CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

The latest Biblical Studies Carnival is up, with many interesting blog posts highlighted (including one by yours truly). Check it out.

Thanks for all of the effort Stephen.

From "Local Author Investigates Life Of Jesus In New Novel" by Elizabeth Van Wye:

The enormously popular success of the book and movie, "The DaVinci Code" triggered a worldwide interest in the historical figures depicted in the Christian Bible. As demonstrated by book and ticket sales, curiosity about the human Jesus of Nazareth and others of that era is at an all time high. And yet, according to author and part-time Chatham resident Harold Lorin, there is very little agreement among scholars about the historical Jesus.

Fifteen years ago, Lorin set out to find out more about the man. The result is "The Tin Merchant," a 260-page novel about Jesus and his family and how they coped in a troubled place in a dangerous time.

"The problem is," said Lorin, "everyone thinks they know the story and yet the whole subject is hotly debated among scholars…there is almost no common ground. The question I asked myself was, 'Can I put together a reasonable narrative that balances the existing ideas and paints a picture of this human being?'" "The Tin Merchant" is a novel, which while extensively researched is still fiction, Lorin stressed. "It was written to entertain, raise questions and create a character."

The narrative is based on a purported discovery of the memoirs of Jesus' cousin, Joseph of Aramithea. It unfolds in flashback fashion, "starting with the crucifixion up front and then going back and covering what led to it," Lorin stated. He added that the theme of the book is that the mission of Jesus was deeply influenced by his mother, Mary, and by the discovery that Joseph was not his birth father. He added that the novel does not either affirm or deny the central Christian belief that Jesus was the Messiah.

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"As a computer scientist, I’ve been well trained in critical research. I used the same methodology researching this book for 10 years," he said. Lorin has also published numerous books and articles on the technology and economics of computer science and technology.

While this is a admittedly only a novel, so was The Da Vinci Code, and I have two real problems with what I read in this article. First, while I agree that little agreement exists among scholars on the person of the historical Jesus, such a statement is made uncritically. Simply because there are parties on both sides of the equation, doesn't mean that their arguments are equally valid and compelling.(Anyone who disputes that but who opposes the teaching of Intelligent Design in the schools is going to have to explain the obvious double-standard to me.)

As has been pointed out numerous times on this blog and elsewhere, the view of historical Jesus supported by many of these scholars that think that Jesus was no more than a "itinerent preacher" or a "eschatalogical prophet" has many, many problems -- many more than the view that Jesus cannot be limited in those ways. Thus, it seems to me to be problematic that this author should be marketing his book by treating the disagreement among scholars as justifying a conclusion that we cannot arrive at a true view of Him.

Second, I have a problem with the idea that the novel neither affirms nor denies the central claim of Christianity -- that Jesus was the messiah. First, the central claim of Christianity isn't that Jesus was merely the messiah; rather, the central claim is that He was the Son of God. You may see that as a bit nit-picky because the Christian claim is also that Jesus was the messiah, but since the Jews expected the messiah to be a mere mortal man it's important to point out that Jesus claimed to be more. Second, I don't see how a novel could be written that neither affirms nor denies this real central claim. Perhaps he could be non-committal about the idea that Jesus was the messiah, but there is, in my view, no way to tell the story without being committed to the idea of whether Jesus was also God.

While Mr. Lorin is free to write about whatever topic he wants, I dislike seeing people writing historical novels about Jesus because the best histories of Jesus are found in the accounts of Matthew, John, Peter (as recorded in Mark) and Luke. Mr. Lorin's book, if it sells at all, will certainly be accepted by some people as somehow more accurate than the three first hand accounts found in the Bible (plus the account of Luke that records the recollections of various unnamed witnesses, but one of whom was probably Mary the mother of Jesus) because it's written by a guy who used his "critical research" skills to piece together the real history backgound of Jesus' life. If so, it is simply another book that sets itself up against a true knowledge of God, and that's a shame.

Several news outlets ran a story this week claiming that scientists had developed a method of using stem cells from embryos without harming the embryos themselves. Reportedly, they could take one of the eight cells from an embryo without inhibiting its development. The single cell could then be used to create colonies of stem cell research that could be used in research or remedies. This sounded like a win-win way around the most fundamental objection to stem cell research – that the research was killing human beings in order to help human beings.

But it does not appear to be that simple. The Washington Post ran a story discussing some of the questions that have been raised about the study, including the fact that the scientists in the study intentionally killed the embryos with which they were working supposedly to show they could do this without killing embryos. But the WP reports that while questions had been raised, “basic facts of the report remain unchallenged.”

The Vatican was not happy with the new study, claiming that it does not address one of its core concerns about stem-cell research – that it necessarily utilizes in-vitro fertilization procedures. A spokesman for the Vatican also noted that the one stem cell removed from the embryo could theoretically grow into a full-fledged human. I am unsure about the science of that last objection, but it would seem to be an insurmountable objection to any form of stem cell research no matter its effect – or lack thereof – on the original source of cells.

An article in the Weekly Standard is critical of the fundamental claim about the survey – that the study showed you could use the single-cell from a young embryo to create a line of stem cells. Not so, according to a consultant for the Discovery Institute’s Center for Bioethics and Culture. The scientists did not create lines of stem cells from single cells, but from a number of cells removed. The biggest claim to fame of the study remains unproven, though it may be a step to the desired destination.

As usual, read for yourself the relevant articles.

Written by Stanley E. Porter & Stephen J. Bedard, Unmasking the Pagan Christ, An Evangelical Response to the Cosmic Christ Idea is a readable and short response to Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ, which argues that Jesus never existed except as an allegorical understanding of true spirituality. New Testament scholars and historians usually avoid such marginal ideas, but – as Porter and Bedard explain – Harpur has garnered more attention than most advocates of the Jesus Myth (the notion that Jesus did not really exist). Given the vacuity of Harpur’s ideas, the only explanation for the attention is his credentials. Harpur seems to be an otherwise smart fellow, being a Rhodes Scholar and having taught Greek and New Testament at Wycliffe College.

Harpur’s main thesis is that Jesus did not exist as a real person, but only as a symbolic representation of universal spiritual principles based on pagan dying and rising savior figures. According to Harpur, Egyptian myth and religion as well as Mithraism (a pagan cult) are the true roots of Christianity. But as Porter and Bedard demonstrate in the first two-thirds of their book, Harpur’s argument rests on misrepresentations of the nature of the forerunning Egyptian beliefs, the couching of very different ideas and events in inapplicable Biblical terms, unsourced references to primary sources, dependence on secondary sources who themselves were even more wrong than Harpur, reversed chronologies (such as seeing Mithraic influences on Christianity when the reverse is much more likely) and a no-doubt genuine desire to fashion a universal religious ethic out of the world’s different religions.

After reading these chapters, the term “not even wrong” comes to mind as an apt description of Harpur’s reconstruction. Scientists use it to refer to theories that are so bad, so erroneous, so far off, that they are not even worthy of being called wrong. The notion that Jesus’ virgin birth, miracles, death & resurrection are just recast Egpytian myths is so baseless it is not even wrong.

While performing their destructive work, Porter and Bedard provide a nice nutshell of Egyptian history and religious belief. The origins of development of the pertinent Egyptian myths are well-covered, though they could have been even more effective by highlighting the Jewish origins of so much that Harpur claims is pagan. However, given the effectiveness of what they do argue, this might have been seen as – in cold war terms – “bouncing the rubble.” Perhaps they were just showing mercy.

The last few chapters discuss the non-Christian evidence for Jesus, as well as a Harpur’s use of the Apostolic Fathers. The latter is fine and probably would have better served their purposes had it been moved up in the book. The discussion of non-Christian evidence for Jesus is very basic. It will be helpful for new comers to the debate, but anyone looking for more substantive discussion of these sources will best be served by reading Robert Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament or even some of the online discussions at apologetics websites.

But the refutation is so easy despite some missed opportunities that it comes across to the informed reader like picking the low-lying fruit. Still, it is nice to see genuine New Testament scholars turning their attention to marginal but popularized theories about Jesus and early Christianity. I would like to see more, and more in-depth, books so doing.

Last time I posted (which was a while ago -- sorry, I got busy), I posted a piece from the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web page entiteld John Kerry and the Problem of Evil. I posted it without commenting as to why I was posting it on this Christian apologetics page. A couple of people took offense at what I was writing and thought that I was posting it to bash John Kerry. While I certainly don't think John Kerry would have made a good president for many reasons, I didn't post it to simply bash him. I had a point to make, and now that I have a few moments, allow me to clarify what I was thinking.

The use of the argument that there is no God based on the existence of evil is very similar to the way the argument is being used by the WSJ. The WSJ suggests that John Kerry is making a claim to be able to end the war in Israel based on a comment that if he were Commander in Chief, it wouldn't be happening. Taking this comment (and others like it), they attribute to him a desire to see all evil in the world end, the power to make it end, but the unwillingness to do so. On that basis, they assert that Kerry either lacks the desire to end evil, the power to end evil or his very existence. We all know that in reality Kerry lacks the power to end evil (despite his suggestions during the election that if he were President everything would be right with the world) which is why his claims can be seen as comical by the WSJ.

The argument against the existence of God from evil is used in much the same way. According to the standard argument from evil, God is certainly a loving God who has a great deal of power (more than John Kerry, even) and who has said through the prophets that he hates evil, and therefore God is either not all good, not all powerful or doesn't even exist. But, as with John Kerry, the argument assumes too much. God can still hate evil by allowing it to exist if there is a strong reason to do so.

The Bible is clear on several points. The Bible teaches that God loves humanity (even though we are undeserving of that love) and hates evil. Yet, humanity engages in evil acts. This puts God in a strange situation: if he decides to wipe out all evil, then he must wipe out all humanity. History shows that it doesn’t suffice to wipe out only the evil people because the children of good people often become evil themselves, so the evil will continue if humanity is not entirely wiped out. Yet, the story of Noah shows that God does not desire that all humanity be wiped out. God loves humanity despite our failings, and has as a higher priority than the destruction of evil the salvation of as much of humanity as possible.

Thus, the WSJ article is funny because it’s obvious that John Kerry lacks the power to wipe out evil and we all know it. But it is instructive in the way it assumes that John Kerry is making a claim that he doesn’t make based upon a stretching of the things he and John Edwards said during the last election. The problem of evil does the same thing in a different way: it assumes that because God does have the power and because He does hate evil, that destroying evil is the highest priority that God would hold and His failure or refusal to exercise that power to eradicate evil shows that he is either not good, not powerful or non-existent. However, those assumptions are ill-founded and unconvincing if the true state of the situation (as is Biblically supportable) is that God hates evil, desires it be destroyed, and has the power to destroy it but is waiting to destroy it because of a higher goal.

This just came to my attention from the Wall Street Journal Best of the Web, and I thought it fairly amusing while shedding a different type of light on the age old question of the Problem of Evil and the existence of God.

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John Kerry and the Problem of Evil

The Detroit News goes out for a drink with a visitor from the east:

U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who was in town Sunday to help Gov. Jennifer Granholm campaign for her re-election bid, took time to take a jab at the Bush administration for its lack of leadership in the Israeli-Lebanon conflict.

"If I was president, this wouldn't have happened," said Kerry during a noon stop at Honest John's bar and grill in Detroit's Cass Corridor.

Now, our first thought when we read this was: Yeah, if Kerry were president, he wouldn't spend his days moping around some bar in Detroit. But then we realized that's not what he meant. He meant that if he were president, Hezbollah wouldn't be waging war on Israel. Just like, as John Edwards said in 2004, "we will stop juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases. . . . People like Chris Reeve will get out of their wheelchairs and walk again."

If Kedwards have the power to eliminate war and disease, why don't they use it? This is the age-old problem of evil:


Why does [John Kerry] allow evil? If He is all powerful, then He should be able to prevent it. If He is omnipotent and does nothing about evil, then we suspect that there are limits to His goodness, that there is something wrong with Him, that He is not all good. Perhaps He has an evil streak, or is truly malicious and we are merely His toys--expendable and counting for nothing.

Or perhaps, like Al Gore, he doesn't exist.

I am pleased to announce that the CADRE will be hosting the Virtual Office of Darin M. Wood, Ph.D. Darin is pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Corsicana, Texas. He received a Bachelor's degree from Dallas Baptist University in 1990 and a Master's degree from Southwestern Seminary in 1993. Recently, Darin received his Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament Theology from Southwestern Seminary. In addition to pastoring Memorial Baptist Church, Darin is an instructor of philosophy at Navarro College. He regularly posts at the Pastor's Page of Memorial Baptist Church's website.

I have announced some of Darin's previous articles on this blog. Now, you can find those articles and much more from Darin in one convenient place.

[This is the fifth part of The Grace Series in Romans 5. The first part of this series can be found here. The second part can be found here. The third part can be found here. The fourth part can be found here.]

Paul concludes in Romans 5:5, "And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." God not dribbles out the presence of His spirit, sprinkling here or there, but the word is to lavish upon. He pours out the gracious influences of His Spirit in our lives in a way that will make these struggles come together in the deepening of our hope such that we can praise and rejoice in them.

Going through these tribulations is difficult and a struggle; sometimes seeming unbearable at times. We don't desire the pain. But we desire what the pain produces; that which God provides in the midst of that. We wonder in our justification, which is easy to accept. But this tribulation stuff is somewhat the wildness of life. Together there is joy in the journey.

Let me conclude with a couple of applications and reflections of what we've seen throughout this series about the grace of God through salvation, justification, tribulations, and redemption. Many of our greatest songs and hymns exalt the grace of God. "Grace, grace, God's grace. Grace that will pardon and cleanse within." When was the last time you sang, "Works, works, My work. Work that will serve to condemn me to Hell?" No. We remind ourselves of the grace of God in salvation. I could not merit favor from God. Yet by blessed grace He receives me to Himself and I not have peace with God. I am standing in grace.

We also need to remind ourselves of the grace of God in tribulation and struggles. We sometimes get overwhelmed and overburdened (we think). We despair and become depressed. However, we must remind ourselves of the grace of God that is bestowed in the midst of our trials. Spiritual depression afflicts the church; that we do not properly understand our position in Christ, our calling, and the security of our salvation. We must be reminded of these things that bring us back to a place of joy, rest and peace. In this issue of depression Martin Loyd Jones, a great preacher of the last century, in one of his very first chapters concerning spiritual depression has a great passage on what we must adopt as our habit if we are to avoid depression or if we are to get out of despair and depression in the midst of the overwhelming pressures and overwhelming burdens of life.

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand. You have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul, "Why are you cast down? What business have you have to be disquieted?" You must turn, abrade, condemn, and exhort yourself. Then go say, "Hope thou in God!" instead of muttering in this unhappy depressed manner. Remind yourself of God. What has God done in the past? What has God pledged himself to do? Defy others and the devil and say, "I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God!"

May God grant all us the grace to recall these things in the day of struggle, trial, and depression to preach, confront, and remind ourselves that the blessed grace of God is the only hope for mankind.


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Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

A couple of days ago, I came across an article published by the Institute for Humanist Studies, Humanist News Netword entitled "Freethought Community to Honor Paulson" by Bobbie Kirkhart. The story is about how some humanists plan to get together to honor Philip Paulson, the man who started the 17 year legal battle to remove the memorial cross from Mount Soledad in San Diego. The story, reads in pertinent part:

For 17 years, Mr. Paulson has fought and repeatedly won his battles with the city of San Diego, California to remove a large Christian cross from atop Mount Soledad in a city park of the same name. In spite of his victory at every round, the cross still stands as a monument to the stubbornness of politicians who pander to Christian claims of privilege.

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Paulson’s legacy, impressive and still growing, has been recognized by several freethought organizations. He will receive the award from the Freedom from Religion Foundation at their convention this October. In past years, the Rationalist Society of St. Louis gave him their Freedom Fighter Award, and American Atheists of California has named him Atheist of the Year.

Now, I find this desire to name him "Atheist of the Year" and give him the "Freedom Fighter Award" to be . . . well, a little awkward for our skeptical friends. In all sincerity, this man should be considered a public relations nightmare for the atheists who are trying to make inroads towards broader acceptance in the community. From the point of view of religious people, Mr. Paulson is one of a very few number of selfish people who are trying to push their failed political agenda on the rest of the American public though the use of the courts. He has worked for seventeen years to remove a cross that, in all liklihood, very few of the servicemen in whose honor it was raised would have wanted removed. In a very real sense, Mr. Paulsen is disrespecting the wishes of the brave servicemen and women in whose honor the cross was raised in favor of his own narrower view of what the Constitution reasonably permits.

Perhaps an analogy might work -- suppose that a Christian were fighting hard to get a cross raised over a cemetary where a group of atheists were buried because he finds it offensive that a cemetary should not have a cross. His argument is that the First Amendment of the Constitution forces the government to act neutrally between religion and non-religion and that because some of the people buried in the cemetary may not have wanted to be buried in a cemetary without a cross, a cross should be raised so as not to discriminate against their wishes. Wouldn't you think that type of activity was rather foolish? I would. But that, in my view, is pretty much the same thing that Paulson is doing.

Now, please don't post comments about how the founders of the Constitution would have objected to the presence of a cross on federal land because that is an old argument that really isn't accurate in light of the history of our country. But the point is not who is right in this argument (I agree that the Christian in my analogy would lose the argument for several reasons). The question is one of perception. And believe me, all of you atheists who think that this guy is doing a wonderful thing by working to have the court's enforce the "strict wall of seperation" view to this case -- he is hurting the image of atheism among moderates and especially among more conservative Christians. I had earlier written that Christians should be loving towards atheists, but it is hard to remain loving to someone who is making an effort to remove any public acknowledgement of your beliefs from any public land or buildings -- even when doing so almost certainly would have been against the wishes of those in whose honor the religious symbol was raised.

A hero? No. I think this guy should be shunned.

The good folks over at Triablogue have announced the release of a 400+ page response to The Empty Tomb, which is an anti-resurrection assortment of chapters edited by Robert Price and Jeff Lowder. It is exhuastive, addressing every chapter in detail.

And do not forget that the CADRE also has some excellent responses to chapters in The Empty Tomb, here.

[This is the fourth part of The Grace Series in Romans 5. The first part of this series can be found here. The second part can be found here. The third part can be found here.]

This very brief part of Romans 5 sets a foundational guideline to understanding the importance of tribulations and the ramifications on one's own spiritual trust and growth. Paul continues in Romans 5:4 but to put it in context let's begin with Romans 5:3 - 5:4. "3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope..."

Tribulation >> Perseverance
Perseverance >> Proven Character
Proven Character >> Hope
The biblical model refers to the fact that one must endure tribulations in order to learn how to persevere, persevere to receive a proven character, and one should ought have proven character to bring about hope. Tribulation, perseverance, proven character, and hope should be intimately fused--"what God hath joined together, let no man rend asunder!"

This proven character is tested character, not mere profession or what we wish was true; but what is confirmed to be true through the difficult struggles of life. And proven character brings about hope in the confidence of that God will take us through entire experience. Our hope will be strengthened as we endure, as our character is confirmed, and as our hope is deepened as we trust upon God. Yet this is not to make light of the extraordinary pain and struggle sometimes of what God calls upon us to endure. Hope does not disappoint no matter what the trial.

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In the next and last installment of The Grace Series I will be covering Romans 5:5 and discussing the lavishing role of the Holy Spirit given by God to secure our hope.

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Cross-blogged at CADRE Comments

[This is the third part of The Grace Series in Romans 5. The first part of this series can be found here. The second part can be found here.]

In Romans 5:3 Paul writes, "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance." This almost sounds irrational or fanatical when compared to the preceding verse Romans 5:2, "...we exult in the hope of the glory of God." If we are to exult in hope, how is it then that we also must somehow rejoice in the trials that cause so us much personal pain? This notion borders almost bizarre. It seems as though God is unsympathetic and coldhearted. And yet there appears to be an anticipation by Paul of a potential argument against what he has set so far. If I am accepted in Christ, if I have been saved truly, if I am at peace with God and I have His peace, why the trials? Some would argue that if you look at their lives it seems as though God is angry at them. And yet by trusting God (faith) we recognize many ways of dispensing His grace.

One of the profound ways God dispenses His grace is difficulty, struggle, and in trials. Trials become an occasion for rejoicing as God graciously takes us through them to the other side. Trials are not inconsistent with the love of God; they are evidence of the love of God. In fact, I would argue, the opposite of love is not hate or anger. It is indifference. If God was doing nothing, that is evidence that perhaps He hates us or is displeased with us. Yet, all through the New Testament we find a variety of blessed glorious reasons why God permits and causes struggle for the Christian.

First: we live in a fallen world.
We are on two sides of a battle that is raging. We are citizens of heaven. We are in the midst of those who are citizens of this earth. We are followers of Christ in the midst of people who are followers of the devil. There is a war raging. They hated Christ; they will hate us. We should not be surprised. "Blessed are those who are persecuted," Jesus said in His sermon on the mount. "Blessed are you when men cast insults at you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you on the count of me." Gods grace is on display as He takes us through and enables us to endure these false accusations, insults, and distresses that are results of living in this fallen
world.

Second: God desires to display His glory in our life.
Perhaps, there is not greater way for God to display His glory than by His divine enablement in the midst of enormous, profound, painful trial and struggle. 1 Peter 4:12 says, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." God's glory is manifest. His grace is illumined as He divinely enables us to live through difficult trials, struggles and tribulations. A great work He does in our lives
as we patiently endure.

Third: God permits trials to strengthen us and show where our true strength lies.
By appealing, depending upon, and crying out for His grace is how we recognize our futile strength and ability to cope during tribulations. Remember the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, he had this thorn in the flesh. It was so painful that he sought the Lord three times that it might be freed a and removed from him. Yet, God said, "I'm not gonna do it." 2 Corinthians 12:9 God replies to Paul saying, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Paul writes in reply, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecution, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." We find out where our true source of strength comes from as we depend upon God's gracious faithful assistance and divine enablement. Glory to God.

Fourth: God uses trials to get our attention and redirect our paths.
Many of us persue selfish goals and ambitions whereby we try to create our own happiness and fulfill the Great American Commission, "Live life by what pleases you most." I recollect on my own past where I cried out to God, "why would you give this all to me and then just pull it away?" Yet at the same time I began getting heavily involved with church and getting deep into the scriptures. And by surprise God got hold of my life and those past efforts to make my way into the business world on my own was halted and I've now been strongly going after a Christian education. If you think of your own situations either currently or in the past I'm sure most of you can relate quite similarly. Looking back I would never want to endure the painful hardship I had to endure transferring from one lifestyle to the next, however I certainly delight and exult in what God did through it in redirecting my path. To be honest, I probably would have ended up some lousy businessman swamped with so much work it would interfere with my future wife and kids if I would have continued in that direction.

Whatever the trail (you can fill in the blank) we all have been there or we will yet be there. The difficulties of life will come knocking someday. Whatever the trial, the grace of God is abundantly displayed in the midst of trials. Therefore, Paul continues in verse 3, "we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance." Will we hang in there or will we flee and reject God? Will we stay and trust God?


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In the next installment of The Grace Series I will be covering Romans 5:4 and discussing the formula Paul writes pertaining to perseverance, character, and hope.

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Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

From "Amla already reveres Jesus" in the Citizen, South Africa:

OH Christian from Ferndale, you certainly made me laugh, when I read, "your Muslim slip is showing" (The Citizen, August 14).

I think your prayers have been answered. Hashim Amla has come to know Jesus, as has the entire Islamic world.

You see, Christian from Ferndale, all Muslims adore, love and respect Jesus as a holy prophet of God, as our Koran has taught us.

The only difference is, unlike you, we don’t pray to him as a god.

SHAMEEMA BHYAT

By way of background, apparently a South African sports broadcaster named Dean Jones was fired from his position because he referred to Hashim Amla, a muslim sports figure, as a "terrorist." A Christian from Ferndale wrote saying that we need to pray that Amla "may come to know Jesus, who is the Way and the Truth and the Life."

Of course, the idea that they revere Jesus as a prophet is, to say the least, overstated. Yes, they revere Jesus as a prophet -- but not the Jesus taught in the Bible. The Jesus described in the Bible is not revered by them because they would have to view that Jesus as a fiction or a blasphemer in order to assign him the role of being a mere prophet. If you are going to take Jesus at all, you need to take Him as He is presented in the most accurate and authoritative works on His life -- the books of the New Testament. To accept Him on any other terms is not to accept Him at all.

[This is the second part of The Grace Series in Romans 5. The first part of this series can be found here.]

Paul continues in the book of Romans. Because we have been justified and are now at peace with God we are now standing secure in a state of grace. Grace has brought us to this point and grace will sustain us at this point. Romans 5:1 opens by saying, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." On to Romans 5:2 Paul continues, "...through whom also we have obtained our introduction (or way of access) by faith into this grace in which we stand." Faith in Christ is the only path to eternal life, to right standing with God, to acceptance, to peace, and to rest. Faith in Christ is the only means to placing us in a state of gracious security. Jesus said in Matthew, "Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." He said in John 14, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me." There is only one path to God and it is through Christ.

Yet, this Christian life that God has called us to, upon our justification in which we now live, notice what he calls it. We have gained our introduction by faith into "this grace in which we stand." What an interesting way to describe our lives and the way they should be like. I think that the truth here is this period of our lives upon our salvation should be so characterized by the gracious influences of God as to call it, grace. Grace, that's you...that's me. There is no security in my own works and ability to earn my favor with God. I cannot be righteous, holy, and disciplined enough to find acceptance with God. I must rest in the sufficiency of Christ- his gracious provision of salvation.

I would say also that God has so orchestrated our salvation so as to cut off any alternate means of approach. You think you can try hard enough? Work hard enough? Labor hard enough to earn your favor with God? God says in Isaiah 64:6, "all our righteousness are as filthy rags." Our righteousness offends Him. You think you can be religious and disciplined enough in your religion? God despises empty religious rituals. Isaiah says further, "bring me sacrifices no more." They are an offense to God. Salvation according to the Old Testament prophets, confirmed by the New Testament apostles, is "of the Lord." It is of His doing and of His work. It is graciously bestowed and provided only by His hand, His path, and His means alone.

An interesting passage comes in Romans 5:21, "so that, as sin reigned in death (meaning that sin brought universal death), even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." In our lives grace is the king, the ruler, and the sovereign before whom we submit and we worship. Grace is our sovereign. Blessed grace of God in our justification declaring us to be righteous and holy before God. Blessed grace of God in our sanctification as we walk with Him and He bestows His grace as we are secure in that gracious standing; nothing to be added to, nothing could ever be taken away from it.

But now also in our glorification. The second part of Romans 5:2b says, "we exult in hope of the glory of God. " We rejoice in the coming completion of our salvation which God has already begun. We boast, praise and rejoice in hope of the glory of God as we look forward to the consummation of what God has begun. Remember Romans 8, "whom He predestined, these He also called. And to whom He called He also justified. To whom He justified He glorified." All whom He predestined before the foundation of the world will be justified and will eventually be glorified. What He has begun, He will complete. God promises this in His scriptures. Philippians 1:6, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." Salvation secured and finished in justification, but now in process growing in Christ-likeness being conformed to the perfection of God as we see in Christ- becoming more like Him.

We rejoice in the on-going process that will one day be complete. We are now growing in grace. Peter says this in 2 Peter 3:18, "But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity, Amen." As God works in our life and as we grow in Christ's likeness, who gets the praise and glory? Jesus. Because it is of His grace that we partake. 1 Peter 4:10, "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." It's God working in us and people see Christ and God's power on display. We praise God now for this ongoing gracious work of God. We have been freed from the power of sin in our justification and we look forward to a day when we will freed from even the presence of sin. Amen! Do you long for that day?

C.S. Lewis wrote a profound allegorical book on why there must be a heaven and a hell, The Great Divorce. In that book Lewis says, "Heaven is a place where good people will never again be bothered by bad people. Hell is a place where bad people will never again be bothered by good people." There is coming a day when the sheep and the goat will be separated. Praise be to God! "We exult in the hope of the glory of God."

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In the next installment of The Grace Series I will be covering Romans 5:3 and discussing the somewhat radical declaration by Paul to then expand our exultation of grace to rejoicing in our tribulations.

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Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

In the Death of Death, Conservative Jewish theologian Neil Gillman writes a history of the development of Jewish views about the afterlife. He begins by explaining that what Orthodox Jews consider history is in fact simply “myth.” Gillman is quite clear that he does not believe that God revealed His word to His special people, but that Judaism is rather the result of some men grasping to understand God. He affirms belief in God and believes that God has sown knowledge of Himself throughout his creation, but to believe that God has revealed Himself to man is to engage in idolatry. This position is much more assumed than demonstrated. Nor is a justification readily apparent. If we are truly made in the image of God and to serve God's purposes, why is it idolatry to suppose that He would choose to communicate with us?

Most of the rest of the book is a much more straightforward presentation of the history of Jewish views on the afterlife. Like most scholars, Gillman finds little evidence of firm views on any kind of afterlife in the earlier books of the Old Testament. His review of the relevant passages is informative as he traces an increased concern for the afterlife, culminating in the affirmation of bodily resurrection. Although Gillman entertains the possibility that foreign influence was at least partly responsible for the development of resurrection belief, he seems to lean towards it being a natural outgrowth of core Jewish belief.

As we move beyond the Old Testament, Gillman continues tracing Jewish beliefs, noting the introduction of the concept of the immortality of the spirit. His use of sources is somewhat less helpful here. Although Jewish sources are reviewed proficiently, he gives insufficient attention to first century Christian sources. While lamenting a lack of sources about the Pharisees – and dismissing the Torah as a credible source for their beliefs – he gives short shrift to valuable Christian sources from the time period, such as Paul’s letters and Acts. Paul – a self-identified Pharisee – provides a window into first-century Jewish views on the resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15 is an extended discussion on the nature of resurrection and the body after its resurrection. Acts also includes more detailed information about the difference between Sadducee and Pharisee views than is discussed by Gillman.

This is unfortuante, for it would have added valuable primary sources to his inquiry into the views of Second Temple Judaism. Christian scholarship has come a long way and is much more open to using and evaluating Jewish sources to shed light on early Christian beliefs. Jewish scholarship could benefit from the same practice. Not only were the early Christians Jews themselves, but Christian development on these beliefs would serve as a good point of comparison and contrast for elucidating Jewish thoughts on the same issues.

In any event, Gillman next charts the “Canonization” of bodily resurrection in Jewish thought through the Talmud and into the Middle Ages. He spends an entire chapter on Maimonides, a Jewish philosopher whom he credits with moving Judaism away from bodily resurrection to an emphasis on spiritual resurrection. Thereafter, he discusses the mystics, who also played a role in spiritualizing Jewish afterlife belief. Add in the Enlightenment and Jewish intellectual, though not religious, assimilation into modern Europe, and the Reform and Conservative Judaism of the 19th century has largely abandoned bodily resurrection, once the cornerstone of its faith, in favor of spiritual immortality, the hallmark of Judaism’s long-time competitor, Greek philosophy. Little space is given to the Orthodox.

But Gillman’s book is not just about history, it is about the present. He sees a return to an emphasis on bodily resurrection in Reform and Conservative Judaism. This re-emphasis is explained well as a return to Judaism’s emphasis on God’s concern for the present life and his power to shape our futures. But as with the author’s own apparent re-embrace of bodily resurrection, it is unclear just what is meant. It is accepted, but only as “myth” and “symbol.” For Gillman, to believe it is literally true is to “trivialize” God. This assertion, like the one that to believe God revealed His word to Moses is to engage in anti-Jewish idolatry, are disappointingly conclusory. It comes across more as mired in quasi-naturalistic assumptions rather than the result of rigorous theological or even philosophical inquiry.

The history in the book, with the exception of neglecting Christian sources and the knowledge they can shed on Second Temple Jewish afterlife beliefs, is well presented. Gillman ably covers 3,000 years of Jewish attitudes on the afterlife. Also well presented is the reasoning behind certain shifts in beliefs and the leading thinkers behind those shifts. The book, however, is steeped in the author’s less-than-adequately-explained use of terms such as “symbol” and “myth” and “literal,” that left this reader at times wondering just what it is that was really believed. Put another way, what do you really believe if you say you believe in bodily resurrection but only as a “symbol” and not as a “literal” redemption? In what way does that give hope and affirm God’s goodness and value for the present human condition? There may be answers to these questions but I did not find them in this book.

The grace of God. You can't see it. You can't taste it. You can't feel it. It is invisible, yet it is substantial and weighty. Its profound character sometimes escapes us because it is so familiar to us. We throw the word around like we know what it means, and yet we need to return again and again to be blessed by the great reality what the grace of God represents for the believer.

The grace of God is what we exult. We praise God for His grace. The grace of God is that characteristic of God's activity whereby he relates to us freely and benevolently. He relates to us fallen undeserving human beings. No greater example of His grace is there than salvation. The grace of God in salvation. "For by grace have you been saved through faith and that not of yourselves." It is a gift of God lest any man should boast.

I think we also see a very clear pristine picture of the grace of God in the person of Christ as we gaze upon His glory as He walked this planet many centuries ago. John 1, "The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory. Glory is the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth." Look upon Jesus and you will see grace personified and exemplified with pristine character and clarity. The writer of Luke records that crowds were amazed as they beheld and heard the gracious words which were falling from His lips. When you heard Christ you heard grace in verbal form. All that He said emanated the matchless grace of God. John 1:16, "Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ."

For all of these reasons we see God's grace in all the ways He relates to fallen undeserving human beings in salvation, sanctification, struggles as He dispenses grace to us in time of need. One of the greatest pictures of Grace is in the book of Romans. This monumental treatise describes the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the righteousness of God on display, the extention of hope to fallen humanity, purely because of His grace and received by faith.

Paul identifies at the very beginning of the book of Romans that he had received grace and Apostleship to bring about the faith among the Gentiles. He had been dispatched by God to communicate something of the grace of God in salvation; to explain it, to hold it up for all to see. He says he is "not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. To the Jew first and also to the Greek." In it, Paul says, "The righteousness of God is displayed from faith to faith." Later he writes, "The just shall live by faith." He then proceeds in the middle of chapter 1 through 3:20, to establish the universal depravity of the human race; the absolute fallenness of all mankind. It's something of a lawyer's brief. Non one escapes the indictment of sin; of depravity. He establishes, in clear terms, the need of God's righteousness. Then he proceeds in 3:31 through all of chapter 4 to communicate the provision of God's righteousness in the Gospel. Paul describes it in terms of our justification, that we have been declared righteous. Romans 5:1 Paul goes on the describe the blessings of our justification and of our salvation.

Today, I want to focus on the first verse in Romans 5. "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God." Now this word justification is not the first time we see in the book of Romans. We see it a variety of times certainly in chapter 3, "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight. Being justified is a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." Romans 3:28, "We maintain that man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law." But when we examine this term, justification, we find that it means literally "to declare innocent or free from any or all guilt." It is the language of the lawcourt. It's like a lawyer is talking. In salvation terms, it's God declaring, "You're righteous, holy, free, and forgiven." Now this term does not mean to make righteous because that is what God does in sanctification as His grace is dispensed in our lives. Sanctification is the growing in Christ's likeness. But his term (justification) means to declare righteous and holy. It's not a pardon, but rather and acquittal. "Not guilty! Free from punishment from penalty." Justification is that gracious act of God whereby he declares a sinner righteous and free from any guilt or punishment upon there putting faith or trust in Jesus Christ. That is what justification means. Christ has paid for our sins; we are free at last!

Paul later in some of his writings, in Philippians especially, it talks about how he had focused His entire life on communicating the Gospel. He rested in the sufficiency of what God had purchased for Him in salvation. Paul writes, "Everything else I will give up that I might gain Christ." Then he goes on Philippians 3, "And may be found in Him not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law (something that he earned and could boast in theoretically), but that which is through faith in Christ. The righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith." God sees the sinner as he professes faith in Christ and what He has done on our behalf, He sees the sinner in terms of His relation to the Son, Jesus Christ. And we know what God said of His son. The voice out of Heaven said, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Justification establishes a new relationship between a fallen human being and a righteous and holy and exalted God. God now sees us through the blood sacrifice of Christ that He declares not guilty, no punishment, no guilt, free.

To fully understand justification we have to understand something of the condition prior to justification. The condition of the fallenness of humanity. In chapter 3, Paul goes to great lengths to establish the absolute and utter depravity of all human beings. He says, "All are guilty. There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together they have become useless. There is none who does good. There is not even one! There throat is an open grave. With their tongues they keep deceiving. The poison of snakes is under their lips. Their feet are quick to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths. The path of peace they have not known. Their is no fear of God before their eyes." Then as if to summarize this almost redundant string of declarations of the fallenness of all humanity Paul says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." This places all of us in desperate need of the righteousness that only God can provide in Christ. And that only comes through grace.

Upon justification our sin is laid upon Christ and He bares away the sins of the world. Remember what John the Baptist said of Christ as he saw Him up on the horizon? He said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." It's just like the day of atonement only a once and for all day of atonement. Remember Leviticus 16, the highpriest taking two rams and he kills one of them that their might be the shedding of blood. Then he confesses the sins of the people over the second ram and then he leads that ram to the edge of the camp that it might bare away the sins of the people into the wilderness. Jesus Christ was both rams. He was, is, the day of atonement there. Our sin is laid upon Christ, He bares it away. He then gives us in return the righteousness that we cannot obtain by ourselves. Grace, pure grace. Undeserving human beings who embrace Christ by faith (trust) now are declared righteous,holy, undeserving and free from any threat of judgment or punishment. All of this received by faith in Christ.

The Apostle Paul says in Romans 4, "Now to the one who works his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due him. But to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly his faith is reckoned as righteousness." There's nothing that we could earn, nothing that we could merit or conjure up or sacrifice enough for. Christ had to sacrifice himself on our behalf that He might provide us with that salvation. The Apostle continues in Romans 5:1, "Having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Many have observed that here in Romans, Paul using a greek term "eirEnE" (peace) is certainly borrowing the understanding of peace in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word "Shalom", which was more than simply the absence or cessation of hostility. It brought with it well-being, blessing. That is what Paul's idea of peace is here. We are justified by faith. We have peace with God. God is simply no longer angry, but He is positively purposed to bless us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. That is ours. We did not earn it, but what He bestows upon His undeserving children purely by grace.

Notice it says in Romans 5:1, we have "peace with God." There is a "peace of God" that is a subjective peace; an inner feeling and joy of what God has given and granted to us. But this here is talking about an objective peace that is established by God's gracious actions in Jesus Christ. We are not at peace. We have peace with God. The justification of God brings us the peace that forever protects the believer against any threat of coming judgment or punishment and certainly removes all sense of guilt. Paul says in another place, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." As God bestows His grace we are graciously taken to Himself and we have peace. We have His peace that He has brought us. We can understand greater the beauty of justification when we realize that former enemies have been reconciled (That is you and I). We are described as enemies of God enslaved to sin, inhabiting the dominion of darkness. We're children of the devil walking according to the courts of this world; according to the prince of the power of this earth. All of that yet now we are at peace. We are all monsters of iniquity, whether we realize it or not, in the face of a holy God. We are in desperate need of His righteousness; something we can't come up with by our own.

John Owen in his great classic on how to deal with sin "The Mortification of Sin", he says, "The heart is a standing sink of abominations. It's a putrifying mess of desires and actions and inactions. A colossal mess that is an offense against a Holy God." Do you believe that? To fully appreciate the gracious activity of God and salvation; His justifying an undeserving sinner we must understand from whence we came. He graciously bestowed His salvation on people who were formally enemies, violently opposed to God. Now, bless the Lord, we believers are at peace. We have His peace that only He can provide. We are at rest. In James' words, we are "friends" of God. We are accepted by Christ (Romans 15). We are beloved by God (1 Thess. 1:4). This relationship can only come about through the gracious activity of God for no good reasons in ourselves. Bless the Lord for His grace! Praise God for His grace! And with our sin, God didn't just wave His hand it poof! it was gone, or chose to say "I forget about it (or ignore or pass over)." But God did something to deal. That is the blessedness of our justification or our salvation.

Charles Hodge, a Book of Romans commentators, writes this about the peace of God upon our justification, "Peace is not the result of mere gracious forgiveness, but of justification. Having been declared righteous and holy. Of a reconciliation founded upon an atonement there was a death. There was blood that was shed. An atonement was made making it possible to save us. The enlightened conscience is never satisfied until it sees that God can be just and justifying the ungodly."

Our inner subjective enjoyment of what God has provided is based upon the objective activity of God. All of these things reconciled in His character and nature. He did something for us. He went to great lengths to save us to Himself. God solved the problem of sin. He paid the ransom that we owed. The righteousness we could not muster up, He granted to us because His Son, Jesus Christ, lived it out. Christ became the scapegoat on our behalf. Blessed grace of God in salvation!

I'm convinced that this world is filled with disfunction and depression in large part because they are seeking through elicit illegitimate means to mask the absence of peace and joy. "Let me stimulate myself. Let me medicate myself through drugs and alcohol." All of these things are elicit attempts to mask the absence of meaning, the absence of peace. That which only God can provide through His pure unadulterated pristine grace. Praise God! Another way to describe this is gross materialism. Gross materialism leads to boredom. You can't find enough money or things to make you truly deeply lastingly happy and content. Blessed God of grace that He has granted to us this salvation and has given us this peace with God, which leads to the peace of God.

Malcolm Muggeridge said this, "I can say that I never knew joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness. Or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries I am beholding to Jesus."

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In the next installment of The Grace Series I will be covering Romans 5:2 and discussing that since we are at peace with God, we are now standing secure in a state of grace.

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Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

Some of the less imaginative skeptics claim that the reason that NT scholars and historians do not lend support for more radical theories, such as the Jesus Myth, is that they are Christians or fear backlash from Christians. Such a purported cabal has not prevented many scholars from advancing theories that are nearly as contra to traditional Christianity, such as the Jesus Seminar's marking most of the Gospels' Jesus sayings as of dubious authenticity.

In an informed corrective to this idea, leading New Testament scholar Ben Witherington blogs about what he calls "Justification by Doubt." Far from feeling pressure to confirm Christian tradition, many scholars work "to demonstrate his or her scholarly acumen by showing not merely great learning, but how much he can explain away, dismiss, discredit, or otherwise pour cold water on." Witherington rejects the notion that critical scholarship must be skeptical scholarship. He believes that "[a] critical scholar is one who is capable of being self-critical and self-corrective, as well as being able to cast a discerning eye on this or that Biblical text."

Witherington concludes his post with this:

Historical enquiry requires data to be analyzed, not lightly dismissed or simply received. Skepticism is no more scholarly than gullibility. But they both have one thing in common—they are both faith postures, not critical stances.

I think it's beyond dispute that in order to conduct embryonic stem cell research, the embryo must be killed. While there are differences between embryos and fully developed human beings, embryos are undoubtedly an early stage of development of human beings. There is no question that they are living and that their DNA makes them, scientifically speaking, human beings. Those who see little problem with embryonic stem cell research do so on the basis that the differences between grown human beings and embryos are quite significant, and that these differences are sufficient to warrant treating the embryos as something less than a full human being. Let me give an example.

In a recent post on embryonic stem cell research, one of our readers challenged me in the comments section with the following scenario:

You're caught in a burning building, BK, and you are at a T junction with an exit sign at both. On the way out the door, you see that you can pick up:

a) a liquid N2 tank containing one million embryos
b) a toddler who is sitting on the floor crying for his mother in pain

What do you do, and why?

I think this is a legitimate question and I would certainly join him in acknowledging that I would save the baby over the tank of one million embryos. But the fact that I would do so doesn't prove that the human baby is more "human" than the embryos. You see, the question is flawed in several important ways.

First, the question assumes that I need to make a quick decision (in a burning building with time to only save the baby or the tank of embryos) and my first inclination is not always the same as the result of rational reflection. Whether I make the right decision needs to be determined later when we can rationally reflect on what I did and determine if I did the right thing when all factors are carefully considered.

Second, the question of which I would save isn't decisive over the "humaness" of the embryos, and the fact that I would save the crying baby instead of the embryos doesn't mean that the latter aren't human beings. Radio talk-show host Dennis Praeger has made the following observation: "The majority of American students I have asked since 1970 whether they would save their dog or a stranger have voted against the stranger." Does the fact that the majority of the students choose to rescue their pet mean that the pet is more human than the stranger? Hardly.

Third, a more compelling difference to save the crying baby isn't that the baby is more human but because humans have compassion. We would naturally respond to save the one who is crying over the ones who lack the ability to communicate their fear or pain -- if they feel fear or pain at all. Let me give a counter-example to illustrate what I mean. Assume the same situation, except the choices in the two rooms are as follows:

a. two toddlers who you you believe to be alive but which may be dead lying immobile,
b. a toddler who is sitting on the floor crying for his mother in pain

So, which do you save if you only have time to choose one? In my view, you save the one who is crying for one major reason -- it's beyond doubt that the child is conscious and feeling pain or fear. The others may be alive but the one that is crying is in the more immediate need. If the others are alive and allowed to die, they will probably die without any awareness of the pain caused by the fire, whereas the crying infant would certainly be aware and is already aware of pain and fear. Does the fact that a person would choose to save the one conscious child rather than the two unconscious children make the latter less human than the former? I don't see how it could be so.

Finally, if the problem is limited to showing the toddler is more human than the embryos, the analogy is flawed. If it's designed to be an analogy about stem cell research, it is even more hopelessly flawed because stem cell research doesn't present us with such a dilemma. It isn't a case of "experiment on these embryos or the child will die." In fact, there is no promise that experimenting on the embros (thereby killing them) will result in anything whatsoever. It may be killing the embryos for no purpose because nothing comes for the research.

There are alternative forms of stem cell research that are available but which don't present any ethical dilemmas because no one is killed in the process of acquiring adult stem cells. Additionally, adult stem cells have a proven track record of actually resulting in treatments that embryonic stem cell treatments do not have.

In the same vein, the killing of embryos may not be needed to get the same type of stem cells required for the embryonic stem cell research. New research suggests that the same type of embryos that we hope to get from killing embryos can be extracted from human adult testes without any death at all. These stem cells called multipotent adult progenitor cells, or MAPCs, have many of the same benefits that are believed to be available from using embryonic stem cells. According to the Science Daily article:

Athersys, Inc., a Cleveland-based biopharmaceutical company pursuing cell therapy programs in cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer and other diseases, funded the research in which previously frozen human or rodent multipotent adult progenitor cells, which the company calls MultiStem™, were thawed and injected directly into the brain.

Researchers believe that MultiStem™ cells are able to deliver a therapeutic benefit in multiple ways, for example by producing factors that limit tissue damage and stimulate repair, according to Dr. Gil Van Bokkelen, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer. In addition, MultiStem™ cells can safely mature into a broad range of cell types and can be produced on a large scale, something which should ease the move toward clinical studies and eventual clinical use. “Given the number of stroke victims each year, it would be a big step forward if a safe and effective stem cell therapy could be produced, conveniently stored, and efficiently delivered on a widespread basis. We believe that we can achieve that with MultiStem™,” commented Dr. Van Bokkelen.

In extensive animal testing, the mature stem cells have been shown to be safe, and do not form tumors or other abnormal tissue, a potential problem seen with embryonic stem cells. Furthermore, MultiStem™ cells generally do not require the close genetic matching between donor and recipient that is needed for a bone marrow or conventional stem cell transplant, according to company executives.

Given the ethical problems associated with the use of embryonic stem cells, its track record of providing no treatments, and the availability of altnerative sources for stem cell research that appear to provide nearly identical beneifts, there is no reason to push forward with this morally questionable research until it is determined that the benefits expected cannot be obtained from more morally neutral treatments.

Addendum (8/12/06): In addition to the MultiStem™ alternative, a news story was just released saying that mouse skin cells may also offer an alternative to embryonic stem cells. According to "Kyoto Univ. group makes cell breakthrough":

A Kyoto University research group has successfully generated a new pluripotent cell out of a mouse skin cell, which resembles an embryonic stem (ES) cell, it has been learned.

According to Thursday's online issue of a U.S. scientific journal, Cell, Prof. Shinya Yamanaka and Assistant Prof. Kazutoshi Takahashi have succeeded in creating the pluripotent cell, which they named induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell. The iPS cell has similar characteristics to ES cells, which can grow into tissues and organs.

Using an ES cell in medicine is ethically controversial, as it is extracted from an embryo. With iPS cells, there would be no ethical problems as it does not involve an embryo. If human iPS cells can be created, patients undergoing transplants could have new organs with the same genes as their own, clearing the problem of postoperative rejection responses, and without ethical problems.


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Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

A study presented to the American Psychological Association demonstrated once again the positive role religious faith can play in medicine. "The study shows less distress after heart surgery in people who lean on faith for comfort and support than those who feel spiritually angry or doubtful." Obviously, the less stress after heart surgery the quicker and more complete the recovery.

The team "studied 309 people due for major heart surgery at the University of Michigan Medical Center between 1999 and 2002." They were interviewed twice before their surgery and took a survey once afterwards to determine their coping styles. Those whose coping styles included "Finding forgiveness, spiritual support, and love in their religious beliefs" reported significantly less stress. Those who reported being angry at God or spiritually discontent actually experienced more stress.

Another study shows that patients want their doctors to discuss spirituality more often. "Evidence indicates that patients who are more spiritual or religious have lower mortality rates, reduced stress, and overall better physical and mental health. They typically require fewer health services." But, "[l]ack of spiritual training, unwillingness to depart from established medical arenas, and ethical issues are some of the reasons why doctors have avoided widespread spiritual discussion with patients." This is interesting and because doctors are more religious than some had previously believed, perhaps increased attention to a patient's spirituality should be encouraged among medical practitioners. Even if doctors themselves are reluctant to engage in it, increased use of chaplains and association with religious charities and volunteers may be a way to meet this need.

It is often said that the Old Testament contains little discussion about the afterlife. It is also often said that the earliest affirmative statements regarding resurrection occur only in the later books, such as Daniel. But in Ezekiel 37 there is a provacative discussion that Jews during Second Temple Judaism (4 Maccabees 18:17, 4Q Psuedo-Ezekiel) and even many today understood to be a reference to bodily resurrection. Ezekiel 37 paints a vivid picture of the author's being taken to a valley that is full of bones. The bones were "on the surface of the valley" and they were "dry."

Again He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones" .... So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling;and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath" .... So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.' "Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. "Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. "I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land.
It is easy to see why so many have taken this passage as referring to bodily resurrection. Indeed, it is more graphicly physical in its description than most discussions of bodily resurrection in Judaism and Christianity. If true, this would place a definitive statement about bodily resurrection all the way back in the 6th Century BC. However, although at one point many scholars accepted it is as such, presently "most scholars understand the vision of resurrection here to be a metaphor for national and political restoration, not about the resurrection of the individual.” Claudia Setzer, Resurrection of the Body in Early Judaism and Early Christianity, page 8. Such is the verdict of leading Christian scholars such as N.T. Wright and James Charlesworth.

This conclusion is likely correct. Note how Ezekiel refers to the bones as "the whole house of Israel" and referse to placing them "on their own land." But does that really end our inquiry into what Ezekiel 37 can tell us about early Jewish beliefs about the afterlife? And specifically whether it gives any indication of belief in bodily resurrection. As Jewish theologian Neil Gillman writes:

What remains suggestive about this text, however, is the very use of the metaphor of bodily resurrection for national regeneration. Whence and why this metaphor? Where did the prophet learn of that very possibility?
Neil Gilman, The Death of Death, page 74.

Wright adds his usuaul insight about this passage by noting why a valley full of unburied bones would have provided a good metaphor for the state of Israel at the time. "Of all the unclean objects an observant Jew might encounter, unburied corpses or bones would have come near the top of the list. That is the state, metaphorically, to which Israel has been reduced." Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, page 119. While this is true, it still does not explain, in my opinion, why Ezekiel would even think to use a metaphor of what is clearly the resurrection of the body to describe God's restoration of Israel. As Professor Setzer states, "metaphors cannot communicate if they have nothing to do with the way people think and live.” Setzer, op. cit., page 8. Metaphors typically use objects or events of familiarity to describe or explain the unfamiliar. This particular metaphor “would be meaningless in a context where afterlife is seen as an absurdity.” Id..

I do not think that this proves that bodily resurrection was a feature of Judaism at that time. But I think we should reserve judgment as to just when the idea permeated Jewish consciousness. The fact is that most of the Old Testament has little to say about the afterlife. And even what it does say may not tell us about the beliefs of all of the common people or of different sects. What happened to you when you died may have been more of a concern of the individual peasant rather than to the Prophets and Kings.

In reality, we know very little about when and how resurrection belief became a force in Jewish thought. Wright's Resurrection of the Son of God makes a case that is also well articulated by Rabbi Gillman, who writes:

It is equally conceivable that ... the idea of resurrection evolved within Israel as a thoroughly natural development of ideas deeply planted in biblical religion from the outset. If in fact, God created the world and humanity in the first place, if God is hte ultimate force Whose power extends over all of nature and history, if God can send Israel into exile and then redeem it once again, if God can renew the natural cycle each year, if God can, as Isaiah 66 promises, create 'a new haven and a new earth,' then why cannot God raise human beings from the grave?
Gillman, op. cit., pages 96-97.

In sum, the use of a vivid account of bodily resurrection as a metaphor for national restoration in Ezekiel 37 should give us pause before concluding that resurrection was necessarily a later development. At a minimum, it demonstrates that they were aware that God had the power, and perhaps a reason, to do such a thing. Thus, Ezekiel 37 may have been one more step in the natural development in realization that God intended bodily resurrection as the ultimate expression of ending the exile of man from God. Of course, it may also be true that Ezekiel 37 reveals the belief of some early Jews that bodily resurrection was a part of God's plan and thus made a good metaphor for national restoration.

In reading the latest missive from the Humanists News Network, I saw an interesting note about an atheist who lived among evangelicals as part of an upcoming Fox Television program called "30 days." In the introduction, the HNN article makes the following statement:

"Brenda" attended church and Bible studies with her "adopted" family and in turn introduced them to a local atheist group. She hopes her experience will help to dispel public misunderstanding of and prejudice toward atheists.

Prejudice toward atheists? I have never witnessed prejudice towards atheists, so I decided to search the web for evidence of this prejudice. I found no evidence outside of atheist-run websites, but what I read disturbed me. For example, on a webpage entitled "Discrimination Against Atheists: The Facts, the author listed five examples of acts of discrimination and prejudice towards atheists that were very, very troubling.

Gray, Tennessee: Carletta Sims joined a financial firm in June 2001. Shortly afterward, two Baptist coworkers took offense upon learning that Sims was an atheist. Management granted the coworkers’ request to be assigned workspaces further from Sims. When Sims complained about a picture of Jesus left on her computer, management discharged her. Sims filed suit, seeking $250,000; U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull ruled that “religious discrimination (or preferential treatment of Christians) can be inferred.” In January 2004, the major bank that had since acquired the firm settled with Sims for an undisclosed amount.

Ada, Oklahoma: A Baptist student told a local newspaper she wouldn’t take professor William Zellner’s classes because he was an atheist, triggering a flurry of abuse. Zellner received harassing notes and telephone calls, some threatening. His car was vandalized, for a time on a daily basis. A local church sold “I am praying for Dr. Zellner” buttons. His children experienced shunning and beatings from religious children.

Minneapolis, Minnesota: First-grader Michael Bristor, an atheist, was denied an honor roll certificate when he refused to participate in an unconstitutional “prayer time” at a public school. For three years, administrators ignored the family’s complaints until a lawsuit was filed.

Caro, Michigan: In December 2001, Anonka—an open atheist who maintains a museum of Christian religious atrocities—appeared before the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners to challenge a nativity scene placed on public land. Commissioners responded angrily, saying she had no right to be present and proceeding to ridicule her. Anonka and her family suffered repeated harassment including annoyance calls, threatening calls and letters, and vandalism. In February 2004, the county settled in U.S. District Court, agreeing to pay an undisclosed sum and to issue a “public expression of regret.”

Pocopson, Pennsylvania: My own atheism came to prominence when I became involved in a legal challenge to a Ten Commandments plaque on the wall of the Chester County, Pennsylvania, courthouse. Neighbors organized a shunning campaign, some area merchants refused to do business with me, and I received hundreds of threatening letters and phone calls. (The depth of public animus against me became a subject of local news and magazine coverage.) I was forced to close my interior decorating business because of death threats that compelled me to stop visiting the homes of persons unknown to me.

Calgary, Alberta: An eleven-year-old boy (name withheld) experienced daily physical attacks and threats against his life by schoolmates—notably the sons of three local pastors—after protesting intercom readings of the Lord’s Prayer in a public school. He was repeatedly body-checked into hallway walls and attacked in the rest rooms. One pastor’s son stalked him with a butcher knife in an empty portable classroom. Despite the seriousness of this incident, no action was taken. The boy’s parents transferred him to another school for his own safety.

Now, I personally think that this is horrible. I was expecting to find examples of people discriminating against atheists in such situations as not allowing them to be president of the local chapter of College Cuusades for Christ. In that situation, discrimination seems to me to be a perfectly rational act since having an atheist in charge of a local Christian organization designed specifically to reach out to the community with the love of Christ seems patently absurd. But these acts, if true (and I have no reason to doubt them at the moment other than the vagueness of dates and a lack of sources being listed) go beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior.

As a Christian, I condemn almost all of these actions by other Christians as being very unchristian and not at all how Christ would expect us to act towards others (the one exception being that I don't have much of a problem with the "I am praying for Zellner" buttons, if they were, in fact, praying for Zellner). I call upon the Christian community to remember that God calls upon us to love our neighbor, and beating, shunning, threatening, and other similar actions are not loving in any way, shape or form that I can see. I hope other Christians will do the same.

[This is the fourth part of a series on Richard Carrier's attempted rebuttal of J.P. Moreland's argument on Morality found in his book Scaling the Secular City. Carrier's original essay can be found here and the first part of this series can be found here, the second part can be found here, and the third part can be found here.]

Carrier’s Final Paragraph

In the paragraph which I have labeled RC4, Carrier makes his final argument in favor of his contention that humanism has as strong as a moral base as Christianity as follows:

Ultimately, the fact remains that secular humanists, by the very definition of 'humanist', love humankind -- whatever their reasons -- and this therefore stands as a reason to be moral equally as strong as the Christian's "love for God." One may even say that the secular humanist is on stronger ground here: for the love of God can lead to acts of immorality toward mankind, as exemplified by Abraham's willingness to murder his own son because of his love for God, whereas love for mankind would only produce moral acts toward mankind -- whether God were good or evil, or real or not. This is one of the fundamental and irreconcilable differences between the values of Christian theism and secular humanism: as a secular humanist, I see Abraham's action as thoroughly immoral. A moral response in that situation would be to rebuke God, since the very act of asking Abraham to kill his son merely to prove his own faith would in itself prove that god was evil, a tyrant, and god's standing as the supreme creator would not change the fact that his character was reprehensible.

Keeping the Context

Before proceeding further in to Carrier’s final argument (RC4), it is important to recognize some of the background for the argument. In RC1, Carrier makes the claim that the “Christian can offer no better reason to love God than the humanist can offer to love humankind.” As pointed out previously, Christians do have a very strong reason to love God -- Christians love God because (to use Carrier’s own words) of His “character and quality.” In the Christian view, God, being perfectly and totally just, good and merciful, is deserving of our complete and full love.

In RC3, Carrier follows up on this idea that humanists have as much of a reason to love as Christians by identifying the following reason humanists can hold to love humanity where there is no God or gods: humanists love “based on certain qualities they possess apart from how they feel or act torwards us . . . .” Carrier uses the analogy of a man’s love for his wife “because of who she is” and a person’s love for America because “of what it represents and what it has accomplished.”

The Big Assertion

RC4 begins with the following statement:

Ultimately, the fact remains that secular humanists, by the very definition of 'humanist', love humankind -- whatever their reasons -- and this therefore stands as a reason to be moral equally as strong as the Christian's "love for God."

Taking this statement at its face value Carrier is simply saying “we love humans because we do, and that’s equal to the Christians’ love of humanity arising out of their love for God.” With all due respect, it isn’t equal. As has been previously pointed out, Christians give their reasons for loving God based upon God’s perfect nature. Since God’s perfect “character and quality” gives us a strong basis for finding Him to be deserving of love, and since he asks that we show that love by loving our neighbors, there exists a much strong philosophical foundation for a Christian to love humanity. Compare that to the face value of Carrier’s statement that humanists love humans because that’s what humanists do. Certainly, the difference becomes quite obvious when viewed in that light.

God Is More Deserving of Love

However, Carrier doesn’t make his argument in a vacuum. Looking at RC4 in light of RC3 his argument becomes better -- but not much. Whatever reason you choose to love another person, God is more deserving of that love. If you love someone because of her justice, God is infinitely more just and therefore more deserving of that love. If you love someone because of his mercy, God is infinitely more merciful and therefore more deserving of that love. Thus, even if it were to be granted that these were sufficient reasons to love humanity, it would be incorrect to say, as Carrier does, that the basis for the humanists’ love is “equally as strong” as the basis for the Christian love of God. God’s perfect nature provides a much stronger basis for loving Him than for loving another human being.

From the Particular to the General

But I cannot grant that Carrier has made a case for loving humanity based on his examples. Granting that he has made a good case for loving one’s wife, does it follow that my love for my wife give philosophical warrant for loving all wives? Because I love my country, does it follow that I should also love all other countries, too? While I love my wife and my country, I don’t see where my love for a particular (my wife, my country) gives any type of sound philosophical basis for loving humanity as a whole. Carrier is making the error of moving to a general from a particular without any connection to show that such a move is warranted.

Why Choose Love Over Hate?

Moreover, while I love my wife because of who she is, I have hated other people for who they are. For example, I hate the BTK Killer because of the brutal acts he has perpetrated on other people. In other words, just as I love my country for the great things it has done, I hate the BTK Killer for what he has done. If Carrier is prepared to love humanity generally because he loves some of the people, why shouldn’t he hate humanity because he hates some of the particular people? Obviously, I am glad he has chosen to love humanity instead of hate, and I am certainly not advocating hating humanity because of the actions of people like the BTK Killer, but Carrier needs to provide some type of philosophical foundation for choosing to love over choosing to hate humanity. He has not done so.

Acknowledging the Undeserving Nature of Love

Additionally, what is there about humanity that makes humanity loveable in the eyes of humanists? Certainly, humanity as a whole has done great things, but humanity as a whole has also committed genocides and holocausts, polluted the environment, lied cheated, stolen, murdered, gossiped, and a million other things that make them unloving. So, what is it about humanity that makes them especially deserving of love? Carrier’s essay doesn’t provide an answer beyond “whatever” the reason. Obviously, to make the claim that the humanists basis for loving humanity is equal to the Christians’ basis, Carrier should provide some philosophical basis for loving humanity, but he really gives no basis for this love beyond his assertion that humanists love humanity.

Here is where Christianity differs markedly from humanism. Christianity doesn’t try to make the case that any single human or humanity as a whole is deserving of love. That’s what makes God’s grace so astounding -- despite the fact that we don’t deserve it, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die for us so that we shouldn’t perish, but have everlasting life. And it isn’t the result of any action on our part that God has given us this gift, but the Grace of God alone. We love others not because they deserve love, but because God, who is infinitely deserving of our love and devotion, desires that we do so. “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:21)

Love of God Leads to Immorality?

Carrier then tries to make the case that Christianity can lead to acts of Immorality toward mankind, while humanism would only produce moral acts toward mankind. In doing so, he cites the account of Abraham and Isaac, and points out that what God called on Abraham to do was, in his view as a humanist, patently immoral. Carrier’s argument fails on several grounds.

First, Carrier’s argument fails because God does not call us to do such things in the ordinary course of our lives. The rule is, has been and remains “love your neighbor as yourself,” and “love your enemies,” too. In other words, absent extraordinary circumstances, Christians are called upon to love their fellow humans fully and totally -- even to the extent of denying themselves.

Second, the example of Abraham ignores the fact that Abraham didn’t hurt Isaac and God knew that Abraham wasn’t going to harm Isaac. Thus, in the infamous words of the movies, no human beings were harmed in the making of this Biblical scene.

Third, it is a mistake to treat every account in the Old testament -- a time which God used to teach His people about His nature, His love, our failures, and His demands on each of us -- as somehow the rule of our lives. Certainly, the account of Abraham and Isaac was more about establishing a few central themes of the relationship between Abraham and his progeny and God -- including the teaching that child sacrifice would not be accepted -- then it was about establishing a rule that all Christians should engage in child sacrifice.

Fourth, there is a “greater good” element to the account of Abraham and Isaac that I would expect most skeptics like Carrier would accept if it didn’t involve God. After all, we all agree that lying is bad, but it is unlikely that anyone would disagree that it was the greater good to lie to a murderer about where his intended victim is hiding than to tell the truth. Likewise, it is likely that Carrier would even agree that killing another person would be appropriate to keep them from engaging in an act of greater harm. The difference between Carrier and the person who understands the account of Abraham and Isaac is that Carrier doesn’t understand how doing the will of God is the “greater good” in every circumstance.

Finally, with the arrival of Christ and the post-resurrection times, a change occurred in the relationship between God and humanity. With that change, the rule has become to love one another, love your fellow man, and even love your enemies. It would seek odd to expect that God, who is demanding that we love each other as the general rule, would be making exceptions to that rule with any regularity. In fact, I am aware of no time since the resurrection where God has ordered anyone to violate that rule.

Certainly, the account of Isaac and Abraham seems a bit strange to the outsider such as Carrier, but the simple fact is that there is nothing in the account that would lead someone to believe that God expects Christians to act immorally or unloving toward other people as a general rule, and certainly little to believe that it would ever happen at all in this post-resurrection Age of Grace.

Conclusion

Carrier has made an interesting assertion about the Moreland’s position on morality. Unfortunately, he has failed to back it up. He failed to show that Christians have no strong philosophical foundation for loving humanity, and failed to show that skeptics have an equally strong basis for loving humanity. In fact, his failure to show any philosophical basis for loving humanity by humanists is striking given his claim that the humanist basis is at least as strong as the Christian’s basis for loving humanity. Since Carrier has failed to make a discredit the first basis stated by Moreland for loving humanity, Carrier’s argument fails in its entirety.

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