Monday, December 22, 2008

Muhammad, Just the Last of Many?

Although Muhammad incautiously took several fateful steps in what he chose to relate of the true story of Christ in the Qur'an, often showing Jesus’ exalted character in spite of the overall spirit of Muhammadan revelation that was evidently calculated to denigrate Christ’s divinity and transcendent dignity, it is nevertheless clear that Muhammad held exceptionally high views of himself and wanted others to do the same. In spite of this, it is common to hear many of the rank and file among Muslims saying that they hold all prophets to be on an equal footing, with none being greater or less than another. Just how they can read Muhammad’s self-flattering remarks and arrive at such a conclusion is beyond me, especially when you consider that many of his claims go well beyond teaching that he is simply greater than the prophets, and, in some cases, are difficult to distinguish from the rankest of pagan idolatry.

Of course it is usually westernized Muslims or Muslim apologists to the West who make such humble claims for Muhammad, saying that he was nothing more than one of many prophets, none of whom stand out with any distinction above the others, all the while contentedly leaving the bulk of the worlds Muslims to hang on Muhammad’s every word, judgment, and action, even down to such trivial matters as what side of their body they sleep on or what direction they urinate in. Notwithstanding that, the point of this post is not to ascertain the upper limits of how Muhammad wanted his followers to regard him, or how far he wanted them to go in their fetishism, but simply to show that Muhammad, at least according to such revered Muslim authorities as Yusuf Ali, did maintain that he was eminently greater than all other prophets, including Abraham, the friend of God (Khalil Allah), Moses, to whom God spoke directly (Kalim Allah), and even Jesus, the Word of God.

The following are given in the order they appear in Yusuf Ali’s commentary of the Qur’an.

“…In Muhammad’s mission these [Moses, David, Joshua, Jesus] and other characters were combined. Gentler than Jesus, he organized on a vaster scale than Moses, and from Madinah he ruled and gave laws, and the Qur’an has a vaster scope than the Psalms of David. (Cf. 2:285).” #289

“Belief in the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be on him) is thus an integral part and a logical corollary of belief in Allah.” #779

“In this verse is a prefiguring, to Moses, of the Arabian Messenger, the last and greatest of the Messengers of Allah.” #1127

“Out attention having been directed to various prophets, who were sent with missions to their several peoples, and in each of whose careers there is some prefigurement of the life of the last and greatest of them, we are now asked to listen to the proclamation of Muhammad’s universal mission.” #1131

“That the last and greatest of the Prophets should arise among them [the Arabs], and they and their language be made the vehicle of the new, full and universal light, has also a meaning, which is explained in C. 12-16.” #1132

“It is a necessity of a Prophet’s soul that he should speak out and teach all that he knows, to worthy and unworthy alike. This, Jacob did to his unworthy sons, as well as to his worthy sons whom he loved best. It was not for him as a Prophet to guarantee any results. In this case he could not save his sons from getting into trouble merely because they followed the letter of his advice in a small matter. Apply this to the teaching of one who is greater than Jacob. Men who literally observe some small injunctions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and neglect the greater principles which he taught cannot blame him for their troubles and difficulties. If they examined the matter, they would find that they brought the troubles on themselves.” #1732

“Cf. 2:49. The reference back to Israel and Moses serves a double purpose – as an appeal to the People of the Book, and as a reminder to the Quraysh of the favour now conferred on them by the coming among them of a greater Prophet than Moses.” #1878

“Now we come to the time of our Holy Prophet. In spite of all the past, the Jews could still have obtained Allah’s forgiveness if they had not obstinately rejected the greatest of the Prophets also. If they were to continue in their sins, Allah’s punishment would also continue to visit them.” #2181

“To the Prophet was to be assigned in the Hereafter the highest Post of Honour and Glory – the Maqam Mahmud implying his excellence above all other Prophets. The immediate reference may be to the hope that the Makkan persecution will soon be over and the glorious work in Madinah will begin. (R).” #2278

Here is a Prophet and a Book, greater than Moses and his Book. Are you going to reject him and it? (R).” #2711

"....But 'man' in this connection is understood to mean the Leader of man, the noblest of mankind, Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah...." #3943

“The People of the Book immediately referred to are the Jews and the Christians, who had received scriptures in the same line of prophecy in which came our Holy Prophet. There scriptures should have prepared them for the advent of the greatest and last of the Prophets…” #6221

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Reducio of a Muslim "spoof text" Against the Integrity of the Bible

Disturbed by the fact that their prophet assumed that his message was consistent with prior revelation, or that his chimera would not be found out, at least not until it was too late to be of any consequence for him, Muslims have trumped up the claim that the Bible has been corrupted over time and have interpreted certain passages of their own Qur'an in this way. One such passage can be found in Surah 15:89-90, which says the following:

"And say: 'I am indeed he that warneth openly and without ambiguity (of just such wrath) as We sent down on those who divided (Scripture into arbitrary parts)'"

In a footnote to these verses, Yusuf Ali says the following:

"...Verse 90, I think, refers to the Jews and Christians, who took out of Scripture what suited them, and ignored or rejected the rest: 2:85 and 101..."

But if, on the one hand, the teaching of these verses are to be taken as an indication that the originally authentic revelations of God found in the Old and New Testaments have been falsified, corrupted, watered-down, or otherwise rendered something less than the sure and certain truth of God without any admixture of error, then the same conclusion would have to be drawn for the Qur'an, for here is how the passage reads along with more of the context:

"And say: 'I am indeed he
That warneth openly
And without ambiguity"-
(of just such wrath)
As We sent down
On those who divided
(Scripture into arbitrary parts)-
(So also on such)
As have made the Qur'an
Into shreds (as they please).

On the other hand, if the fact that the Qur'an can be and was "made...into shreds" does not mean that it has been altered or transmuted from the absolutely perfect word of God that Muslims claim it is, then neither does this passage teach that the Bible has been so altered simply because there were those who "divided (Scripture into arbitrary parts)." And if this verse teaches that the Bible is, in its present form, the Word of God (as it certainly is), then that means that the Qur'an that it contradicts is not.

(There is another interesting observation to be made regarding the above. Not only does Y.A.'s translation and commentary result in an obvious and unacceptable absurdity for Muslims, but it appears from a comparison of Y.A. with other translations that it is Muslims like Y.A. who are actually guilty of dividing and shredding their own Scriptures, for the idea that these ayas are talking about the Bible at all simply cannot be found in the translations of others such as Pickthall, Shakir, and Hilali.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Genesis 19:24 Trinity Article!

The promised article on the Trinity from Genesis 19:24 is now available here. Leave your comments in the comments section if you have any.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Foretaste of Things to Come

I have two articles in the works that should be avaialable in the relatively near future. The first is another article on the Trinity and can be expected sooner than the second. The introduction to that article can be read here.

The second is Part II of my "Do Not Be Afraid of Him", the first part of which can be accessed here.
For a little taste of Part II, keep reading.

Do Not Be Afraid of Him - Part II

Having shown in Part One that the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18 was not and could not have been speaking of Muhammad, it remains only to show that the passage really pointed to and was fulfilled in the fullest sense by the Lord Jesus Christ.

As was already pointed out, whatever else may or may not be true of the coming prophet, and whatever other points of comparison there may or may not be between him and Moses, the Chosen One has to be like Moses in at least the following three ways in order to meet the terms of the prophecy: a) he has to be an Israelite; b) he has to speak directly with God; and, c) he has to have a divinely attested ministry marked by miraculous signs and awesome deeds. These are the sine qua non of the prophecy, the bare necessities. If a prophet comes and puts forward all manner of other credentials, however impressive, but fails to meet even one of the aforementioned criteria, let alone all three, he is not that prophet. However, provided a person does in fact meet these criteria, other considerations or comparison may most certainly be made, especially if the points of correspondence are of such an unusual and striking nature as to virtually demand that we see a link between them.

Accordingly, the following will lay out how the Lord Jesus exactly fulfills the terms of the prophecy, and how other points of correspondence between the life and ministry of Moses and Jesus are so arresting that we are compelled to view Moses’ life as a providentially ordered and divinely revealed type or foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The fact that Muhammad did not meet any of the given criteria renders null and void all of the comparisons that Muslims like to draw between Moses and Muhammad. But even if such comparisons are admitted into the discussion, they are easily trounced by those that are found in the case of the Lord Jesus.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Trinity Article Now Available!

For those who are interested, my article on the Trinity has recently been posted on the Answering Islam website. It is fifty pages long, and consists of both a positive defense of a Trinitarian interpretation of Genesis 1:26 (and other related passages from the Old Testament) as well as a refutation of popular non-Trinitarian and anti-Trinitarian interpretations of those passages. It can be found here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Circumcision Is Now Baptism

The sacraments of the Old Testament in regard to the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new - WCF 27:5

What circumcision was to God's people prior to the coming of Christ, baptism is to God's people after the coming of Christ. At least three lines of evidence exist showing such equivalence or correspondence.

a. It Can Be Legitimately Deduced or Inferred From the Parallels Between How They Were Observed:

  • Circumcision was administered only once, a fact that should be painfully obvious. Likewise baptism only takes place once - at the start of the Christian life. Contrast this with the Passover, which was done often (Lev. 23:5; Ex. 12:14), and the Lord's Supper which replaced it (1 Cor. 11:25-26).

  • Circumcision was administered to old covenant believers and their households (Gen. 17:7-14, 27) just as new covenant believers and their households are to be baptized (Acts 10:7, 16:15, 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16-17). Contrast this with the Levitical Passover which permitted access to mature (those capable of discerning whether they were "clean" or not) professors only, as does the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:28-29).

  • Circumcision could be administered extemporaneously by a priest, without the whole assembly being present (Lk. 1:57-59, 2:21-39), a fact that follows easily enough from the observation that it was done eight days after a child's birth (Sabbath or not). The same is true of baptism which is performed by a minister, usually at the nearest convenient place to where conversion took place (Acts 8:12-13, 35-38, 9:17-19, 10:44-48, 16:14-15, 22-34, 18:8, 19:1-7, 22:12-16). Contrast this with Passover which only took place when God's people were gathered together at the appointed time and place (Deut 16:1-8), as also is the case with the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11)

b. It Can Be Legitimately Inferred From the Equivalence of Meaning That Both Had/Have.

  • Circumcision was a sign of inclusion or entrance into the Covenant Community (Gen. 17:10-11), thus serving as a boundary marker between those who belonged to God and those who did not (Gen. 34:1ff; Jdgs. 14:3; 1 Sam. 14:6, 17:26, 36, 31:4; 2 Sam. 1:20; Ezek. 28:10; Eph. 2:11-12). The same is true of baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-29).
  • Circumcision was an outward sign that indicated an inward reality (Rom. 2:28-29), a reality called for of those who had been circumcised (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4; Ezek. 44:7); it indicated the need for a new heart, a clean heart (Ex. 6:12; Lev. 26:41; Isa. 52:1; Acts 26:41). The same is true of baptism (Jn. 3:3ff; Tit. 3:5).
  • Circumcision was a sign of repentance or of the need for repentance (Jer. 9:25), even as baptism has always been associated with repentance, from the baptism of John (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:4; Lk. 3:3; Acts 13:24, 19:4) to Christian baptism (Acts 2:38).
  • Circumcision was a sign and seal of the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of faith; it did not automatically save anyone but testified to God's saving grace received through faith (Rom. 4:9-12). The same is true of baptism (Acts 22:16; Pet. 3:21-22).
  • Circumcision was administered on the eighth day (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3; Lk. 1:59; Acts 7:8), which is the first day of a new week. In this way it indicated a new beginning and thus typified the new creation. Similarly, insofar as baptism identifies one with Christ in His death and resurrection, it indicates a new beginning, a putting off of the old in order to walk in "newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). Thus baptism is antitypical of circumcision.

c. There is Explicit Scriptural Testimony to the Effect That Baptism is New Covenant Circumcision.

"For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead" (Col. 2:9-12).

The true circumcision, circumcision of the heart, what Paul here explains as a "removal of the body of the flesh", is equated with baptism. Just like the rite of circumcision signified the need to die to the flesh and rise to newness of life, so likewise baptism for the Christian signifies union with Christ in His death and resurrection, i.e., a dying to the old man and a rising to the new. Romans 6:1-6 makes this incontrovertible.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Do Not Be Afraid of Him - Part 1


Given that many others have done this before, the following aims to be a (relatively) short but pungent reply to the Muslim claim that Muhammad's coming was prophesied in Deuteronomy 18.

This article has been moved to the Answering Islam website. To read the rest of it, go here. The comments section will remain open for anyone who wants to comment.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Please Help My Muslim Friend

The other day I mentioned that I have been engaged in several different discussions, and thought it might be beneficial to redirect one of the conversations here (which I have been having with a Muslim), continuing it on the blog rather than through private correspondence. In this way, not only can others read and benefit, but other Muslims might be able to join in as well and help my Muslim friend out. He is having a terrible time proving his case.

I have been asking him for proof that Muhammad was a prophet. At the same time he has been calling on me to prove that Jesus was/is God.

As for the former, I have maintained that there is no proof that Muhammad was a prophet sent by God, insofar as there are no bona-fide predictions from the former prophets witnessing to Muhammad's coming, insofar as Muhammad made no accurate predictions himself that could only come from God, and insofar as Muhammad performed no miracles or otherwise pointed to any sign from God that is commensurate with proving the claim that "Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah". In short, I have maintained that there is no independent proof of Muhammad's prophethood that is consistent with the sorts of confirmatory signs that the former prophets came with, or some other proof that he can provide that cannot come from anyone other than God.

I have also shown that his case is greatly compounded by the fact that, although some prophets did not perform miracles, as he rightly pointed out, their coming was either prophesied or otherwise attested by God in some way, such as through another God-confirmed prophet, and, together with this, that the Qur'an itself obligates Muslims to find just such proof, i.e. proof in the prior Scriptures for Muhammad.

As for the latter challenge, his challenge to me to show that Jesus was/is God, I supplied many verses. Of course, he made the artificial restriction common to Muslims that confirmation of Christ's deity from the Scriptures had to be: 1) made by Jesus Himself not the prophets before him, or the apostle's who were commissioned to speak in His name (What gives, I thought Muslims believed in the previous prophets and made no distinction between any of them?); and 2) it had to be direct and explicit, i.e. it couldn't be the sort of thing where Jesus received or positively commended someone else for saying or responding to Him in a way only appropriate for deity.

Of course, I do not except this methodology, for I believe that the former prophets spoke from God, as did the apostle's, something Muslims (in their own muddled way) pay lip-service to but never carry out in their practice. Nevertheless, I have sought to be magnanimous and so have happily obliged my Muslim friend and submitted myself to these strictures for the time being.

Accordingly, my first proof that Christ Himself, in His own person, from His own lips, in a direct and explicit fashion, claimed to be God is from Revelation 1, where it is written: "7 BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. 8 'I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'"

Regarding this passage, my Muslim friend has, as yet, made no comment. In the course of our conversation we have spoken of various and sundry other things as well, such as prostration in prayer, fasting, textual integrity of the Bible and the Qur'an and more. But the foregoing topics have been at the heart of our conversation and have taken up the bulk of our correspondence.

I wrote my Muslim friend and told him I was redirecting things here, and welcome him or any other Muslim to comment and help him out. I also welcome anyone else into this discussion who wishes to comment. My Muslim friend is also free, provided these topics are not skirted, to bring up any of the other subjects we have talked about or that he would like to initiate a discussion on.

I look forward to what he (or anyone else) has to say.

To the law and the testimony, if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them (Isaiah 8).

And remember We gave Moses the Scripture and the Criterion (between right and wrong), there was a chance for you to be guided aright. (Qur'an, S. 2:53, Yusuf Ali)

Monday, September 8, 2008

I Am Here, Even Though I Have Been Silent

Pardon my prolongued silence; I have been very busy with assorted things. More posts are coming in the near future.

Among other things, I have been carrying on a correspondence with an atheist and two different Muslims. Perhaps I will post something soon inspired by those conversations.

I have also been busy with things related to our recent move. We are presently living with my wife's father (where our dog, Shiloh, has been creating work for me in the backyard, such as pulling up the sprinkler system and other fun stuff) as we await the completion of our new house.

Last night my wife and I went to see the show "Stomp Out Loud" at Planet Hollywood, which I would recommend to anyone visiting the Las Vegas area (or who lives here in Las Vegas). The Lord caused it to be an enjoyable event, even though I am not generally a big fan of loud noise.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Myth of the Black Jesus

The other day while I was working, I couldn't help but overhear a gentlemen spew forth all sorts of hate-filled, racially-charged rhetoric cloaked in the guise of Islam. From what he was saying, it was evident that he was not so much a Muslim - although he did mention the Qur'an, Muhammad, and other Islamic buzzwords - as he was a follower of Louis Farakahn.

As he was attempting to indoctrinate another man, he was trying to use the Bible like a wax nose that he could mold to fit the face he was trying to sculpt, in this case, a racist one. Along the way, one of the points he labored to make was that Jesus was a black man, and that mean old whitie had hidden this fact, molding instead a Jesus to European liking in an attempt to get the superior black man to bow down and worship inferior white-devils.

In contradistinction to what this man was saying, the historical record tells us that Jesus was a first century, Middle Eastern Jewish man from the tribe of Judah, and, thus, that he was neither African nor European, a fact that stands written today the same as it has in all past ages (though it does have to be granted that pictorial representations of Christ produced by Christians have not always done justice to this fact). But the most interesting thing that occurred to me is that the kind of thinking typified by this man actually undermines Islam (for all those who share this man's racist-driven assumptions), whether it be the old fashioned orthodox kind found in mainstream Islam or the peculiar version advocated by Wallace Fard, Elijah Muhammad, and Louis Farakahn. After all, according to sacred, authoritative Islamic tradition, the Muslim prophet Muhammad said the following about Jesus:

"Narrated Abdullah bin Umar: Allah's Apostle said, "I saw myself (in a dream) near the Kaaba last night, and I saw a man with whitish red complexion, the best you may see among men of that complexion having long hair reaching his earlobes which was the best hair of its sort, and he had combed his hair and water was dropping from it, and he was performing the Tawaf aroud the Kaaba while he was leaning on two men or on the shoulders of two men. I asked, 'Who is this man?' Somebody replied, '(He is) Messiah, son of Mary'" (Bukhari, Vol. 9, Book 87, #128).

For more, see here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why Bertrand Russel Was Not A Philosopher: Always Learning and Never Able to Come to a Knowledge of the Truth

The field of philosophy is chock full of disagreements. There are even disagreements on what philosophy itself is and what it is to be a philosopher. In the face of such pervasive, and, on some accounts, insoluble problems, some have gone so far as to set their hopes on exobiological beings to deliver us.[1]

Since Bertrand Russell had more opinions than the average man,[2] and since he could (if you ask him) leap tall philosophical problems in a single bound, we should not be surprised that some have looked to him as just the kind of hero we need.[3] Confident as Russell was that he could swoop down on any situation, he, too, offered an answer on what philosophy and philosophers were all about. It is just here, though, right when we might have thought that we found someone to deliver us from our common (fallen?) human predicament, that we have instead the beginning of a long list of proofs that Russell was suppressing his true, and quite unphilosophical, identity. He said:

"Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something intermediate between theology and science. Like theology, it consists of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable; but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation. All definite knowledge – so I should contend – belongs to science; all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology. But between theology and science there is a No Man’s Land, exposed to attack from both sides; this No Man’s Land is philosophy. Almost all the questions of most interest to speculative minds are such as science cannot answer, and the confident answers of theologians no longer seem so convincing as they did in former centuries. Is the world divided into mind and matter, and, if so, what is mind and what is matter”? Is mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of independent powers? Has the universe any unity or purpose? Is it evolving towards some goal? Are there really laws of nature, or do we believe in them only because our innate love of order? Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet? Or is he what he appears to Hamlet? Is he perhaps both at once? Is there a way of living that is noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living merely futile? If there is a way of living that is noble, in what does it consist, and how shall we achieve it? Must the good be eternal in order to deserve to be valued, or is it worth seeking even if the universe is inexorably moving towards death? Is there such a thing as wisdom, or is what seems such merely the ultimate refinement of folly? To such questions no answer can be found in the laboratory. Theologies have professed to give answers, all too definite; but that very definiteness causes modern minds to view them with suspicion. The studying of these questions, if not the answering of them, is the business of philosophy."[4]

The above quote all too easily demonstrates that reason - on Russell’s own account of it - is incapable of answering fundamental questions. Theology could not help Russell because he did not have confidence in its pronouncements; science, too, was of precious little help, because such things are outside its sphere and competence altogether.

In other words, there is knowledge to be found in science, but only of a relatively trivial sort, i.e., not on ultimate questions; on ultimate questions we only have the confident but surely mistaken pronouncements of theology. And as for speculative reason, autonomous reason, reason humanistically construed and utilized, no answers have been forthcoming either. This means that on the map of human inquiry, philosophy is a kind of Lost Lane. It is a knowledge free zone. It is a zone where important questions are studied, but no answers have been discovered, at least not by Bertrand Russell. Thus instead of possessing extraordinary logical powers capable of transcending long-standing conundrums, we learn here that Russell’s feet were fastened to the earth as much as anyone’s; perhaps more so.

Although at this point we might still be magnanimous and consider Russell a philosopher, the above does at least reveal that he was the kind of philosopher who was more of a mild-mannered reporter of questions to which, along with all other covenant-breakers, he did not have any answers.[5]

It might be asked, however, if philosophy does not give us the answers that we refuse to accept from theology, why did a man like Russel ever leave Smallville (science) with its facts, trivial as they are? And why did Russell still demonstrate such affection for Lost Lane (i.e., Russell’s No Man’s Land). To this, Russell responds:

"It is not good either to forget the questions that philosophy asks, or to persuade ourselves that we have found indubitable answers to them. To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it."[6]

Astoundingly, what Russell appears to be saying here is that we should ask questions, but never actually get around to answering them; to answer them is to be dogmatic, and dogmatism is as deadly as kryptonite to “philosophers” like Russell. This kind of deep-seated antipathy against knowledge and wisdom ought to be seen as the real enemy of philosophy. What is this (by Jorel!) but dogmatism against knowledge?

Whereas we might gratuitously refer to an interrogater as a philosopher, what should we call someone who is, in principle, opposed to all answers? Such a dogmatic reusal from the outset to actually find knowledge and wisdom ought to be seen as its own refutation and disabuse us of the view that what we have is a philosopher on our hands.

As paradoxical as it may seem, all of this reveals that Bertrand Russell, Mr. Worldly Wise of the Twentieth Century, was not, in fact, a philosopher (i.e., a lover of knowledge/wisdom). Russell turns out, as said, to be nothing more than a mild-mannered reporter of questions to which he did not have answers and to which he was committed in advance, to never finding the answers. Who will save us from such “philosophers”? Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom are deposited all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
[1] Perhaps the most famous example of this is Carl Sagan, whose telos for living was the search for extraterrestrial life, which, he believed, held the answers to the cosmos with all its riddles. See William Poundstone’s book, Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos (New York: Henry Holt an Company, 1999).
[2] Paul Johnson, in his Intellecutals (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 197, says of Russell, “[Throughout the course of his life] he put forth a steady stream of counsel, exhortation, information and warnings on an astonishing variety of subjects. One bibliography…lists sixty-eight books…he published works on geometry, philosophy, mathematics, justice, social reconstruction, political ideas, mysticism, logic, Bolshevism, Chiana, the brain, industry, the ABC of atoms…science, relativity, education, skepticism, marriage, happiness, morals, idleness, religion, international affairs, history, power, truth, knowledge, authority, citizenship, ethics, biography, atheism, wisedom, the future, disarmament, peace, war crimes and other topics. To these should be added a huge output of newspaper and magazine articles embracing every conceivable them, not excluding The Use of Lipstick, the Manners of Tourists, Choosing Cigars and Wife-Beating.”
[3] In 1950 Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature as “the champion of humanity and freedom of thought.”
[4] Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, p. xiii-xiv
[5] Russell evidences this same failure throughout his other writings. As one other example, in an article on “Appearance and Reality”, after concluding that, for all our efforts to know the truth about things, Russell says that all we really achieve is the modest insight that “things are not what they seem”. He goes on to say: “Philosophy, if it cannot answer so many questions as we could wish, has at least the power of asking questions which increase the interest of the world, and show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life”. As found in Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1988), p. 16
[6] Ibid, p. xiv

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The LORD is our Helper and Keeper

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.
The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forever.

Exposition of Psalm 121

Vs. 1 The psalmist begins with a question: “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?” Commentators differ, but as far as it stands I see this as a rhetorical question; the answer is implied. It’s implied by the first part, when the psalmist says “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains.” By saying he will lift up his eyes to the mountains, he aims to communicate the kind of help and the kind of helper he has in mind. In order to understand this, you must keep in mind the literary genre of the Psalms. The Psalms are Hebrew poetry. One of the features of Hebrew poetry is that everyday things are loaded with meaning - God-given, Spirit-inspired, meaning. Literal earthly things, like mountains, hills, and rocks are treated as symbols and pointers to extra-earthly realities, especially things pertaining to God. Consider for example Psalm 125:1-2: “Those who trust in the LORD are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.” The psalmist lifts up his eyes to the mountains, for they remind Him of God. Even as the mountains cannot be moved (by men), God cannot be moved. As the mountains abide forever (relative to other things), God abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so God encloses, encircles, and enfolds His people.

Vs. 2 In any case, rhetorical or not, the psalmist quickly answers his own question in verse two, removing all doubt: “My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”

The confidence expressed in this psalm is not abstract; it’s personal. The psalmist does not merely say that God is able to help; he says God is His help. He does not merely suggest God’s capacity to help, he appropriates, through faith, that God is His helper. [The great Reformer Martin Luther said the Christian faith consists in pronouns. By this he meant it is not enough merely to say Christ died for sinners; to be a Christian means being able to say, Christ died for me. In relation to our psalm, the point is this: true faith means being able to say God is my helper, my keeper.]

But now, what ground does the psalmist have for believing that God is his help? Very simple: God is not only the psalmist’s Creator, but the psalmist's “LORD.” The word LORD here is not just any name for God; it is Yahweh in Hebrew, God’s covenant name. The psalmist is in covenant with the Maker of heaven and earth. And just because he is in covenant with God, he is sure and certain that all is well with his soul. For God does not break His covenant, His oath. God cannot lie. He has promised to be a God to those who fear Him, the savior and protector of those who call on His name. The covenant faithfulness of God grounds the psalmist’s hope.

Vs. 3-8 A significant thing happens in verse three...two things, really. First, notice how the psalmist was speaking of himself in verses one and two, but starting in verse three to the end of the psalm a shift takes place. Now in verse three he starts talking about others; namely, all those who are in covenant with God. Look at the contrast: in verses one and two he says, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” But starting in verse three he begins to speak to all God’s people: “He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” God’s covenant faithfulness is wider than the psalmist; it embraces and looks after others. God’s providential care is not just individual, it is corporate. God is not only the keeper of individuals as such, but the keeper of His people as a whole. God is my keeper à God is your keeper à God is our keeper: Israel. The psalmist is no lone ranger; he recognizes that to be in covenant with God is also to be in covenant with all those who share such confidence in God. This is instructive for us in many ways. We live in a day when people think they can love and serve God all on their own. They don’t need to gather together with the people of God, uniting their voices with others in prayer and song, corporately attending to the preaching of the word, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, fellowshipping with one another, looking after each others needs, carrying each others burdens, etc. This is far from the truth. The church, the body of Christ is one of the means God uses to help and keep us. I believe it was Ambrose (or was it Augustine?) who said, “He who does not have the church for his mother, does not have God for his Father.” He spoke truly. It is for good reason that God's people confess those words towards the end of the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints…”

Second, notice how the psalmist moves from declaring the fact that God is the keeper of His people (in verses 1-2), to explain what it means to say God is His people’s keeper (in verses 3-8). God so watches over His people that He superintends their every movement: He won’t allow them to slip, (verse 3). God’s watch over His people is without intermission: “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (verse 4).” He so watches over His people that he even controls the environment for their good: “The Sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night (verse 6).” He so watches over His people that no evil can overtake their soul and imperil their salvation: “The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul (verse 7).” In short, the Lord so comprehensively watches over His people that He governs and directs the whole course of their lives: “The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever (verse 8).”

God leaves nothing to chance; chance is a figment of the secular imagination. God is our help; chance is helpless. Thou shalt have no other God, chance included.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
“Return, ye sons of men:”
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Our Decision To Homeschool: A Letter To Family and Friends

The following is a letter I wrote some time ago on behalf of myself and my wife, expressing the why and the what of our decision to homeschool our kids.


Since some of you, our family and friends, have expressed everything from disagreement to mild curiosity at our decision to educate our children at home instead of turning them over to the state or to a state certified agency, we offer the following account of just what it is we are doing and why.

1. Above all else, our decision to homeschool flows out of our commitment to the Lord our God and to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Since the Lord both made and redeemed us, we, together with our children, belong to Him. Since He revealed Himself and His will, we have neither the prerogative nor the desire to turn aside either to the right or to the left. The reasons connected with this are the following:

The Bible recognizes (at least) three governmental institutions: the family, the church, and the state. The onus of educating and bringing up children in the fear and admonition of the Lord belongs to parents. The job of the church is to preach the Gospel, build up believers in the faith, and administer the sacraments (baptism and communion) of the New Covenant. The job of the state is to establish a just civil order and peace in society by punishing criminals and providing for the common defense. Not only does God in the Bible not give such authority or calling to ecclesiastical or civil officers, or to the oversight of those operating in terms of regulations and standards devised by the same, it positively rules it out.

A way of saying this simply is that parents have been given the "rod of instruction/discipline", whereas the Church and the State have been given the "keys of the kingdom" and the "power of the sword", respectively. Christians are called to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. This does not mean that Caesar (i.e., the State or powers that be) is not under God; rather, it means that the civil magistrates' power and authority are derived and therefore limited to their own God-ordained sphere of action. Beyond this the state may not go, and neither may the individual, the family, or the church encroach upon those things laid to the charge of the state by God. Each institution has its own God-ordained task and authority and is not to usurp that authority which God has reserved to Himself alone, or which He has delegated to another individual or institution. [I know that some unbelievers would scoff at this way of setting things up, but it is ironic, isn't it, that secularists who love flouting and abusing the notion of a "separation of church and state", don't recognize this Christian-borne idea when it is truly in front of them, as it is here?).

2. An additional reason closely related to the above, at least for us as Christian parents concerned about the covenantal nurture of our children, is that the present direction of the state is not neutral regarding the above claims, which would be bad enough in our eyes, but is positively hostile to them.

For those who think that state education is neutral on "religious" matters and only speaks to issues of "secular" concern, a distinction we do not recognize, we would point out that the attempt to be neutral is itself impossible and supremely disobedient. It is impossible, for all reasoning or thinking must begin somewhere, with some fundamental or ultimate starting point, it must proceed according to some method, and it will necessarily be directed to some end or goal. Christians recognize that these things are established and determined for us by God speaking in Scripture, whereas for non-Christians they are thought to be established by some other "god" or by men who fashion themselves to be autonomous. Please observe: grounding these things on the word of some other "god" or that of would-be autonomous man or an institution of men is inconsistent with our conviction that the Biblical God is the true God and that no one can exist or live their lives independently of Him, not even those who blissfully live their lives suppressing this truth. In God we live and move and have our being, for of Him, through Him, and to Him are all things. By Him all things were made and in Him all things subsist.

The attempt to be neutral is also disobedient from the Christian perspective. In the book of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Moses' successor, issued the following directive: "Choose you this day whom you will serve", God or someone/something else. The prophet Elijah said: "Don't waiver between two opinions, if the LORD is God, then serve Him. If Baal [a pagan deity of ANE culture] is God, then serve him." The Lord Jesus said: "No man can serve two masters", and "if you are not with Me, you are against Me". Of course we should not soon forget the words of the (honorary) prophet Bob Dylan:

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Furthermore, if the state truly was neutral, it would still be problematic for Christians, for the pursuit of neutrality communicates the notion that God and His Word are irrelevant to (supposedly) secular matters. However, the Bible does not teach the idea that we should compartmentalize segments of reality and knowledge to a neutral, god-irrelevant, zone, for their is no such place in all the world. God created the world, the world of mathematics, history, biology, astronomy, etc. Far from being irrelevant to these subjects, He is the very precondition for them. Further, it is the job of parents to see to it that God's word, which applies to all areas of life, is not only taught but is also reinforced. Attempting to be neutral is not the same as reinforcement.

3. A third reason for choosing to homeschool is that public education is in shambles in America - just witness the many calls for reform and how poorly American education compares to other nations - and the average homeschooled child easily excels children educated by the state. The inescapable fact is that: the state is not called to educate (see point 1 above), and neither is it especially equipped to do so. Over against the State, homeschooling does not require a huge, overgrown, bloated bureaucracy to implement desperately needed changes or make basic decisions, something that is often at the bottom of poor educational approaches, programs, and curriculum, all of which produce the many undesirable outcomes that we could easily list.

For those who do not think that we are personally equipped to teach our children better than the State, you might consider the fact that our children were born to us in the first place, not to the state (contra Plato). If the State was so naturally gifted or designed to do this, then why doesn't the State naturally produce children of its own so that it might educate them? In fact, the State is a poor parent, even when it artificially tries to assume such a role. The public records of State governed orphanages and adoption agencies are there for all to see, in all their ugliness. Just ask those who are on welfare how much they love the state. Even though the State continues to dole out money, it creates more resentment and more poverty among those it supports, all because it discourages hard work and productivity among its faithful "children".

In addition, as homeschoolers we have an abundance of resources available to help us with the subjects we teach. If the day comes that we do not perceive ourselves to be especially well informed in this or that area, there are still ways to competently deal with this, ways that do not flagrantly transgress our fundamental convictions or our parental responsibility to oversee all aspects of the education of our children. For example, many homeschooling families can and sometimes do get together with each other and trade off teaching certain subjects. Other measures are available.

4. A fourth reason for homeschooling is the concern we have to raise children of character, and to instill in our children such social taboos as virtue and a strong sense of morality. Contrary to what is taught and found in public schools, virtue is not vice and morality is not situational or relative. Even if the schools were not set for the dissemination of horrid notions of what ought to pass for good behavior, and they are, they don't have the foggiest notion why anyone ought to be moral in the first place. You simply cannot derive moral obligations from a naturalistic approach to life and the world, which is really what the aforementioned claim to neutrality is brought in to disguise.

In the absence of any foundation for morality, or any clear-minded idea of what is or is not moral, there is no discipline worth speaking of in public schools, and they become nothing more than breeding grounds for bad behavior. Children do not need any help learning bad behavior. Saying "mine" comes naturally; saying "thank you" does not. The former oozes out of them from day one. The latter has to be taught and taught and taught and still it often only comes out begrudgingly. Putting untrained children together to socialize each other only compounds this natural proclivity to sin. The apostle Paul said that bad company corrupts good behavior, something echoed by John Taylor Gatto, who said, "School is a twelve year jail sentence where bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards for doing it. I should know."

5. A fifth and final reason for choosing to homeschool is that homeschoolers achieve what many state schools cannot - a safe learning environment, and that without any need for school police, metal detectors, psychologists, nurses, etc.

We recognize that some of you do not share all or any of the above commitments (esp. the first one), but since we are talking about our decision to homeschool, we think that you will agree that the above (esp. the first one) is more than sufficient to bear the weight of a choice for which we are responsible. 

Wash Before You Eat: Only Baptized Believers Should Be Admitted To And Can Worthily Receive the Lord's Supper


In Mark 7:1ff it is written that the Pharisees had a tradition by which they invalidiated the word of God, a tradition that said it was requisite for people to religiously (not merely hygienically) wash their hands each time before sitting down to eat. The Pharisees said this practice was based on the oral teachings of Moses, but Jesus said it was vanity. Jesus cited the written words of Moses and Isaiah to show how fundamentally out of step the Pharisees were with the truth of God.

What the Pharisees did had a semblance of truth to it. The Mosaic law did prescribe certain cleansing rites as necessary to certain eating rites (e.g., Num. 18:8-20, and Lev. 21-22, both pertaining to priests; and Num. 9:1-14, and 19:11-22, pertaining to the people); this is one reason why their extra-Scriptural tradition was so easily pawned off on God's people as a pious activity. The problem is that the washings that were required by the Mosaic Law in order to participate in certain sacrificial or festal meals were washings and meals instituted by God for a religious purpose. The Pharisees had elevated their common meals to the level of those that were divinely instituted by God Himself; they were honoring God with their lips but themselves in their hearts and actions.

When it comes to Passover and the Lord's Supper, we have two eating ordinances, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament, both of which were instituted by God Himself, and both, as the following facts establish, are said to call for cleansing/washing. Such washing signifies the need for regeneration and the forgiveness of sin in order to approach the Lord for continual nourishment. The cleansing rite of all cleansing rites in the Old Testament was Circumcision; in the New Testament, all cleansing rites have been reduced to Christian Baptism.

Historical Considerations

1. All of the so-called branches of the Christian Church - Roman, Orthodox, and Protestant - hold baptism to be the sign of union with Christ, of cleansing by His blood and Spirit, and, hence, the sign of admission into the Church, the body of Christ. As such, baptism has historically been held to precede admission to the Lord's Table.

2. All Protestant denominations - whether Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. - hold baptism to be prerequisite to a worthy reception of the Lord's Supper.

Biblical Considerations

1. Christ gave the great commission and included in it the command to baptize those who became His disciples through faith (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:16). This was to be followed by "teaching them to observe whatsoever things I have commanded you", and the Lord's Supper is surely to be included among the things He commanded ["Take, eat...Take, drink..." (Matt. 26:25-28); and "This do in remembrance of Me." (1 Cor. 11:24)].

2. The apostles baptized believers (and their households) immediately upon profession of faith (Acts 8:12-13, 35-38, 9:17-19, 10:44-48, 16:14-15, 22-34, 18:8, 19:1-7, 22:12-16). Only after this do we read of ongoing commitment to apostolic teaching, fellowship, participation in the Lord's Supper, etc. This was true from the first, for on the day of Pentecost we read:

"Peter said to them, 'Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer....Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart (Acts 2:38-46).

Note the order: 1) Faith in the Gospel message; 2) Baptism into the body of Christ; and 3) Acceptance to the fellowship meal. This order is found repeatedly in conversion account after conversion account throughout the New Testament (faith --> baptism --> fellowship (inclusive of the fellowship meal)).

3. As a lead in to his discussion of how to properly administer and receive the Lord's Supper, which is found in 1 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul says: "I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ" (1. Cor. 10). Though Paul passes on to make applications of this that are relevant to the abuses prevalent in the Corinthian church, we should not miss the equally applicable observation as it applies to the question of the order in which baptism and the Lord's Supper are to take place: Baptism first (Red Sea crossing), Lord's Supper second (eating "spiritual food" and drinking "spiritual drink" in the desert).

4. The people Paul was speaking to in 1 Corinthians 11 regarding worthy reception of the elements were the same body of people spoken of in Acts 18:1-11, "...and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized" (vs. 8). It is to baptized believers that Paul is giving instruction on how to receive the body and blood of Christ in a worthy manner.

5. In order to partake of the Supper in a worthy manner, Paul calls on each individual to "examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Cor. 11). In a later letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul elaborates on such examination: "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves" (2 Cor. 13:5). If those who take the Supper must already be "in the faith", then they must also already be baptized, for baptism is to follow hard on the heels of faith (See point 2 above).

Theological Considerations

1. The following considerations presupposes that baptism is the New Covenant counterpart of circumcision,[1] and that what the Old Testament says applies to us, being just as "inspired of God and profitable, for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,..." as it was on the day it proceeded from the mouth of God.

In light of this, it may be confidently inferred that baptism must precede admission to the Lord's Table, for it follows by a (theo-)logical necessity from Exodus 12.

"The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'This is the ordinance of the Passover; no foreigner is to eat of it; but every man's slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. A sojourner or hired servant shall not eat of it. It is to be eaten in a single house, you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside the house, nor are you to break any bone of it. All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate this. But if a stranger sojourns with you and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native in the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it" (Ex. 12:43-48).

We see an illustration of this in the history of God's people under Joshua (Read: Josh. 5:1-15)

2. Baptism is a picture of newness of life; the Lord's Supper is a picture of feeding on Christ. Just as life must precede feeding, so by analogy new life must precede spiritual feeding on Christ.

3. Baptism is a sign of cleansing representing to us both the blood of Christ, by which our sins are washed away, and the Spirit of Christ, by which we are cleansed of our corruption (beginning with regeneration when the Spirit gives us a new heart). According to Scripture, no unclean person may eat the Lord's Supper. Since baptism signifies this requisite cleansing, it must precede approaching the table.


[1] For a defense of this, see my: "Circumcision is Now Baptism".

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Sword Has Spoken, the Matter Is Settled

In a new book[1] on an altogether different subject, David Berlinski makes an observation about Islam and in the process quotes the eighth century Arab poet Abu Tamman who reportedly said: "The sword is more telling than the book."

Assuming the accuracy of the quote, and without knowing the context of this remark from Abu, several things come to mind. Before listing them, I'm assuming that the prima facie meaning of "the book" as a reference to the Qur'an is correct, making "the sword" either that of Mohammed or of Muslims in general.

Given the above, several things follow (and whether Abu meant any one of the following, all of the following, or all of the following and more, the following are nonetheless true and the statement of Abu is thus apropos):

1) Muslims believe that the Qur'an is a miraculous work of Allah, the greatest proof of the truth of Islam, and, therefore, the greatest single factor or motive force in swaying people to become Muslims. However, the Qur'an has in fact never been an especially effective tool in seeing people, societies, and nations turn to Islam; the distinguished tool that gets this prize is the sword, first wielded by Mohammed (and his companions), and then later by his dutiful followers. It is an undeniable even if uncomfortable fact that the nations' people that converted to Islam did not do so through the means of peaceful Qur'anic suasion. Instead any and every nation, with few possible exceptions, that has ever embraced Islam, beginning with what was then (and still is) pagan Arabia (for it just swapped one form of paganism for a suped up Mohammedan version) down to the present day, has always and only converted by force and through much bloodshed and cruelty.

This is very different than Christianity where the Bible, which is not claimed to be a miracle in the same sense that Muslims hold the Qur'an to be (i.e., a miracle on the level of a literary production whose diction, rhetoric, style, etc. are held to be more poetic and beautiful than any other written work), and yet the Bible has been the effective tool in the reclamation of sinners that Muslim theory says should be true for the Qur'an. Once again, whereas Christians do not believe the Bible is necessarily, from a literary standpoint, on the level of something by a Dante or a Shakespeare, though it is quite moving in places even from a literary and poetic standpoint, nevertheless, they do hold that it was verbally inspired by God and is the very power of God unto salvation, the very seed that the Spirit uses to implant and create faith in the heart.

2) Since the Qur'anic text itself was determined by the sword under Uthman, the book only says what the sword of a certain faction determined for it to say.

3) If a Muslim wants to be sure of entrance into paradise, the only means this side of that great harem in the sky is through Jihad in the cause of Allah, i.e., through the act of fighting and spilling the blood of infidels rather than through faith or trust in the person and deeds of Allah or even by means of conformity to Allah's character and/or will as revealed in the Qur'an.

Hence, if you want to know about the veracity and real character of Mohammedanism, then you must ultimately look past all the idle remarks and spilled ink about mercy and compassion and look to all the spilled blood instead, especially when the ink is not without copious references to the sword anyway.
[1] The Devil's Delusion: The Scientific Pretensions of Atheism

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Necessity of Deriving Our Apologetic Method From Scripture

The Bible subjects the apologetic enterprise, as it does everything else, to the Lordship of Jesus Christ: "Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense..." (1 Pet. 3:15); and "...take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor. 10:5) Since the prerequisite to giving a reasoned defense is setting apart Christ as Lord, since we are called to make every thought obedient to Christ as Lord, and since the Bible is the source of our knowledge of Christ and of His will, then of necessity we must derive our apologetic methodology from Scripture.

When calling on and reasoning with men and women to submit to the authority of God, or for the truth of the Bible as the Word of God, it would be inconsistent to subject the truth of this conclusion to norms and standards or to a general method that is itself hostile to that authority from the outset. We would, in effect, be arguing for the authority of Christ or His Word on the basis of some other authority, which tacitly assumes that this other authority is more authoritative than the Lord or more trustworthy than His Word.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Credo Quia Absurdum Est

Misquotation is no passing fad among atheists; indeed, they have been at it for a very long time, even if not for billions of years. One of their favorite people to misquote, at least when it comes to the Christian understanding of the relationship of faith and reason, is Tertullian, a second century church father and Presbyter in North Africa.

Once upon a time, Tertullian is supposed to have said "credo quia absurdum est", which is Latin for "I believe because it is absurd." But as intimated, this is an atheist fairy tale, for Tertullian never said it, at least not the Tertullian of history who is an altoghether different person from the Tertullian of atheist-faith.

Of course if it magically turned out that Tertullian did say such a thing, it would hardly be damaging to the cause of Christ since other views have been held among believers, and much more widely, such as the Thomistic view - intelligo ut creedam ("I understand in order to believe"), and also the Augustinian view - credo ut intelligam ("I believe in order to understand").

According to the Thomistic view, reason precedes understanding and is made the foundation for faith; and according to the Augustinian view, faith is seen as the precondition of reason, that without which there can be no true understanding (because reason would then have no pou sto or fixed reference point for predication).

It is quite apparent from the whole scope of his writings that Tertullian was more of a proto-Augustinian than anything else on this matter, and one of the better single examples of this from his writings is the following:

"For philosophy is the material of the world’s wisdom, the rash interpreter of the nature and dispensation of God. Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by philosophy… What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has the Academy to do with the Church? What have heretics to do with Christians? Our instruction comes from the porch of Solomon, who had himself taught that the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart. Away with all attempts to produce a Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic Christianity! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after receiving the gospel! When we believe, we desire no further belief. For this is our first article of faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides." (The Prescription Against Heretics, VII.)

The above quote does reveal that Tertullian posited a stark antithesis between the world's wisdom, starting from its own autonomous speculations or reasoning about things (represented by Athens), and the wisdom that is from above (represented by Jerusalem), the reason that begins with God's revelation and, in simplicity of heart, goes on to produce an orthodoxy without any admixture of foreign elements. Nevertheless, it does not show a rejection of reason or advocate the notion that faith is antithetical to reason, unless that reason takes unbridled speculation, rather than God's revelation, as its starting point. Indeed, it was the same Tertullian who said the following about reason, rooting reason in God and seeing the world as open to rational investigation for this very reason:

"For reason is a property of God's, since there is nothing which God, the creator of all things, has not foreseen, arranged and determined by reason; moreover, there is nothing He does not wish to be investigated and understood by reason." (On Repentance, Ch. 1, vs. 2)

In any case, Tertullian never said that he was a Christian because Christianity is absurd. The closest one can get to a comment like this is the following from his De Carni Christi ("On the Flesh of Christ") written against the heretic Marcion:

"The Son of God was crucified: I am not ashamed--because it is shameful.
The Son of God died: it is immediately credible--because it is silly.
He was buried, and rose again: it is certain--because it is impossible." (Ch. 5, v. 4)

All sorts of considerations factor into a correct understanding of what is seen here, but the most relevant thing, beyond the fact that it isn't the same as what atheists and others have quoted Tertullian as saying, is the following: it is just because the central claims of the Christian Gospel are, from the perspective of the world's wisdom, shameful, silly, and impossible, that they are, from the perspective of that wisdom that is from above, altogether believable. In other words, unbelieving and believing wisdom have two different starting points and therefore end up evaluating the same thing very differently.

[As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1, unbelieving wisdom, starting from a rejection of God, or at least, leaving God out of account, and reasoning according to its own crooked standards, will always deem God's revealed truth as weak and foolish, while believers will see it as the power of God and the wisdom of God. Given the antithesis between believers and unbelievers, given that unbelievers begin with themselves as autonomous, while believers begin with God as absolute, given that unbelieving wisdom proceeds according to its own darkened understanding and believing wisdom is lit up by the revelation of God, they will always have radically different evaluations of such things.]

This understanding is bolstered by the fact that the context of Tertullian's remarks are in fact in reference to 1 Corinthians, where it is written:

"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.' Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

A somewhat different interpretation of this passage in De Carni Christi, one that is not contrary but complementary to the overarching (proto-)Augustinian approach of Tertullian that was briefly sketched above, has also been suggested and is a widely held interpretation. Lindberg and Numbers explain it this way:

"...Tertullian was simply making use of a standard Aristotelian argumentative form, maintaining that the more improbable an event, the less likely is anybody to believe, without compelling evidence, that it has occurred; therefore, the very improbability of an alleged event, such as Christ's resurrection, is evidence in its favor." (Lindberg and Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, p. 26)

In a footnote (#34) to this, the authors go on to explain:

"That is, resurrection of the dead is so improbable an event that the apostles would not have believed in the resurrection of Christ if they had not been faced with incontrovertible evidence that indeed, on this occasion, the improbable occurred. This fact makes the resurrection of Christ more probable than some other event; the occurrence of which might have been accepted merely on the basis of general plausibility".
No doubt the above accounting of things will be unsatisfactory to some atheists and other unbelievers who like to represent Christians as anti-intellectual and anti-rational, but it will remain a misquotation and a misinterpretation nonetheless. All that can be done with such as will not be confused with the facts (credo qui absurdum est), those who prefer the obscurantism of unbelief to the reason that is born of, rests upon, and thrives in the context of faith, those who refuse to humbly acknowledge their weakness and foolishness outside of Christ who is the wisdom of God and the power of God, is give them a little taste of their own medicine. Only a little taste, because the following from atheist Richard Lewontin is accurately quoted.
"We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door." (Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons, The New York Review, p. 31, 9 January 1997)
The larger context of these remarks does not, as some atheists have averred, help extricate them from the very ugly epistemological situation that would arise if Lewontin is correct.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Brief Observation On Acts 17

Few would doubt that Paul took God's revelation as his starting point when witnessing to Jews, but many suggest he followed a different method when dealing with Gentiles or those who made no profession of faith in the Scriptures. However, it should be observed that no such distinction is made or intimated when it says, "he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the Godfearing Gentiles, and in the market place everyday with those who happened to be present." (vs. 17).

Although there certainly would be differences of a sort between the way Paul spoke to Jew and Greek, no indication exists that would suggest that these differences were of a methodological sort.

As an example of the sort of differences that did obtain, consider that the apostle named names when he spoke to a Jewish audience about Jewish figures and events, but refrained from doing so when speaking to a Greek audience about those same things (e.g., the apostle does not explicitly mention by name Adam or even Jesus in Acts 17 even though he does refer to them). The manner or form of speaking was different, but the matter or content was not.

Similarly, and to the point, Paul did not formally or directly quote the Scriptures or cite chapter and verse when speaking to a Gentile audience, but he nevertheless did reason with them from God's revealed truth, whether that which is found in the Old Testament, and there are many allusions to key O.T. passages in Acts 17, or the deposit of truth that belonged to him as an apostle of Christ: "That which you worship in ignorance, I proclaim to you."

Accordingly, the apostle's method as seen in Acts 17, is to boldly proclaim the truth of God, the fact that God is the self-existent creator of heaven and earth, and that God raised Jesus from the dead, proving thereby that the final judgment will come through a man, "the man of God's own choosing". Paul does this in such a way as to indicate that there is an antithesis between the truth that he is proclaiming and the view espoused by his hearers. Paul knows the truth but his hearers are culpably ignorant, groping after God even though He is near at hand, the very atmosphere of their lives. Though unbelievers vociferously deny that this is so, it is tacitly assumed in all that they do, from erecting an altar to an unknown God (thereby displaying their ignorance) to making certain unwitting remarks, as their own poets illustrate (thereby displaying that they know better and are without excuse).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Atheists Say the Silliest Things - Part II.

"You’re basically killing each other to see who’s got the better imaginary friend." - Richard Jeni

Atheists like Stalin killed more people than anyone last century because they had no Friend.

"It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are atheists and were religion not inculcated into their minds, they would remain so." - Ernestine Rose

"It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are naturally prone to be selfish and ungrateful and need to be taught to share and say, "Thank you."

The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next. - Anonymous

The evolutionary mechanism of one age is the entertainment of the next. (q.v., Entelechy; natural selection; the hopeful monster theory; punctuated equilibrium; panspermia; etc.)

"One of the most frightening things in the Western world, and in this country in particular, is the number of people who believe in things that are scientifically false. If someone tells me that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, in my opinion he should see a psychiatrist." - Francis Crick

And what shall we do with those, who, in the name of that same science, go on to assert that life on earth is the product of interplanetary sperm being sent to our planet by little green men? Sound familiar, Francis?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Apologetics and Aesthetics

The wide-ranging, foundational perspective provided in God's word allows Christians to take anything as the proximate starting point for a discussion of the truth as it is in Jesus. With God as our ultimate starting point, we may take any fact in hand and show the necessity of relating it to Jesus Christ if it is to be intelligible and salvageable. As one writer observed:

"The Beauty of Van Til's philosophy is that, since God created everything and everything reveals God, one may begin with literally anything when speaking to an unbeliever. The only limitation is a believer's familiarity with the subject matter." (Joseph A. Fielding III, "The Brute Facts: An Introduction to the Theology and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til", The Christian Statesman, March-April, 2003)

With the above in mind, the more our knowledge is expanded to include the salient points of the various disciplines and activities that men and women are interested in, the better equipped we will be to present to them the intellectual challenge of the gospel and press the claims of Christ upon them.

(One of the practical ramifications of this is: for unbelievers who are otherwise apprehensive about a "religious" discussion, a topic that is presumed to be neutral or "unbeliever-friendly" can often rope them in. Furthermore, unbelievers are more apt to participate in a discussion over a topic they consider especially important, or a topic about which they consider themselves to be especially well informed.)

And so, for example, by enriching our understanding of something like aesthetics, if we run across an unbeliever who belies an interest in anything beautiful or artistic, the more ably we will be prepared to show them the One who makes sense out of it all - Jesus, who is altogether lovely, the fairest among ten thousand.

As a quick illustration, if a believer was to talk to an ancient adherent of Platonism in art, they might ask him or her how the Demiurge (Plato's finite creator) really provides a pou sto (or foundation) for the imitative aspect of art (i.e., mimesis). After all, the Demiurge is not ultimate, independent, self-explanatory, or self-contained; consequently, he/it cannot account for mimesis in the final analysis. To this, the die-hard Platonist may respond that the Demiurge rests on something further back, which itself rests on something further back, and so on until we get to "God" or the "Form of the Good." The problem with this, amongst many others of course, is that it is the Demiurge, not the "form of the Good", that sullies his hands with the chaotic and otherwise unformed matter of this world. In other words, what such an exercise will show is that Plato's ultimate, his postulated "form of the Good", is good for nothing as far as mimesis is concerned. Hence, the would-be Platonist is left without any ultimate foundation for making what he does intelligible.

The Christian solution is found in Colossians 2, for there we are told of the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness (Gr. Pleroma) of the Godhead in bodily form. In other words, Jesus is no Demiurge, no emanation, no lesser being that is strewn somewhere along a continuum of created or contingent things, but is the Pleroma of God, the radiance of the Father's glory and the exact representation of His being. By Him all things were made and in Him all things hold together. He upholds all things by the word of His power. His creative and ongoing providential activity accounts for mimesis in a way that Plato never dreamed of.

From an exercise like the above, we can then move on to proclaim that this same Jesus can save the one whose "good works", like Plato's forms, are good for nothing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

God's Revelation: The Foundation of Knowledge

God's revelation is foundational to all knowledge because it provides the framework that is necessary to account for knowledge and the means that we ought to use to attain and extend it. In God's revelation, we learn of His existence, something about His character and attributes, and of His works of creation and providence. In terms of these truths, we are able to see reason for what it is, a tool to be used in faithful submission to God, and are able to evaluate the facts for what they are - things subject to the plan of God.

The idea presented above, i.e., that revelation is foundational to knowledge, is not to be confused with the idea that man only knows what he reads in the Bible. Though some have held this view, the truth is that God's revelation (In Scripture and nature) provides the context in which we can use our minds and senses to obtain knowledge of many other things about which the Bible does not speak directly. Indeed, God's revelation claims to provide the foundational-perspective that is necessary to obtain knowledge of anything, but it does not claim to tell us directly everything that we know.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Atheists say the silliest things

[Atheist quips/quotes are in black; my replies are in blue]
"Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived" - Isaac Asimov

I think Asimov missed his calling. He should have joined Gideons International. (If any atheists have the courage of Asimov's convictions here, I'll supply the Bible's if you stock the hotel rooms.)

"Atheism is not disbelief in the existence of God (for who can prove a universal negative?); rather, atheism is the lack of belief in God." - common atheist saying

I think Atheist comedian Woody Allen said it better: "There's no way to prove there is no God. You just have to take it on faith."

"If God doesn't like the way I'm living, let him tell me, not you." - Anonymous, T-Shirt

If atheism is true, let Noone tell us so, not you.

We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing, all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes. - Gene Roddenberry

We must question the logic of those who grant the fault-ridden character of humans at one point, only to turn around and presume they are in a position to evaluate the actions of the Almighty at the next.

Since the Bible and the church are obviously mistaken in telling us where we came from, how can we trust them to tell us where we are going? - Anonymous

When you get where you are obviously going, you will change your mind about where you came from.

Be thankful that you have a life, and forsake your vain and presumptuous desire for a second one. - Richard Dawkins

Thankful to whom, exactly? (Rom 1:18ff)

What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. - Christopher Hitchens

Okay, consider it done.

You do not need the Bible to justify love, but no better tool has been invented to justify hate. - Richard A. Weatherwax

You don't need the Bible to justify hate, it is just part of the ordinary course of nature. So quit complaining as if there is something wrong with it.

To say that atheism requires faith is as dim-witted as saying that disbelief in pixies or leprechauns takes faith. Even if Einstein himself told me there was an elf on my shoulder, I would still ask for proof and I wouldn’t be wrong to ask. - Geoff Mather

Since Einstein is dead, if he did give you proof that there was an elf on your shoulder, how would you prove that he did so? Would you say things like the following: "Who else could have come up with such a brilliant proof?" "But look at how it has all the earmarks of a proof designed by Einstein." "If Einstein didn't appear to me, would I risk being ostracized by the scientific community by claiming that he did?"

God should be executed for crimes against humanity. - Bryan Emmanuel Gutierrez

Sounds great. First we should have some people predict it, then we should have people there to witness it, and after He rises from the dead...ooops.

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it. - Mark Twain

Death is a lot worse the second time around.

Which is it, is man one of God’s blunders or is God one of man’s? - Friedrich Nietzsche

That depends who you are asking:

Open Theist: Yes; Yes
Arminian: Yes; No
Calvinist: No; No

Atheism is a non-prophet organization. - George Carlin

Yeah, just look at George Carlin. He doesn't occupy a prophetic role to atheists or profit from his atheism, does he?