Theology: September 2005 Archives

Roundup

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Ben Witherington has a great post on singleness, marriage, and divorce. I don't ultimately agree with every point, but he's certainly an expert on this topic and has some thoughts worth considering.

At this late date, Factcheck.org takes on the Bush Lied myth. This flatly contradicts almost all of the major statements anyone has ever given against the honesty of Bush and his administration regarding the Iraq conflict.

Finally, Sam has posted three sets of pictures that I hadn't gotten around to linking to yet. First is a paper plate that Ethan painted his hands onto. There's a long story to this one. Basically, as I was getting to leave for the evening and Sam was upstairs rehearsing a dance solo, Isaiah had gotten into the bathroom downstairs, but the noises I heard sounded to me as if she was giving them a bath upstairs. When I figured out that something else was going on, I went into the bathroom to clean it and him, and while I was doing that Ethan decided to get the paints out and paint the kitchen floor. The paper plate was just one thing he did in the process. Suffice it to say that both of them were confined to their rooms until bedtime, at which point they were still confined to their rooms.

There's also a series of shots of Sophia walking and another one of her walking around with the jiggly bell wrap thingy Sam wears when she dances, with a shot of one of Ethan's building projects in the last picture.

The following is the first paragraph of Piper's new book, God is the Gospel:

From the first sin in the Garden of Eden to the final judgment of the great white throne, human beings will continue to embrace the love of God as the gift of everything but himself. Indeed there are ten thousand gifts that flow from the love of God. The gospel of Christ proclaims the news that he has purchased by his death ten thousand blessings for his bride. But none of these gifts will lead to final joy if they have not first led to God. And not one gospel blessing will be enjoyed by anyone for whom the gospel's greatest gift was not the Lord himself.

Piper continues by pointing out that we too often see the good news of the gospel as eternal life or heaven or the avoidance of hell and wrath. But all of these are worthless unless we see God himself as the greatest gift of the gospel.

Piper makes his point, as always, in a very readable manner, avoiding dense academic theological jargon in favor of his trademark clear and brisk style. But make no mistake, Piper has chosen his words carefully and every sentence is loaded with theological freight even though he writes with great accessibility.

Piper's Desiring God and its associated Christian Hedonism asserts that "The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever". For many years, I agreed with Piper. Indeed, his book was instrumental to getting me to where I am today. But now I find his Christian Hedonism to be too weak. Piper makes some key insights but doesn't take them far enough. Instead he tries to combine those insights with a traditional model that can't bear their weight. These posts will explain why I disagree with Piper.

(For a primer on Piper's Christian Hedonism, read Jeremy's excellent post which summarizes Piper's view and contrasts it to other Hedonism frameworks.)

I've been wanting to say something about the issue of God's judgment and natural disasters for over a week now, and I've just been too busy to say all I've wanted to say. I do recommend Jollyblogger's argument that suffering and natural disasters aren't quite so straightforward as we'd like them to be. That includes those who think this is a judgment from God, and it includes those who insist that there's no way a good God could use something like this as a judgment or wake-up call. Both views are, to my mind, thoroughly unbiblical. Also, I recommend Jeff Kouba's post arguing for a sort of skepticism about God's purposes. It runs pretty much along the same lines. See my comment for a couple places I'd revise his statements, but his major points seem exactly right to me. Also, the different strains of thought that Tyler Williams contrasts are worth considering, though I don't think these are as inconsistent as he seems to want to see them, and thus I wouldn't see one as disproving the other. Some of these posts link to further discussions, but those mostly left me a bit disappointed. I wrote almost the entirety of what follows before I read those posts or what they were responding to, but I thought those were both worth directing traffic to.

I've decided to post what I did come up with, despite not being happy with this as an overall package, but I don't think I'm going to get to making it as comprehensive as I had wanted to. That would have needed to be a series of posts anyway, so maybe it's better that I just post these relatively incomplete and undeveloped thoughts. Here we go. So keep in mind that this has been written over the course of a week, with focus on various parts but not others at any given time, without enough thought about the overall post or about what other things might be said. I do think all these things should be said, and since I did get the time to write them up I'm publishing it. I don't want to give the impression that the things I focus on the most are the things worth focusing on more than the other things that I merely suggest or that people I'm linking to or responding to would focus on. It's just that I haven't seen these particular things emphasizes as much as other things that I may agree with an may even want more emphasis on than some of these things.

This is the the thirteenth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

So far I've discussed more expansive skepticisms, including skepticism about knowledge from the senses, and I've looked at particular problem raised against knowing about scientific laws. The one other particular problem I'll work through is skepticism about knowledge of religious matters, in particular knowledge of God. As I see it, there are two main types of arguments against the existence of God. The first kind is the no-evidence variety, and the second is the attempt to find a contradiction in what people say about God. The only serious one of the latter type that I know of is the problem of evil, and I'll come to that in due time, after considering three arguments for the existence of God. Before I do any of that, I'll look at the other type of argument against the existence of God, the no-evidence kind of argument. I know of two general kinds of no-evidence arguments. The one with a much stronger conclusion is sometimes called the divine silence argument, and it seeks to show that there cannot be any being like the one Christians and many other theists believe in and call God. One with a weaker conclusion simply relates to there not being enough evidence to justify believing in such a being, but that argument doesn't attempt to show that there can't be such a being. I'll spend the two posts after this one looking at the more general kinds of no-evidence arguments. In this one I'll look at divine silence.

Here is one version of the divine silence argument offered by the atheist [note: my presentation of this follows very closely the chapter by John Hawthorne called "Arguments for Atheism" in Michael Murray, Reason for the Hope Within]:

1. If a being with roughly the features of what people mean when they talk about the Judeo-Christian God exists, then such a being would make this absolutely clear to us.
2. We don't have such palpable evidence.
3. Therefore, there must not be such a God.

Thanatology and Eschatology

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Gnu at Wildebeest's Wardrobe has a nice post stemming from the sermon preached to our congregation last Sunday. For background, the sermon was on a philosophy of death (thanatology) in the Bible, stemming primarily from Ecclesiastes 12 and Psalm 90. He also looked briefly at the first part of Proverbs 31 on the issue of providing comfort and amelioration of suffering, which I found very helpful in the light of the background of Psalm 90 and Ecclesiastes 12. The overall conclusion of the sermon was that death is normal but not normal, normal in the sense of the normal working of things because of the fall, the reflection of the deserved judgment of God and a sign of the judgment to come, yet unnatural in the sense of not being in the original creation and not being in the ultimate ideal state that will come. The sermon also covered the relevance of these things to the morality of euthanasia and other end-of-life decisions.

Gnu has some followup thoughts about thanatology and eschatology in light of the sermon's conclusions. In particular, he has an ongoing project of unifying amillenial and postmillenial views of eschatology by taking the sanest versions of each and retaining what's central and then realizing that the two resulting views are perfectly consistent and both very clearly biblical. The same core remains once you remove the more radical elements of postmillenialism and some of the unhealthy emphases of some amillenialists. I think he's right, though I will never call myself a postmillenialist simply because most postmillenialists add a bunch of other things to this unified picture in a way that most amillenialists don't. That's why I describe myself as an amillenialist. I wanted to flag this because of his connection between thanatology and eschatology, which I think is worth reading. It's suggestive of a lot and doesn't work those all out, but if you're interested at all in these issues there's much food for thought if you want to try to digest the compressed reasoning in Gnu's post.

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