Monday, March 31, 2008

Are we forced to sin?

"Doubter" posts: "If we are all sinners because of Adam's choice, then are we forced to sin? Do we have no choice BUT to sin? Is this what God arranged from before the world began? And doesn't this make God a manipulator-- He forces us to sin so we have to turn to Him?"

I think current neuroscience illustrates our choice pretty well. It has been proven that most people who are addicts have a genetic "switch" in their brains that makes them an addict. Should a certain enviornmental condition exist, that "switch" is triggered and the person becomes an addict. From that point it is difficult, almost impossible on their own, to stop being an addict. It is something they deal with the rest of their lives.

Even so, this is how our "choice" is of sinning. Adam and Eve were created with a "full" choice, but this does not mean that we do not have choices. We and our parents have the choice to determine what our enviornment is. We may not be able to determine our reaction once we enter that enviornment, but we can make the choice as to whether we go there and connect with those people. Of course, that choice is also limited-- sometimes we are forced by other circumstances to be in circumstances we never would have chosen. Nevertheless, although we are "weak" we still have a choice.

This fits with Scripture. Humanity (read, "adam" in Hebrew) has been given rule over the earth. Every person is given kingship over certain areas. But humanity is no longer one or two people-- it is a complex of control issues. We have multiple rulers over each person-- parents, governors, creditors, police, etc-- and we have a complex system within ourselves which is partly moral and partly a mess of a bunch of desires, some positive, some not so. It seems to me that we have, then, two problems-- we don't know ourselves very well and we don't have control over our situation. This combination causes us to sin.

Is this God's fault? Did God set this up? I think that this is one of the possibilities that God established, but it wasn't necessarily His only plan. It is NEVER God's will or plan for people to sin. He doesn't want his children to rebel against him. But if they do sin, then He has a backup plan.

Are we forced to sin now? I guess the circumstances of our ancestors pretty much made it impossible for anyone's "switch" not to be triggered. We will end up in an enviornment in which we will feel that sin is our best-- and only-- response. Adam is the only one who ever had a full choice without being coerced.

Does this make God a manipulator? Well, yes and no. Adam could have a full choice because he was already in relationship with God. God created Adam to be under His authority. Adam could only be a just ruler if he listened to God and paid attention to God's recommendations. We however, from the time we are born, are under the authority of others who, like Adam, have chosen to make their own moral decisions apart from God's will. And we don't know how messed up this is until our whole lives are shattered because of our sin-- until our desires hit a road block and we realize that we aren't doing what we were made to do.

So what is our best and only choice then? To turn to God-- as we were created to do-- and to repent and to allow God to give us a new start. This happens through Jesus. And when we turn to Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit and become a NEW CREATION. This means that we become like Adam. We then have full, free choices to live in God's will.

So, perhaps, we only have a full, real choice in Jesus. But that is because Jesus is recreating us to BE new Adams. That is where real freedom begins.

-Posted on MennoDiscuss

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Historical Reliability of the Resurrection

"That is why I would assert that the resurrection must be the “starting point” for the rational seeker and for our apologetic, as it is a fully defensible historic event."

"While I agree in substance with what you have said, I would disagree in detail. The fact is, that the resurrection is only defensible from a biblical perspective, as it is not historically recorded outside of the Bible, with the exception of a highly disputed passage from Josephus, unless you have a source that I am unaware of. Care to expound?"

GC, I have an issue with you separating a "biblical" perspective from a "historical" one. You are speaking as if the NT aren't ancient documents, historical in their own right. Do they express a theological bias? Sure! But if we are going to deny Jesus' resurrection from the basis of bias, then we can question any historical event on the basis of the bias of their authors. One example I think of is the existence and death of Socrates. Plato and Xenophon are the only documents we have of that death, and they are both clearly biased. So should we deny the event? No, because their biases were different, yet they both agreed upon the same event.

Or what about Julius Caesar's conquering of Gaul? All the first hand witnesses were biased in their writings, but we do not deny the event. Why? Because it offers the best explanation of later events, such as the mixing of Gaulish with Latin to create French, etc.

We have a similar case with the resurrection.

Here are some historical reasons for the resurrection:
1. We have writings of people who claimed to have seen Jesus, resurrected, after he died. One of which is Paul, who also referred to many others who claimed to see Jesus (I Corinthians 15) another is the writer of 1 John.

2. We have many documents that say that there are people who have claimed to see Jesus resurrected, and not just in the NT. Thus it is well known that there were witnesses to Jesus' resurrection, whether those witnesses are declared credible or not. It is on these testimonies that Christianity, a great force in the history of the world, was built. Without these testimonies there is no real cause for Christianity.

3. Many of these witnesses died for their claim, including Paul, Peter, Stephan and many others. If they would have claimed that their testimony was not true, they would have lived. But they held to the fact of Jesus' resurrection through torture and death penalty trials. If a person dies for a cause, it at least means that THEY believed it, whether it is true or not. But in this case, either they experienced the resurrected Jesus or they did not. If they did not experience it, then they could have denied it and so lived. But affirming this experience was worth their lives. Thus their credibility raises. Either they were misled, insane or they truly saw what they said they saw.

4. Were they misled? Did someone tell them a false story? Well, like Paul, they claimed to have seen Jesus in real-life time, not in a vision or dream. This means that they claimed they had a personal experience, not a story told to them. Later witnesses, of course, had to believe the previous witnesses, so they could have been misled, but not the original witnesses.

5. Were they insane? It is possible to have a group hallucination, although very rare. This might be credible if they saw what they expected. But the earliest documents we have all agree that all original witnesses originally denied the belief of Jesus' resurrection, and it was only proved to them by seeing it first hand. For Paul this was a complete turn-around in his life. It does not seem likely that they had a hallucination.

6. Since that time, hundreds of thousands have experienced miracles based on the word of the person who it is claimed to be resurrected. This is not a direct claim of resurrection, but it is a strong affirmation of some kind of unknown power that rests in the person of Jesus, that indicates that there is something more than just a religious story going on here.

7. Given that there is sufficient ancient evidence for an ancient event, the strongest argument against the resurrection is this: "Resurrections simply don't happen. We have never seen a resurrection, therefore resurrections could never have happened." But this argument is an argument against someone else's personal experience based on the lack of personal experience. Just because we have not personally seen the surface of Pluto does not mean that such a surface does not exist. It is easy to deny that which we have not seen, and say that the evidence for it is shaky. But logically it doesn't hold water. We cannot deny what another person saw by saying that we have not seen it. We cannot deny that someone has not felt something because no one we know has ever felt it.

Thus, the fact is, there IS historical basis for the resurrection-- as historically reliable as many other events we have in history that we strongly affirm. And there is realistically only a philosophical presupposition against it.

-A Discussion from MennoDiscuss

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Discussion on Theology

A discussion held at the site Christarchy! under the topic "RANT!"

Too much time is spent on theological sidelines, such as a debate on Cavinism. It's entertaining, but does it really get to the heart of the gospel?

So often we ask "what is true?" when we should really be asking, "what is significant?" It is so easy for us to get caught up in Bible trivia, or theological interpretaitons. We really don't have time for that. There are people dying out there without the gospel, so we need to focus in on significant truths.

What are these significant truths? What needs to be done is rather than have "Bible studies" in general, we should focus on what is important to Jesus. After all, it is Jesus who is our Lord, not Calvin, not Augustine, not even Paul. And what is important to Jesus is that which He spoke about.

Jesus said that we should call no one "teacher" for we all have one teacher and that is the Christ (Matt 23). So a Christian Bible Study should be led by Jesus. And those who are the moderators should be those who are well versed in the teaching of Jesus, not the Law, not theology, not politics, not social reform. Let's let Jesus himself teach us about the True Law, the True Theology, True Politics and True Social Reform. We need to stop beginning with the world's ideas and just stick with Jesus.

Steve K

theology doesn't really cook my grits if i can be honest here. if someone want sto zing me with their reaons why i'm wrong i'll greatfully read it, but i don't get any satisfaction from studying who someone else thinks God is through over analyzing a re-defined rather than re-contextualized obscure passage. i only have a problem with theology when people start to worship their idea of who God is rather than God, the unknowable.

i am working very hard to make the best of this time when i don't have a full time job and i can walk carefully in the dust of my rabbi.


In Theology it isn't what you know, it's Who you know!

That Who is a source of ideas & wisdom for knowing Him better! As it says in James' letter, it helps to pray for more wisdom & understanding. We don't necessarily have enough otherwise!

I find a lot of people in the Quaker thing lately who don't think they should be praying for anything, but should be rather leaving it all up to God. But I don't think we're supposed to see God's will as altogether independent of ours. We need to ask so we can think about what's worth asking for. We need to ask so we can take our part in the process, practice our dependence on God and at the same time practice taking part in what God does with us. (God can give a person muscles, but there are reasons He normally makes doing something with them a requirement for that.)

A good theology is a kind of a poem, not a sort of tech manual! If you read it in that spirit, you can understand it better and have less risk of putting it to bad use.

The basic Quaker thing (& a basic Sufi thing, for that matter) is to recognize God as our teacher. God can teach us through the Bible, but also through anything else in our life. If you look for His classroom hints, they're there!

"You need to keep paying attention. If you aren't paying attention, you miss all the jokes!"
-Forrest Curo

You hit it exactly right Forrest. This is why my next sermon series is about knowing God, but I'm going to talk about our relationship to God, how He communicates to us and we communicate to Him. The term "love" in Scripture that we are to have for God is the same word love as between spouses. Thus, there is an intimacy, a communication that is just missing in theology.

Theology has it's place, when done correctly, in giving us a short-cut to some basic principles of the Bible. But when theology takes the place of the relationship we should have with God it becomes a heresy, an abomination. God doesn't want to drop us tracts, He wants to dwell with us.

Steve K