Once again, I am having a great conversation with Southern Baptist pastor Wade Burleson and some other folks at his blog located here. I always enjoy the thoughtful way that these more conservative folks (and less conservative ones) engage with this liberal "recovering Baptist".
The term "infallible" means that the Scripture, when rightly understood, will never lead anyone astray. I understand that you do not believe the Scripture to be "infallible." I do.
Like you say, however, that doesn't keep me from working with others who don't see the nature of Scripture in the same manner.
What it does keep me from is any doubt that Jesus Christ is the only Savior given to men.
In His Grace,
"Like you say, however, that doesn't keep me from working with others who don't see the nature of Scripture in the same manner."
That is great - I think that attitude is the hope of humanity. I strive for it as well.
Of course, debate can be very fruitful, when done with the understanding that compassion and charity are far more important than the details. So in that spirit...
"What it does keep me from is any doubt that Jesus Christ is the only Savior given to men."
We will have to hope this is not true. For, when understood in its literal sense, the implications of this idea are absolutely horrific. Luckily, I don't believe there are very good reasons to accept the infallibility of Scripture, which is very good news for mankind. (of course there are a wide variety of Christian world-views with less negative conclusions than evangelical Christianity).
Thanks for the exchange - I ALWAYS enjoy it!
One doesn't have to see Christ Jesus as the only Savior given to men as "horrific" if three things are also believed (all of which are supported by Scripture):
(1). The rebellion of man against God is man's fault, and God would remain a just God had he provided NO Savior at all, thus the provision of the Son is cause for great rejoicing, and
(2). An innumerable company from EVERY tribe, kindred, nation and tongue (meaning possibly billions of people from every place in the world) is redeemed by Christ and will be delivered from the just condemnation of their crimes against God, and
(3). Those who have no part and portion in God's mercy and grace though Jesus Christ will not be judged or condemned by God in a capricious manner, but in a righteous, solemn and glorifingly just manner. There will be no pleasure in God in the condemnation of any sinner, but the attributes of His righteousness and justness will be praised for eternity just as we praise a righteous judge who is equitable and impartial on earth. In other words, there's nothing horrifing of a sinner getting from God what He deserves. In the end, it is worthy of praise for God's justice, just as in the end the salvation of His people is worthy of praise for His grace.
"The rebellion of man against God is man's fault"
Yet God created man with foreknowledge of what would happen. And He created specific individuals knowing that He would have no power to convince them of the path to salvation.
"An innumerable company from EVERY tribe, kindred, nation and tongue (meaning possibly billions of people from every place in the world) is redeemed by Christ"
Why not everyone? Does God lack the power or the will to save everyone? It must be one or the other.
I am surprised that the idea presented here can be comforting when a vast number of people will still be condemned.
"In other words, there's nothing horrifing of a sinner getting from God what He deserves"
"just as we praise a righteous judge who is equitable and impartial on earth."
Your idea of "righteous" must be different than mine. I find it highly unlikely that anyone would really think it righteous for God to eternally condemn a single mom who worked hard to support her kids (or the Dalai Lama, or Ghandi, or your next-door neighbor) but who was certainly not perfect, - and who didn't find the evidence for Christianity compelling.
Not to mention that the idea of Penal Substitution - that an innocent man can be punished for a crime he didn't commit, and that this satisfies the demands of justice - is also fundamentally unjust. We would not think much of a judge on earth who let a murderer go free because someone volunteered to serve his sentence for him.
And absolute intolerance for less-than-perfection is not usually considered a positive attribute here on Earth. Usually the more righteous a person is, the more secure they are, and the more they are able to see the true motivations behind wrong action and are able to help without being personally offended.
One final thought - Which is more horrifying?
1. God will eternally condemn many, many, many people for their imperfections on earth - and because they didn't pick the right religion. They will have no further hope of reprieve. They will suffer forever. Think of a way you have suffered - physically or emotionally. Now imagine God putting that feeling on to you for all eternity. Forever.
2. Everyone dies and that is it. The consequences for our good and bad actions happen here and now.
I do not claim the name "atheist", but atheism is far better news than evangelical Christianity.
Thanks for taking the time to answer me - I know you have a lot of eggs in different baskets! sincerely, Steven
Ultimately I trust you will discover your argument is not with me, but with God.
It is He who said, "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins."
The argument that Christ bearing the sins of His people is a "bloody religion," and makes uncomfortable the civilized, educated, and humane of this world is not an argument that bothers me at all. It simply has not effect on me. In other words, it doesn't change what I see Scripture to teach.
Bottom line: Either God provided His Son for the redemption of His people through the work of Christ in penal substitution, or He did not.
Either way, you or I will answer to God for the way we present Him to the world to be. I'm comfortable with rejoicing in the Savior He has provided for sinners, and you are comfortable in denying the provision was needed or given.
Your position is either right or wrong. As is mine. However, I don't take lightly the difference because ultimately we will answer to He who created us.
If a man dies without seeing any need for Christ, then that man simply better hope his argument is convincing to God.
My simple plea is "nothing to God do I bring, simply to the cross I cling."
"Ultimately I trust you will discover your argument is not with me, but with God."
Wade - you are currently arguing with the way many humans interpret Scripture - and you have many good points. My argument is that Scripture itself is a human interpretation of God. And some of the attitudes presented thousands of years ago are no longer considered moral today - outside the realm of some conservative religion that is. So if I do not accept the premise that Scripture is infallible, then I am no more arguing with God than you are.
As always, if I am wrong, I would hope that God would correct me.
"The argument that Christ bearing the sins of His people is a "bloody religion," and makes uncomfortable the civilized, educated, and humane of this world is not an argument that bothers me at all."
I assume that any blood sacrifice made in the present day would bother you. I would be surprised if it didn't. So why hold the world in the Scriptures to a lesser standard?
If we use words like "God" and "righteous" and "good" , but the actions described seem to be evil in any other context, then what does that mean? A friend of mine often says that the problem with Calvinism is that it mistakes the devil for God.
Our differences come down to two that I can see here:
1. Whether scripture is infallible or not
2. If it is infallible, whether this is good news or bad news for the world.
"Your position is either right or wrong. As is mine. However, I don't take lightly the difference because ultimately we will answer to He who created us."
This is a version of Pascal's Wager. In years of prayer and personal reflection, I have always come to believe (or been led to believe?) that we have to support what we actually think is true and not what we are afraid might be true.
Thanks again for the discussion - I might post it over on my blog if that's OK. I just really enjoy the back and forth - the gradual refinement of ideas. And you are always a pleasure to those ideas with.
Can I recommend the writings of C.S. Lewis to you?
He sought answers with a kind of integrity that I think you might appreciate.
There are many other authors I can recommend for you, but I think you might enjoy reading him.
Yet God created man with foreknowledge...
Foreknowledge is not causation, though some Christians think so. Are you familiar with the concept of "middle knowledge", a term known among Christians as Molinism? In this view, God has chosen the best of "all possible worlds" to reach a desired outcome. Individual choices within that scenario are hardly God's fault. And if one were to say that since even one person would suffer in hell for eternity because of it then God should not have done it, several problems arise:
1-- Who is to say what God should or should not do? Is he God, or are we?
2-- Is power the only option, or is it possible that God's very nature will not allow him to force anyone to choose whether to stay with God for eternity or to reject him? My contention is that God's nature rules over his sovereignty; that is, his sovereignty does not function in a moral vacuum.
3-- Is God forbidden to create sentient beings unless he forces them to love him? What kind of love would that be? Would you accept puppets or robots loving you when you knew you forced them to do it?
I find it highly unlikely that anyone would really think it righteous for God to eternally condemn...
The key is the nature of God. He is omnipresent, so what is he to do for those who want to get away from him forever? The only possible answer is to create a place of "not God". And since God is the source of all good, then "not God" is devoid of all good. It is just for God to send them there because it's what they chose. To say they must be offered a good place of not God is to ask the impossible and irrational.
Not to mention that the idea of Penal Substitution ...
Please see a small booklet I wrote, called Reconciled: http://books.fether.net/index.php?theBook=3
It explains why Jesus had to die.
And absolute intolerance for less-than-perfection is not usually considered a positive attribute here on Earth...
Perfection is necessary because God is holy. But he met the requirement for us, by becoming human and sacrificing himself. This is way more than even the most kind-hearted judge would do. This isn't about a petty or thin-skinned insecurity but, again, the nature of God, which even he cannot change.
1. God will eternally condemn many, many, many people for their imperfections on earth....
1. No, not because they picked the wrong religion, but because they rejected God's offer of reconciliation through Jesus. What about those who didn't hear? I trust God to make sure that those who would have accepted the gospel would hear it. If we can't trust God, then he isn't God.
2. Baseless assertion, and a very unjust one. When are the uncaught criminals exposed and condemned? When are the tyrants humbled? When are the victims avenged?
Atheism better news? Only if Christians don't know the Good News themselves and present it only as "fire insurance". Atheism is dark and hopeless, unjust per #2 above, and takes away incentive to live for more than oneself. Yes, some atheists live as though they think life has an ultimate purpose, but that's just like Christians who live like there isn't, and like their hypocrisy will never be exposed.
I read "Mere Christianity" around 10 years ago and I remember not being too impressed. I should revisit it at some point. I know it means a lot to many people.. I recently read "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment" by Lewis where he defends retributive justice over utilitarian views of justice and I really disliked it. I think he has to defend this idea to make a traditional view of Penal Substitutionary Theory work, perhaps.
But I love, love, love the Chronicles of Narnia. Many of the ideas of love, honor and faith he puts forth in those stories are really great. I particularly like Puddleglum's speech to the Green Witch in "The Silver Chair". And Aslan's acceptance of the Calorman soldier in "The Last Battle."
Thanks for your detailed, thought-out reply! I appreciate the conversation.
Does creation with foreknowlege not equal causation? If God creates a person with no capacity to love Him, then that sounds like causation to me. If the person does have the capacity to love God, then why would God ever shut the door on him for eternity? Why give up hope?
Your three points.
1. Of course - if God is powerful, then He can do what He will. But should we call it good if it does not match what we normally mean by "good"?
2. I like your line of thinking here. But the traditional Christian view is that God will shut out non-believers for eternity. Wouldn't this be forcing them away? Once again, why shut the door forever?
3. I do not think the freedom to forever damn yourself is a freedom that anyone would want to have. I certainly do not want it. And unless you think that finite human beings can comprehend infinite consequences, then it hardly seems responsible to foist that decision on to them. I often argue that it would be like me giving my 2 year old a pair of scissors and then respecting what he decided to do with them - except infinitely worse.
"what is he to do for those who want to get away from him forever?"
This is a key point. In more modern theology, Hell has become a preference that people choose, rather than the punishment it is described as in the Bible. I don't think a person, when confronted with choosing eternity with God or with "not God" would pick "not God" - unless they were mentally ill or did not understand the situation - in which case their choice is not free. When considering the problem of evil and the divine hiddenness of God, don't you think that many people just do not believe? They don't have a preference for anarchy or evil - surely it is not a moral failing to consider conservative evangelical religion to be false? If God gave every person a "road to Damascus" experience, don't you think heaven would fill up a bit more?
"And since God is the source of all good, then "not God" is devoid of all good."
I doubt you think that non-Christians are wholly evil people. There is much good in everyone. Are you suggesting that when non-Christians die, then they lose all their good qualities? That the "God" that is in them, abandons them? I doubt you will find many non-Christians who dislike their good qualities and would like to reject them. If God is truly good, who would really reject Him? Rather, most people who are not Christians do not equate the good they see in their life with the classical theistic God of evangelical Christianity. If God is "goodness", then there is good evidence that the God described in the Old Testament is not God. (I don't discount the Bible. I love the Bible. But it's a man-made link in the chain of our understanding, not ultimate divine revelation).
"Perfection is necessary because God is holy"
Please define "holy". If it does not include all the attributes that Paul gives to love in 1 Corinthians 13, then is it good? "love never ends" Does God's love end for the damned? If not, why close the door forever? Holiness, as defined here, sounds like it could be evil just as easily as it could be good.
"Atheism is dark and hopeless, unjust per #2 above, and takes away incentive to live for more than oneself."
This is not the opinion of the many, many atheists who volunteer their time and energy everyday to make the world a better place. And Evangelical Christianity is not necessarily just. It just makes the main reason for doing good that God will punish you if you don't. An atheist, or religious liberal, might think there are actual reasons for doing right and wrong here and now rather than simply because we will be punished later. And when things are unjust - I think we have all been taught that life isn't fair.
Thanks again for the conversation! And please know, as a side note, that I do not reject Christianity or religion- rather just its evangelical, conservative incarnation.