualitatively different to our choice to follow God or resist him. The nature of love (and the grace by which it comes) is such that no amount of it can prevent the possibility of resistance.

3. I am familiar with the Calvinist approach to John 6. One Arminian response is to deny ii.
Everyone drawn by the Father comes to Jesus
I am not certain that John 6 insists on this. John 6 is saying that one cannot come to Jesus of his own accord, that the Father must draw him. But an Arminian would argue that such drawing is still resistible.

Yet there is another possible understanding of John 6. It is not so much saying that the Father will draw specific people to Jesus a la Calvinism, rather that the Father will draw those who are his people to his son Jesus. In my post on John 6 I wrote,
those who recognise who Jesus is do so because they already know the Father. If they do not recognise Jesus, they do not really know the Father. They may know the story about the manna in the desert, but this story points to Jesus; if they really know the Father who sent manna they will see the true manna.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Comment problems

While I do not get a lot of comments it seems that there is a problem commenting on my posts. I have settings pretty loose with no verification and moderation only on old posts.

The spammers are still getting through. I am informing you in case your comment gets lost. I am not certain how to fix the problem but have removed moderation on old posts. I prefer non-anonymous posts (monikers are fine) as anonymous authors are hard to distinguish form the spammers.

I do note that recent comments pluggin no longer workers, and K9 Web Protection has identified several blogger sites as suspicious.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Monday quote

I've often thought that if I'd been a journalist in the Holy Land at the time of our Lord's ministry, I should have spent my time looking into what was happening in Herod's court. I'd be wanting to sign Salome for her exclusive memoirs, and finding out what Pilate was up to, and - I would have missed completely the most important event there ever was.

Malcolm Muggeridge, journalist (1903–1990).

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Repairing fences

Arminians are often accused of saving themselves, as if we are the authors of our own salvation. Despite repeated defences that men can accept God's call and sacrifice, the charge is that Arminianism is salvation by man.

It seems to me that some of the confusion arises because Calvinists see a single transaction in a place that Arminians see two. Because Calvinists claim that God's call is effectual God's choice to save coincides with actual salvation; if not in time, at least in person. God chooses some whom he will save and saves them. Contrary to this Arminians think that man is able to resist God. Thus God both offers salvation and saves men. The acceptance of God's offer is distinct from his salvation. In the Calvinist view God offers salvation to the elect who are all saved. In the Arminian view God offers salvation to all men though only some respond.

Consider a road in disrepair and a builder stops at the houses along the road offering to repair the fences. The Calvinist position is that the builder stops at some houses offering to repair their fence to which the owner accepts the offer. The Arminian position is that the builder is stopping at every house. Some owners accept the offer of a new fence and some decline. Neither those that accept or decline the offer build their own fence, and if they attempt to do so they all fail! Even though Jesus is able to save all men, and no man is able to save himself; and even though Jesus desires to save all men, not all respond to his gracious and life giving offer.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Live peaceably with all men

Sage advice from Ben Merkle at Aristeia,
I’ve found Romans 12:18 to be an incredibly freeing passage. “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” It’s that honest disclaimer at the beginning—“If it is possible, as much as it depends on you...” When there is something that you can do to make peace, you do it. You go the extra mile to smooth things over. But there will be times when there will be no peace, when others are groundlessly angry with you and they refuse to be appeased. And when that happens, you sleep easy. Because it is beyond your control and not your problem.

Remember that when David marched forward to fight Goliath, his courage was considered by his brothers to be pride and insolence (1 Sam. 17:28). Joseph’s faithful service to Potiphar was reported by Potiphar’s wife as attempted rape (Gen. 39:14). John the Baptist was called demon-possessed and Jesus was called a drunk (Luk. 7:33-34). Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what you do, they are going to be angry with you.  And if your heart is right with God, you can shrug your shoulders and walk on.

It’s not an excuse to not care about others. If there is something that you can do to bring about peace, you do it. But if nothing can be done about it, then don’t worry about it and don’t let it faze you. There are giants to be killed.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Monday quote

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana (1863–1952).

It is those who learn the wrong lessons from history who are condemned to repeat it.

Dennis Prager (1948–).

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Jesus' genealogy

Matthew begins,
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)
This is reminiscent of Genesis which states,
This is the book of the generations of Adam. (Genesis 5:1)
Comparing Matthew to the Septuagint
  • Βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Matthew 1:1)
  • αὕτη ἡ βίβλος γενέσεως ἀνθρώπων (Genesis 5:1)
These phrases in Genesis likely represent toledoth though this is the only occurrence where the word "book" is added. In the same way that Genesis 5 introduces tho story of man (or Adam), Matthew introduces the story of Jesus. It also means ancestry which Matthew subsequently gives, much as Genesis 5 gives the descendants of Adam. Prior to giving the ancestry of Jesus Matthew tells us that Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah, that is the anointed one that the Jews were anticipating. He is also saying that the Messiah was both a son of David and a son of Abraham. The first indicating confirming that the Messiah would indeed come from David's seed, and related to that his authority as a king; the second indicating he was of the promised line of Abraham, the progenitor of Israel and the father of faith. In Matthew's first sentence there is great depth of meaning for those steeped in the Jewish Scriptures.

Matthew then outlines an abbreviated and stylised genealogy of Jesus starting from Abraham. There are 3 sections of 14 names. Matthew possibly uses groups of 14 as the Hebrew gematria of David is 14.


The genealogy, while accurate in the names it contains, excludes several generations to keep 14 names in each list. The 3 groups are Abraham to David, David to the Babylonian Exile, and the Exile to Jesus.


David Solomon
Jechoniah Shealtiel
1 Abraham Isaac 1 Solomon Rehoboam 1 Shealtiel Zerubbabel
2 Isaac Jacob 2 Rehoboam Abijah 2 Zerubbabel Abiud
3 Jacob Judah 3 Abijah Asa 3 Abiud Eliakim
4 Judah Perez 4 Asa Jehoshaphat 4 Eliakim Azor
5 Perez Hezron 5 Jehoshaphat Joram 5 Azor Zadok
6 Hezron Ram 6 Joram Uzziah 6 Zadok Achim
7 Ram Amminadab 7 Uzziah Jotham 7 Achim Eliud
8 Amminadab Nahshon 8 Jotham Ahaz 8 Eliud Eleazar
9 Nahshon Salmon 9 Ahaz Hezekiah 9 Eleazar Matthan
10 Salmon Boaz 10 Hezekiah Manasseh 10 Matthan Jacob
11 Boaz Obed 11 Manasseh Amon 11 Jacob Joseph
12 Obed Jesse 12 Amon Josiah 12 Joseph
13 Jesse David 13 Josiah Jechoniah 13 Jesus
14 David
14 Jechoniah 14

It is uncertain whether the last list ends at 13 persons or whether Mary should be considered number 13 with Jesus number 14.

Matthew also includes 5 women ancestors. Mary Jesus' mother as mentioned. Also Tamar the mother of Perez by Judah; Rahab the wife of Salmon; Ruth the wife of Boaz; and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) who became the wife of David.

This is the ancestry of Joseph the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus. Compare Luke's list which is the ancestry through Mary. Luke starts his list thus,
Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,... (Luke 3:23 ESV)
This may possibly be better translated,
Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son, as it was supposed, of Joseph, but was actually the son of Heli,...
This seems to me to be a better option than the claim that Heli was the adoptive father of Joseph.

Thus this genealogy is that of Jesus via Mary which Luke traces back to Adam the son of God.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Money, employment, and wages

In A Humane Economy, (which I have not read) Wilhelm Röpke (1899–1966) argues that
...we cannot have all three: stable money, full employment, and further wage increases.
If that were that case which should we prioritise?

I think this can best be solved by looking at what the government should do, the nature of wealth, and the importance of work.

Man is created to work. The earth is cursed and thus work is often toilsome. Our attempts at redeeming work by removing toil have been moderately successful over the centuries. Work is what God has created men to do and as such it seems to be a priority over remuneration, or increases in remuneration. Still, we should pay what we have agreed to pay (James 5). High wages tends to allow a higher standard of living which seems a good in itself, though in a fallen world this can tempt us to seek security and independence from God (Deuteronomy 8). Further, wealth is its own temptation. Wage increases here are presumably for the masses, not the most wealthy. If wage increases were only for the latter then it would not seem wise to sacrifice stable money and high employment for this. Nevertheless, improving the material welfare for most of the population seems a desirable good.

Neither of these goods have seemed to me to be a priority of government. Policies that indirectly encourage vice and discourage virtue should be avoided, but the primary role of government is (direct) justice and punishment. So of the 3 options Röpke gives us it seems that goverment should only involve itself in one—money. If this is the case then we priorise stable money because it is a moral good. If money were material rather than fiat then stability would cease to be an issue. The problem would cease to be stable value and become an issue of equal weights.

Aside from this it seems to me that stable money is the only moral good in the list. Honest weights and measures are a necessity and dishonest measures sinful.
You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, (Deuteronomy 25:14-15)
Whereas high employment and high wages are desirable. Quite desirable. But increases in unemployment is not immoral in and of itself. Of course high employment is likely to have flow on effects that limit immoral behaviour in the community, though indirectly.

Finally, wages reflect value. People over-estimate the value they provide and under-estimate the cost for a product or a service. Tax excluded, at minimum the cost for you to pay someone to do a job will be the wages for you to do the same job plus overheads. You can't desire someone mow your lawn for only $10 and expect people to pay you $20 for the same job. Even so, with stable money and high employment (and a few other important factors), wages will likely increase over time.

I therefore prioritise these 3 in this order:
  1. stable money
  2. full employment
  3. wage increases

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Inerrancy and interpretation

Derek Rishmawy in his article Inerrant Text ≠ Inerrant Interpretation states
We often hear that appealing to an inerrant text shuts down conversation and identifies one's own interpretation with the Word of the Lord. The argument claims that a basically trustworthy, but still fallible text means we have to wrestle and humbly open ourselves to conversation with others, experience, and so forth.

I can't say I've ever found this a mildly convincing argument. Yes, there is a serious temptation for believers trained in certain conservative circles to short-circuit the dialogue and to shun tension, questions, and the deep trust required to believe in the midst of questions. That can, and sadly does, happen. All the same, the higher a view of the text you affirm, the more it should lead to real struggling with the text, given that you think it's the truth of God somehow.

When dealing with the issue of contradictions in the Bible, G. K. Beale points out that, far from cutting off wrestling and intellectual struggling with the text, a high view of Scripture's truthfulness has led to deeper study, prayer, conversation with other interpreters, and wrestling to see how it's true.
I concur. It is too easy to say that the text is wrong when it contradicts another text or worse, your own opinion. Now the Bible in either inerrant or it isn't, and the ease at which one may disregard Scripture does not determine its errancy status; though it may influence your belief in errancy—do I not like what Scripture teaches, well perhaps the Bible has mistakes.

But if the Bible is inerrant this does not make interpretation always easy or simplistic. I have found that apparent contradictions force me to examine the text even more closely. God has given me reason thus I do identify difficult passages. But I am fallen and my reasoning is broken. Scripture helps me reason rightly.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Monday quote

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

Author uncertain

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Loving sinners?

I note that conservatives are sometimes labelled haters for their opposition to practitioners of sin. Now the situation is complicated, not the least being challenging men in the public sphere who promote evil is not incompatible with compassion, overlooking sin, or offering grace in the private sphere. Nevertheless, the accusation may be true at times.

What I think is neglected in this debate, especially when it is Christians accusing Christians of lack of charity, is the attitude of the fault-finders toward sin.

Consider several of the topics often associated with conservatism; opposition to: abortion, public welfare, sexual immorality, aspects of public education, liberal media. (Leaving aside the fact these can be framed positively and that other topics have not been included). When conservatives oppose these issues they are frequently accused of hating the people that engage in such activities. This may be contrasted with Jesus' command to love.

Now Jesus does call us to love all men including our enemies. Christians who fail to love their political opponents are not in line with Jesus' commands here. If we are not loving we should take note of such challenges.

Nevertheless, I think that conservative Christians do frequently act lovingly toward such people in their private engagements. My complaint is that (politically) liberal Christians who make such accusations seem to approve of pagan behaviour that conservatives oppose, or at least they consider such behaviour as a minor infraction.

If this is the case then liberals can hardly claim the moral high-ground. Which is more praiseworthy? Loving someone despite the fact you think his behaviour is evil; or loving someone because you think he really is not that bad, or even that his behaviour is perfectly acceptable.

Which is harder, loving a woman who has had an abortion when you think that she has murdered someone, or loving her because you think her situation was difficult and the abortion was no big deal?

I am not attempting to justify conservative Christians hating their enemies. Jesus tells us this is not an option. But you cannot accuse others of being haters and justify yourself when your opinion of the morality of various actions differs from your opponent. The question is: Do you hate those whose morality you truly disagree with? How do you treat dog-fighters, and paedophiles, and people who don't recycle.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Monday quote

There is no safety for honest men but by believing all possible evil of evil men.

Edmund Burke (1729–1797).


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