CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I am not a big fan of Pastor Timothy Keller. I mean, I have read a couple of his books and there is nothing particularly wrong in what he has to say that I have seen, but for some reason his books have left me largely uninterested. But today, I came across an interview that he did with Nicholas Kristof of the Gray Lady where the aforementioned liberal/progressive op-ed columnist for America's Newspaper of Record decided to use Pastor Keller as the expert to ask his questions about the truth of Christianity around Christmastime. The article entitled "Am I a Christian, Pastor Timothy Keller?" was run two days before Christmas, and asked questions akin to, "Does everyone who does not believe the truth of the entire Bible go to hell?" and "Why aren't the Gospels clear or consistent on Jesus' resurrection?"

Over at Breitbart News, Charles Hurt read Kristof's article and interpreted it as an attack on Christianity by Mr. Kristoff on one of Christianity's biggest holidays. In an article entitled, "The Nuclear Option; The New York Times Trolls Christians -- on Christmas," Hurt first asks whether the New York Times would have the published a similar article raising questions about Islam's claims about Muhammed on Ramadan, concluding that it wouldn't do so either out of political correctness or out of fear of what happened to Charlie Hebdo. He then adds, "On Christmas Day this Sunday, The New York Times took the sacred opportunity of Jesus Christ’s birth to interview a Christian and basically pick apart the entire religion."

Personally, I don't share Mr. Hurt's viewpoint or his concerns. First, the questions Mr. Kristof asks, while sometimes loaded with assumptions, did not "pick apart the entire [Christian] religion." On the whole, the questions are quite reasonable when coming from the perspective of a man who does not share a robust Christian faith. Kristof is what I would call a nominal or cultural Christian. They are certainly no worse (and in many ways they are much better) than the types of challenges any Christian apologist faces on any skeptical bulletin board or in the answer to posts on blogs such as this one.

Moreover, when I read what Kristof, as a journalist, asks Pastor Keller, it reminds me of the the type of questions that Lee Strobel posed to the apologists in his best selling, The Case for Christ. Strobel's questions in that book grew out of his own search several years before when he was seeking to disprove Christianity. He asked hard questions, and found good answers to those hard questions. This was Strobel's journey, and it may be the start of Kristof's own journey.

If we complain, as does Hurt, that a skeptical journalist is asking hard questions, we should be ashamed. Christians have dealt with much worse than a series of loaded questions around Christmas. In fact, we should welcome the fact that the skeptical journalist actually chose to feature a pastor's responses to the tough questions. After all, most of the time the hit pieces against Christianity around the holidays are published without really consulting anyone who is actually a Christian. Oh, sure, they consult psuedo-Christians like John Dominic Crossan or authors of similar ilk who claim to be Christian but who are really working to destroy the Bible's credibility, but someone who believes the what the Bible actually teaches? That almost never, ever, ever happens. So I believe that Mr. Kristof's article is actually a good thing. If Kristof himself isn't effected by Pastor Keller's answers, maybe a skeptical reader will at least begin to recognize that Christianity is reasonable and not some alien philosophy entirely divorced from reality.

But what I found most perplexing and wonderful about the article was the title: "Am I a Christian, Pastor Timothy Keller"? Why in the world would Nicholas Kristof ask such a question? This is where I get back to Timothy Keller. As noted above, I'm not particularly a fan. However, his responses to Kristof nail it. His answers are brief, straight-forward and reasonable. And it is his answer that leads Kristof to ask the titular question in the first place. In the course of the conversation, Kristof asks a question that attempts to highlights the differences in the resurrection accounts, and the testimony of the Gospels that the people did not recognize Jesus at first when he made His post resurrection appearances. Kristof asks:

 As you know better than I, the Scriptures themselves indicate that the Resurrection wasn’t so clear cut. Mary Magdalene didn’t initially recognize the risen Jesus, nor did some disciples, and the gospels are fuzzy about Jesus’ literal presence — especially Mark, the first gospel to be written. So if you take these passages as meaning that Jesus literally rose from the dead, why the fuzziness? 
Keller, not a novice to this type of question, is outstanding in his answer when he says,
I wouldn’t characterize the New Testament descriptions of the risen Jesus as fuzzy. They are very concrete in their details. Yes, Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus at first, but then she does. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) also don’t recognize Jesus at first. Their experience was analogous to meeting someone you last saw as a child 20 years ago. Many historians have argued that this has the ring of eyewitness authenticity. If you were making up a story about the Resurrection, would you have imagined that Jesus was altered enough to not be identified immediately but not so much that he couldn’t be recognized after a few moments? As for Mark’s gospel, yes, it ends very abruptly without getting to the Resurrection, but most scholars believe that the last part of the book or scroll was lost to us.
Skeptics should consider another surprising aspect of these accounts. Mary Magdalene is named as the first eyewitness of the risen Christ, and other women are mentioned as the earliest eyewitnesses in the other gospels, too. This was a time in which the testimony of women was not admissible evidence in courts because of their low social status. The early pagan critics of Christianity latched on to this and dismissed the Resurrection as the word of “hysterical females.” If the gospel writers were inventing these narratives, they would never have put women in them. So they didn’t invent them.
The Christian Church is pretty much inexplicable if we don’t believe in a physical resurrection. N.T. Wright has argued in “The Resurrection of the Son of God” that it is difficult to come up with any historically plausible alternate explanation for the birth of the Christian movement. It is hard to account for thousands of Jews virtually overnight worshiping a human being as divine when everything about their religion and culture conditioned them to believe that was not only impossible, but deeply heretical. The best explanation for the change was that many hundreds of them had actually seen Jesus with their own eyes. 
Seriously, that is a masterful answer to give in such a short space. He first dismisses the editorializing by Kristof by pointing out that he rejects the characterization of the Gospel accounts as "fuzzy" but does so in a very low-key and respectful manner. He then acknowledges the problem Kristof identifies, but turns the alleged problem into a strength by noting how the willingness to show that the failure by some in the Bible to recognize Jesus immediately is an argument for its authenticity (using the criteria of embarrassment). He then points out that a person making up the Gospel in ancient Judea wouldn't have identified women as the original witnesses because of the culture of the time which again speaks to the authenticity of the accounts. Finally, Pastor Keller uses the question as an opening to give an introduction to point out that the very spread of the Gospel in such a culture would be unthinkable if the people didn't truly believe it had happened.

But then Kristof asks a rather odd question: He asks, "So where does that leave people like me? Am I a Christian? A Jesus follower? A secular Christian? Can I be a Christian while doubting the Resurrection?"  Why would he ask such a thing?

While the possibilities are endless, two ideas spring up: (1) Kristof sees himself as a Christian but does not agree that belief in the truth of the Bible is important, and (2) it is possible that Kristof has been touched by Pastor Keller's answer to the prior question.

On the first point, Kristof thinks of himself as a Christian, but he is not in any sense an orthodox Christian because he does not accept the central teachings of the Bible. In an article he wrote for the New York Times in September entitled "What Religion Would Jesus Belong To?", Kristof identifies himself loosely as Christian, but certainly no believer in the teachings that most evangelicals hold. He wrote:
This may seem an unusual column for me to write, for I’m not a particularly religious Christian. But I do see religious faith as one of the most important forces, for good and ill, and I am inspired by the efforts of the faithful who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters. 
Kristof's view, based upon this very brief comment when coupled with the longer conversation with Pastor Keller, shows him to be familiar with Christianity, maybe even claiming the mantle of Christianity, while not accepting the primary teachings of the faith like the Resurrection. He is what one might refer to as a mainline liberal church Christian - one who views the work done in the name of Christ as more important than the actual teachings of the Bible.

On the second point, Pastor Keller's assurance of the truth of the Gospel accounts have somehow reached Kristof. He has probably been living comfortably saying things like, "Jesus was a good moral teacher but the Bible cannot be trusted" on the basis of such slim arguments as "if Jesus was resurrected, why didn't the apostles recognize him immediately?" and "if Jesus was resurrected, why are the four Gospel accounts different on the details?" Pastor Keller took what Kristof had to say and turned it from a weakness into a strength. It may be that this was the first time that Kristof heard that reasons actually existed for believing the Bible accounts were true rather than just a myth, and Kristof may be wondering whether his brand of faith is sufficient to get him into heaven in this alternative (actually, orthodox) view of Christianity that Pastor Keller defends so well. Pastor Keller's response left no uncertainty:
I wouldn’t draw any conclusion about an individual without talking to him or her at length. But, in general, if you don’t accept the Resurrection or other foundational beliefs as defined by the Apostles’ Creed, I’d say you are on the outside of the boundary. 
What a tremendous answer. No, we are not in a position to judge the heart of any person, but if a person doesn't believe in the Resurrection or the fundamental teachings of the Church as reflected in the Apostles Creed, the Bible leaves little room for believing them to be in a right relationship with God and therefore a Christian. If only we would all be so clear and loving in all of our responses as we head into the New Year.

Our crew here isn't composed of people who have the same views about inerrancy; my own view has caused some dyspepsia among those with more, ah, fundamental views. But calling that doctrine a heresy is pretty extreme. Over the next two weeks I'll share a 2013 item I wrote about someone who does exactly that.


A reader requested that we examine the book The Ultimate Heresy by Rodger Cragun, which we will do in two installments over the next two issues. The peculiar stance of this book is that the concept of Biblical inerrancy is a heresy.
Cragun, not surprisingly, has more than a few problems with his approach and overall theory.

First, Cragun spends an inordinate amount of time -- about half of the book -- showing from the Bible itself that the Bible is never called "the Word of God, " and showing that the phrase, when used, refers to something else, like a single specific prophecy.

Really now.

For those who may have missed it, I discovered that without Cragun's help some time ago:

The Bible as "Word of God." KNM has insisted that Skeptics have "always" as their "underlining (sic) issue" whether the Bible is the Word of God. I have replied that this is not my own focus in argument; I concern myself rather with whether the Bible's contents are true, logical, or practical. If it is on all counts, then it being the "Word of God" is simply, as it were, a cherry on top, but contributes nothing new in utilitarian terms.

A relevant observation here is that designating the Bible to be the "Word of God" is itself a post-Biblical phenomenon. An apostle or prophet who heard that phrase would not have thought of a book, but rather, of the transcendant thoughts and words of YHWH. It could certainly have not meant the whole Bible prior to its completion and compilation, and when the phrase “word of God” is used in the Bible, it always means some specific prophetic utterance, or some message (like the Gospel).

This would of course include what is within the contents of the Bible; but as well, "Word of God" implies a universality of application that simply is not true of much of the text. In precise terms, for example, the book of Zephaniah could be said to report the words of God TO Zephaniah concerning judgment on specific nations. As I have noted many times, this is symptomatic of modern Sunday School lessons that strive mightily to make even books like Leviticus applicable to modern life -- which is a mistake.

In that respect, while we may not necessarily find it fruitful to abandon "Word of God" as a designation for the Bible as a whole, and I would not advocate doing so because of the confusion it would cause at this late date, it does represent an anachronism that should be clarified. In a proper technical sense, the collection we call the Bible represents two collections of covenant documents, and so "Old Testament" and "New Testament" are actually more precise and helpful than "Word of God".

And so, as I have told KNM, the concern should not be, "is the Bible the Word of God." More than that, it should not even be whether it is "from God," but rather, the more basic questions of whether it is true, logical, practical, and so on as applicable. The former way is a carryover, I suspect, of the work of well-meaning evangelists and teachers (like Billy Graham) who were accustomed to being able to invoke the Bible as "the Word of God" and get immediate respect and authority. It worked well for a time, but it no longer does. But if we show that the Bible is true, then one is able to open the door to the possibility that God’s messages have in some way been transmitted in the text as a medium.

To illustrate, one might say that this posting is the “word of JPH” or “from JPH.” But the truth of the post does not in any way depend on it being MY word, as opposed to that of, say, Tekton ministry associates like Nick Peters or “Punkish." If you decide my "word" here is true -- you can worry about whether it is from me later...or even not at all, if you choose.

Not that any of this matters, since it is hard to see what point Cragun thinks he is proving in the first place. While some modern preachers may use the shorthand phrase, "the Word of God," to refer to the Bible, only an infantile Christian would fail to see that to use this as an argument that the Bible is the Word of God is circular reasoning. Thus, in essence, Cragun spends about half his book knocking down an exceptionally infantile argument.

A far better "argument" for inerrancy -- though more of a common sense notion than an actual argument -- would be a syllogism Cragun presents all too briefly:
  • God is perfect.
  • What God thinks is perfect.
  • From that which God thinks He reveals to people.
  • What He reveals to people must therefore be perfect.
  • Unfortunately, Cragun doesn't deal with this syllogism except to dismiss it as, "Aristotelian logic." The last I checked, though, logic did not function only in Aristotle's presence. Nor did the Hebrews have their own brand of logic proffered by someone else. Notions like cause and effect were not inoperable in ancient Israel. So, what Cragun thinks is the point in his citing of "Aristotelian logic" is hard to say.

    In the end, Cragun's screed against inerrancy is a straw man. Even if the Bible was not inspired, it contains multiple truth claims that would remain to be evaluated and argued for or against. As we shall see next issue, however, arguing the virtues of individual passages is precisely one of the most difficult tasks for Cragun, and to that extent he is also using the shortcut of the designation of the Bible as the "Word of God" in much the same way as the fundamentalists he so decries.

    Another aspect of Cragun's case amounts to this, if I may dare to frame it in Aristotelian terms:
  • The Bible contains X horrible thing, and also some of these horrible things hurt my feelings or offend me.
  • Therefore the Bible is not inerrant.
  • Here again, however, robust failure is Cragun's chief methodology. The second half of the book contains many more examples than the first half, so we will save coverage of particulars for next issue. For now, let it only be said that in each case, Cragun ironically reads the Bible just like the very inerrantists he decries -- devoid of context and definition.

    We might also note an error from earlier in the book, one that exemplifies Cragun's ineptness as a researcher. In one place, Cragun makes the naive statement that, "Some of the bloodiest humanity's conflicts have been religious." [1] Really? In reality, religion has been behind very, very few wars. It was certainly not behind any of the major wars of the 20th century. Here, Cragun is like the ignorant stockbroker in Crichton's Timeline who has to be told that the Hundred Years' War wasn't religious, because everyone at the time was Catholic, and Protestants hadn't invented themselves yet.

    We should also mention another variation on Cragun's theme, which goes to the heart of why he thinks inerrancy is a heresy. Basically, he believes that inerrancy has caused people to enforce the Bible's horrible teachings, and indicates that if it were not for inerrancy, we wouldn't be doing intolerant things like opposing gay marriage. He also, rather foolishly, blames inerrancy for the creation of many divisions in the church. In this, Cragun has fallen for the naive approach of blaming the instrument for the acts of the person using the instrument. It does not occur to him that even a believer in an errant Bible can deem the Bible authoritative on select points. After all, even Cragun himself uses the Bible in an authoritative way to argue that it does not call itself "the Word of God." And so, Cragun's designation of inerrancy as a "heresy," even if correct, would be nothing more than a simple-minded band-aid solution that would shift, not erase, the problem that he alleges is occurring.

    A final point for this round is that Cragun tackles the sort of "inerrancy" that is also devoid of context, which we have previously condemned from authors as notable as Dr. Norman Geisler. How he would handle a more informed and contextualized rendition of inerrancy is difficult to say. The one thing we can say is that he is apparently too busy being offended to bother to look for alternatives.

    So, last night I got to be sexually violated in absolutely unspeakable ways.

    Fortunately, I was only dreaming. I have stress dreams which often turn nightmarish, eight to ten hours every night -- for about forty years now. I can wake up and deal with whatever I was dealt with living and maybe dying through the night before. I've had a lot of practice.

    But for very many people in the world today, and for vastly many more throughout all history, that living hell isn't a dream they can wake up from. It happens in their waking life (and also, I suppose, in their dreams). Maybe all their lives, for years or months or weeks or days, or decades, until they die.

    Christmas is for them, of course -- although when I say "of course", let me pause a moment to give cultural context: here in modern Western Civilization we might easily think "of course, whatever good Christmas means, it must be for victims of the worst injustice". But that expectation is a result of Christianity. When Christianity was born, when Christ was born, and for long afterward, and still today in many places throughout the world, the idea of the ground of all reality being messily born as a human to suffer with any victims of injustice, was and is a ridiculous concept. And moreover, people just had to accept, and within their beliefs today still often have to accept, that a lot of victims of injustice, maybe all of them in the long run, will never be saved in any meaningful way from what happens to them.

    But I didn't title this Christmas Day reflection "Christmas Is For the Victims of Monsters". Even though that's true, and I wanted to acknowledge that first.

    What I don't want, what I very much do NOT want

    is for Christmas to be for monsters, too.

    But I have to accept it is. Christmas is for the worst of monsters, too.

    When I talk about God saving evildoers, when I write technical articles (like earlier this week) about the assurance that God intends to save all sinners from sin, or about the assurance that God will certainly succeed in saving whomever He intends to save from sin, (or when I write about both, as I typically do) -- I'm not doing that because I have some kind of warm, fuzzy feeling for monsters of injustice.

    I want them to die the death. I want them to suffer and suffer hard before they die. I don't want them to suffer forever, simply because I don't want to be a monster like them, but if that happened one way or another I wouldn't be unhappy about it. Oh, did that guy who rammed a crowd of Christmas shoppers in Germany last week, spend a few hours dying of a gunshot wound to the gut? I haven't heard that he did, but no complaints from me if so. Merry Christmas, you wretched waste, and may you find out how truly great God is.

    I don't want Allah (as Christians call Him in Arabic) to be merciful and compassionate to evildoers. I don't want God to have {makrothumia}, maximum suffering-patience, for any vessels of dishonor that pour out destruction; much less do I want to consider {makrothumia} to be salvation for them. I don't want them to be reconciled by God through the blood of the cross, whoever they are, whether in the heavens or on the earth -- because if God reconciles them, how much more surely shall God be saving them into His life. And I don't want that. I don't want them saved from their sins. I don't care about that. I don't care if God's secret will is for them to be brought to do love and justice forevermore, even if they are devils -- especially not if they are devils, the worst of evildoers, doers of injustice, who use their power to abuse other people in the most unimaginably horrifying ways, scarring the bodies and minds and souls of their victims and enjoying every moment of the suffering they inflict on others.

    And hey, there are ways within Christianity that I could console myself and even rejoice, that Christmas isn't for them. Plenty of Christians do. Plenty of Christians will this morning, when we go to church for services. Christmas is for us. Not for them. Christmas is for good people, not for bad people. Christmas is for Christians.

    And I want to end here, because I hate those other people. I don't hate them so much that I will let my emotions knee-jerk me into attacking them -- or not so much, maybe a little. No, I hate them with a cold hatred. I know logically I have to go on, but I don't want to. The idea of them, of them, those monsters whoever they are being saved, offends me. I wouldn't vomit on them if their hearts were on fire, although come to think of it vomiting on them while their hearts are set on fire sounds like something I feel like I could get behind occasionally.

    But Christmas is for them, too. It isn't only for me. It isn't only for people I love. It isn't only for victims of injustice.

    Christmas is also for doers of injustice. Christmas is for the worst of monsters, too.

    And while I don't at all feel like saying that this morning -- if I don't, then what I had to suffer through last night will be wasted.

    Because when I say Christmas is for me -- sooner or later I have to remember, I'm a sinner, too. My injustices may not hurt people as extensively as other monsters, but I'm still a monster, too. I victimize people, too. In my own way, I'm like those people.

    And if I don't remember that, if I don't care to remember that, then I'm going to be reminded someday, one way or another, even into the eons of the eons if necessary. Just like them, those monsters over there that I hate.

    I'm in a position where, emotionally, I can stand to accept that, even if grudgingly. I sure don't blame people who, emotionally, can't stand to accept that yet. But then, I have no excuse not to accept it. I know how the logical math adds up. I know how all those obscure and difficult theological details add up.

    I hate knowing that sometimes. Because I don't want those people over there to be saved. But my advantages, such as they are, are not for my sake. And Christmas isn't only for good people, good little boys and girls, good mothers and fathers. Christmas is also for monsters.

    And I had better appreciate that, even if I sometimes, usually, can't appreciate it emotionally.

    Because I'm a monster, too. And the Christmas for me, the hope and assurance for me, is no less a hope and assurance for them over there, regardless of whether I want it to be for them or not.

    After all, there are plenty of people in the world who don't want hope and assurance for me, either. They don't see that God Most High loves me, too; gives His life eternally for me, too; suffers with me, too; intends to save me, too, and will surely succeed in that intention, too; goes the distance on the cross for me, too; was born in a manger to die on a cross for me and with me, too. That's foolishness at best to them, even blasphemy.

    I know better; I have more advantages. So I have less excuse than they do.

    But that doesn't make it any easier, emotionally, for me to accept. Not when I think about the horrors other people are always enduring. Not even when I think about the few little injustices I've had to suffer in my life.

    But Justice loves doers of injustice, too. Not their injustices, but them, themselves.

    God loves monsters, and pays for loving them, and pays for us, with us, in having to pay for His loving them.

    And pays for loving me. And pays for them, with them, whoever my victims of injustice are, for those victims having to pay for God loving me, too.

    He still would pay, and still would love me, however monstrous my injustices, for loving me as a child and not as a puppet or an illusion or a fictional story in His imagination or some theoretical possibility. He pays for making a world for me where I can live as a child, and not as a puppet or a bunch of bits ping-ponging impersonally around -- He pays when other people suffer because of that world He made for me, a neutral and impersonal field of reality where we, the persons, are free to cause effects, and so which goes about its impersonal business regardless of whether or how we persons are being affected or not. And He pays when I, the person who isn't a puppet, choose to add unjust effects into that reality.

    And He isn't going to throw me away or burn me up like trash, no matter how much other people may want Him to.

    But then -- I have to accept the logical corollary to that. I am only doing more injustice, and sinning against the truth, if I don't.

    The corollary is: He isn't going to throw away those other monsters either, or burn them up like trash. No matter how much I may want Him to.

    But some days, some holi-days, I have more trouble accepting that than others.

    If you, whoever you are, can't accept that either -- well, we can debate about it, but I don't really blame you. Believe me.

    But whoever you are, and whatever you've done in your life: God isn't going to throw you away, or burn you up like trash, either. No more than He will for me.

    He pays for the injustice you do, too.

    Even if I have trouble accepting that.

    Christmas Day 2016
    in a world of horror and injustice
    for which God pays
    and which even God suffers
    with us
    whoever we are
    whoever they are

    Jason Pratt

    According to Peter Boghossian, John Loftus, James A. Lindsay, Jerry Coyne, and others, the academic discipline known as Philosophy of Religion has no legitimate place in a modern secular university. Now our friend over at the Skeptic Zone blog, IM Skeptical, has joined their ranks. Taking a paper by James N. Anderson and Greg Welty, "The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argument for God from Logic," as emblematic for the entire discipline of Philosophy of Religion (or PoR), he proceeds to critique their argument and draw this grand conclusion: "It [theistic philosophy] is entirely based on theistic assumptions. It does not provide any assurance that those assumptions are true. Those assumptions are never properly justified."
    Now I certainly would not accept Skeptical's critique as valid. For example, he disputes Anderson and Welty's premise, "The laws of logic are necessary truths" on the grounds that, well, no one knows what is possible and what is not. A world in which logical truths are not necessary truths "would be," he says, "a world of chaos (by our standards), but does that mean such a world can't possibly exist? I don't know, and neither does anyone else, despite any claims to the contrary." But Skeptical's brash denial of the premise that logical axioms are necessarily true misses the point. The whole purpose for the philosophical notion of modal logic and possible worlds is to ascertain what may be possible or necessary according to the rules of logic. Clearly if there is any world at all that is "not possible," it's one in which the rules of logic do not hold!
    Given Skeptical's premise, then, he has no basis for asserting it, for the very reason that our world – according to his premise, not mine – may in fact be a world in which logical truths do not hold necessarily. We may think that arguments in which the premises are true and the conclusion follows from them are sound, when actually they are not – but of course that's just the sort of thing to expect of an illogical world. In an illogical world, what would appear chaotic ("by our standards") in a logical world might well appear logical instead. Propositions that are actually false would appear true, and vice-versa. In short: If logical truths aren't true in every possible world, there's no possible means of determining whether or not they are true in ours.
    Nor would I agree that all the arguments by theist philosophers of religion are "based on theist premises." Take Plantinga's now-famous "free will defense," acknowledged widely by philosophers theist and atheist alike as an effective response to the logical argument from evil: The free will defense is actually based on atheistic premises, as laid out by noted unbelievers such as Epicurus, Hume and J.L. Mackie. Plantinga merely points out that the set of premises supporting the argument from evil as a reductio ad absurdum are not, strictly speaking, logically contradictory, and therefore the reductio fails. He then proposes human free will as one possible reason God might have for permitting evil.
    But stepping back from Skeptical's atheistic world of logically impossible possibilities, and from the theistic world of plain old-fashioned logical possibilities, to the issue at hand: Skeptical's larger point seems to be that PoR, as practiced by Christian theists, amounts to a large and expensive exercise in question-begging apologetics. I don't think that's true but let's say he's right. I would think that if this were really the case, the various atheist, non-theist and non-Christian philosophers within the discipline of PoR could simply point that out, or at least could point out the many instances of question-begging. Indeed the discipline is largely dedicated to exploring just those sorts or arguments. Meanwhile, either religion is worth arguing or it's not. My message to the critics of PoR is this: If religion is not worth arguing about, then by all means don't argue about it. But if you argue about it, expect counterarguments. I say that only because it seems to me as if the atheist critics of PoR are more than willing to make grand pronouncements about religion being indefensible, but are not willing to defend those very pronouncements. Or at least I can imagine no other reason why they would be moving to do away with PoR in the first place.

    J. Warner Wallace (the popular "Cold-Case Christianity" apologist, who converted from atheism pretty late in his life), put out a Christmas post a few days ago: "Christmas is Christmas Because Jesus is God", which among other things serves as a quick link gathering to prior articles of his on how the Gospels report Jesus talking about himself (or about Himself, to put it in divine caps in English).

    Those are fine, although from a sceptical standpoint (as JWW is well aware, but not everything can be covered in a short internet post, or even in multi-volume tomes!) the more salient way to put it would be: "Even if the Gospel authors weren't, in various ways, just making up what Jesus said and did concerning himself, and those reports are accurate to that extent," which of course most sceptics are going to be highly sceptical about, JWW included once upon a time, "Christmas is Christmas because Jesus did a good enough job convincing enough people that he was divine in some way, maybe even the Jewish version of the greatest of gods somehow, for his movement to keep growing against various difficulties and against various competitors until it could latch solidly enough onto Imperial authority (after two or three starts) and continue on from there."

    This summary wouldn't be accounting for the prevalence and survival of Christianity (even high-Christology Christianity) outside of Imperial support at various times and for long periods after Constantine (or after Theodosius at the end of that century, since the Imperial court and military preferred a low-Christology Christ for most of the 300s after Constantine and even during much of his reign); but that could be factored in somehow. The point would be that even if Jesus said and did some things, which have been accurately enough reported, doesn't mean we should necessarily believe those things are true.

    But 'Jesus said it, therefore...' isn't really the point of JWW's article. His point, although he doesn't go into detail about it, is that the idea is important -- and what Jesus said and did is how we got that idea.

    "But why is that idea important? What would it matter really, if some kind of god visited Earth and walked around on it and taught and then left again? That would be interesting, but why important beyond interesting?"

    This is partly answered by how much of a god or what kind that Jesus is supposed to be. Is he a human or what we might today call an alien given power and authority by a higher god (and how much of a higher god)? -- or a manifestation of the totality of divine reality which any and all of us also are? -- or what today we might call a super-powered alien sent by a race of other such creaturely gods which we ourselves might someday turn into? -- or a broadcast signal of sorts from the ground of all reality? Those could all be pretty important in their own ways (somewhat differing, somewhat overlapping in importance.)

    And, those ideas were all being debated in the centuries since Jesus up to the time of Constantine -- and afterward! But there was another idea, too, that claimed originality back to Jesus' ministry, through his chosen successors. It was rather a more complicated idea than its competitors, at least in how its theology worked out, but as the British convert and journalist Chesterton once wrote, its complexity (for those who accepted it) was that of a key that fit a lock.

    The idea's complexity amounted to this: that the one and only ultimate ground of all reality isn't an impersonal force, or even an only impersonal Reason, or even only a personal Authority, but a mutually supporting interpersonal relationship: love and justice essentially, not as an emotional reaction on one hand and a legal status on the other, but as rational action fulfilling cooperative togetherness between persons --

    -- and this basic reality of self-sacrificial love acted, and still acts, to self-sacrificially create realities other than itself (or Himself, or Themselves) --

    -- and since to create a not-God field of reality where creaturely souls can be grown, inconveniences and rebellions and injustices may also happen, this most foundational of Reason self-sacrificially and voluntarily shares the suffering of our troubles. Not only sharing some of our suffering, but all of it, together in solidarity with all conscious creatures across all time and space of this created reality.

    And this ultimate authoritative Reason shows us this by doing small, and close up, once and for all, what the Reason is always doing, by voluntarily suffering our life with us, from messy birth to messy death -- and beyond.

    Now, one big complaint against this idea, was that it would be unseemly, dishonorable, unfit, for the greatest authority, the greatest power, the foundational reality itself, to do this. For Jews (who agreed that the Reality was personal and active) it would be blasphemy; for Gentiles (who tended to deny the foundation was either logical, being chaos instead, or acted in any way if rational) it was foolishness. Beyond even that blasphemy and foolishness, was the attractive claim that the moral authority of all reality would sacrifice itself in unseemly dishonor, in birth from a woman and by death from crucifixion, not merely as a demonstration of solidarity (a solidarity itself blasphemous and foolish), and not merely to save this Authority's loyal supporters (which would make some sense although not by such a method), but to actually save this Authority's enemies! That idea was completely insane to its opponents -- insane, and attractive, and worse for being attractive.

    But also important, if true, and uniquely important. No one else was making the claim; not before (except somewhat vaguely in Jewish religious history perhaps), and not afterward. Various distant parallels could be fadged up, or turned out, but not this total claim, this total idea.

    The idea of the ultimate Good of interpersonal love sacrificing Himself to save His enemies, wasn't unseemly to the trinitarian Christians, nor to the proto-trinitarians hashing out ideas and implications in the years before the Council of Nicaea. For them, as exemplified by Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, what would be unseemly to the last degree, would be for God to finally lose any creature to evil.

    Athanasius wrote about this often, but focused on it in his short book, On the Incarnation of the Word. By modern standards it's a curious apology for the Incarnation of someone and something no less than the foundational ground of all existence: while he has scriptural references (from sources that his Arian Christian opponents also accepted), and some metaphysical arguments (based on Platonistic philosophy, also accepted and strongly appealed to by his Arian opponents, which the intellectual non-Christians of his day would have also respected); Athanasius also launches a protracted argument throughout the text's short chapters, about the ideas at stake in accepting or rejecting the fully human birth and fully human death of the foundational ground of all reality -- a concept that Plato and Platonists (other than trinitarians) would necessarily regard as unseemly nonsense, as did the Arian Christians for example. (From the perspective of the Arian party, they were not only being more faithful to the New Testament and Jewish scriptures, but also being more consistent Platonists; their trinitarian opponents critiqued and opposed Platonism too much, despite respecting Plato and his successors.)

    Athanasius appeals to principles foreign to modern thought, which makes it hard to translate his gist for modern readers. But I'll take a stab at it (working from the classic English translation of Schaff, among a few others). His claims are just as relevant to the meaning and importance of Christmas, as to Easter: for Athanasius, the bodily birth and the bodily death and the bodily resurrection of the Messiah, were all historical expressions of one historical action, in human history a few centuries prior not merely in human myth, by God Most High, the ultimate Reason, the ultimate Morality, the ultimate Authority, the ultimate ground of all existence -- a ground of interpersonal love among the Persons of God self-begetting and God self-begotten.

    This Incarnation happens, not only for the Persons of God to honor each other, but (OIW 1) so that the same ultimate Reason-Foundation, the Logos, Who created the world would save the world He created. (I'm citing chapters from Ath's OIW as I go.)

    Save the world from what? From certain results of rebellious choices inflicted on the world by the creatures created by God. And not only human creatures; for (OIW 3) all rational beings (including angels or minor gods) bear the stamp of the image of Word, and share in the rationality of Word -- an important statement connected to the supreme deity and grounding of both Jesus and of what kind of God Jesus is being identified with. Rebel angels aren't the product of some other ground of reality, nor of some subcreator, but like all creatures they have been created and still are sustained in existence by God Most High. Any rational creature, whether angel or human, may become "logikoi" and so continue forever in the blessed life, the only true life, of the blessed in paradise.

    However, when a rational creature chooses to act in rebellion against the one and only ground of its existence, this sin naturally tends the sinner toward non-existence, annihilation. (OIW 4)

    Why don't rational creatures thus poof out of existence once they rebel? That can only be because God actively chooses to keep them in existence anyway.

    Why would God do this? After two thousand years of Christianity, we might think obviously this would be due to the gracious charity of God; but in the day of Athanasius, that was not an obvious answer. The natural expectation was that either the ultimate Reason (if there was one, instead of ultimate Chaos) wouldn't act at all, including to keep rebels against it in existence; or else that the Reason would choose to let rebels go out of existence as unfit to live in Reason's perfect reality -- or God might actually agree, perhaps after giving rebels a chance to repatriate, to wipe them out of existence. At best, God could be expected to sequester away the worthless rebels who dared, in their ungratitude, to stand against His authority.

    But Athanasius argues differently. "It were unseemly," he argues instead in OIW 6, "that creatures once made rational, and having partaken of the Word [by being created in the image of God], should go to ruin, and turn again toward non-existence by the way of corruption. For it were not worthy of God's goodness that the things He had made should waste away, because of the deceit practiced on men by the devil [the first and greatest rebel against God].

    "Especially it was unseemly to the last degree," he emphatically continues, "that God's handicraft among men should be done away, either because of their own carelessness, or because of the deceitfulness of evil spirits."

    So what was God supposed to do? -- if He allowed the corruption of their own rebellions to prevail against them, what profit would there have been to make them to begin with? "For better were they not made, then once made, left to neglect and ruin! For if He allows His own work to be ruined once He has made it, this would reveal weakness, and not goodness, on God's part -- moreso than if He had never made mankind at all. For if He had not made them, He could not be accounted weak; but once He had made them, and created them out of nothing, it would be most monstrous for His work to be ruined before the Maker's eyes. It was, then, out of the question to leave men to the current of corruption; because this would be unseemly, and unworthy of God's goodness."

    In other words, for Athanasius and similar trinitarian Fathers, it would be an ultimate dishonor to God for any rational creature of God to be finally ruined, even by the creature's own rebellion.

    This leads to the importance of the Incarnation of God, His birth as much as His death as Jesus Christ (OIW 8-9, with pickups from the end of chapter 7). The Logos, the living action of God, undergoes corruption with us as the Messiah, delivering His body to corruption on behalf of all sinners, all those subject to corruption, so that none of the rationalities would finally perish that the Logos, the foundational uncreated Reason, had called into existence, and God's work should not be in vain. All those for whom the Son dies, therefore, shall have death disappear from them eventually as chaff is devoured by fire, this fire being the eternal life of God. The goal of this fire, when expressed as punishment, is to drive back to incorruptibility the persons who have turned to corruptibility. As Christ returns to bodily life, transforming the body of His death by His own fully divine life, so shall He bring back all for whom He dies, having shared their deaths with His absolute and total humanity, so that all may have life.

    When Athanasius (and similar patristic authors) is stressing the full humanity and full deity of Christ, distinguishing between the two natures, this is why he stresses the distinction between them as well as their cooperative unity. If Christ is only a projection of God from God, then God Most High is not sharing our life in solidarity with us. If Christ is not God Most High, then God Most High is not sharing our life in solidarity with us (only some lesser lord or god). But if God Most High acts to share our life and death with us, then that has a radically important meaning about God's intentions toward even His own enemies.

    And Athanasius repeatedly emphasizes (continuing on into OIW 10 for example) that Christ's total humanity must include living and dying and rising again to bring the whole human nature -- the total nature of each human person, and the totality of all human persons -- to restoration; and this result is guaranteed by Christ's own power (not merely the power of the Father but the Son's own inherent power as the one and only God Most High) in raising Himself from the dead along with, sooner or later, all humanity. In this sense, Athanasius quotes St. Paul's 1 Corinthians 15:21-22: just as all persons die in Christ, so all will have life in Christ, which Athanasius says means the general resurrection of the evil persons as well as the good. Athanasius also connects this idea to Paul's statement at 15:33 on the final eviction of death from all those raised by Christ.

    This must be the aim and effect of Christ's sacrifice (the whole Incarnation being such a sacrifice), according to Athanasius (OIW 13): so that death might be destroyed once and for all, thus persons might be renewed according to the image of God.

    Even in the abyss and hades (Athanasius stresses in OIW 16 and 45), Christ brings the knowledge of God, which Athanasius always connects with salvation. God does not stop short with even dying, but (OIW 19) Christ submitted Himself to corruption as the {Sôtêr Pantôn}, Savior of All, so that corruption may disappear from all persons forever, thanks to the resurrection. This payment through God's own death as Christ, for everything that everyone owed, was a glorious deed truly worth of God's goodness to the highest degree, having {katorthôsas} rectified {panta ta tôn anthrôpôn} all things of humanity by means of His power, having died for the sake of all {huper pantôn} (using Paul's phraseology there). This also involves Christ setting right the neglectfulness of all people by His teaching.

    In the body of Christ (OIW 20), the death of all persons took place -- Christ voluntarily shares in that death by being born with us and dying with us. Athanasius acknowledges that all men, as doers of injustice, were already paying by their (by our) sin, by dying from sin into annihilation; so a farther price has to be paid by the Son, as Christ, out of God's love for all men. But because the Logos Himself, and no lesser lord or god, was there in this act, death and corruptibility have been and shall be completely abolished.

    So it was that in Christ's body, born to live and die with us, two miracles were accomplished at once: that the death of all persons was fulfilled in the fully human body of the fully divine Lord, and that death and corruption were (and shall be) wholly done away by reason of the Logos Himself Who was united with all rational creatures by living and dying with us; dying and then rising as the first-fruit promise of the resurrection of all.

    For there was need of death (Athanasius continues), and so death must necessarily be suffered on behalf of all that the debt owed by all might be paid. Thus Christ took on a mortal (dying) body that He might offer it as His own, and suffering on behalf of all in the stead of all, through His union with the body, bring to nothing the one who has the power of death, namely the devil, who subjects other rebels all their lifetimes through their fear of death. (In Athanasius' logic, the devil must be restored at last, too, but the salvation of all human beings must come first; for as long as another creature remains slave to the first rebel, he can delude himself that he has become like God. The salvation of all humans from sin, abolishes the power of the devil thereby.)

    Athanasius talks so often about the importance of Christ's full humanity, in suffering and dying for all sinners, that in chapter 20 he dryly quips an apology that he's going to talk about it again (after having just talked about it, again, in chapter 19) lest his audience gets bored with the repetition! But he knows from experience that he has to hammer this point, because people insist on expecting Christ to have died for less than all humanity, and in the logic of the proto-trinitarians (also of many of them after Athanasius) that restriction would at best open Christ to the possibility of being less than God Most High. The same would be true for the charge that Christ eventually fails in saving any sinner He intends to save from sin.

    Both those assurances, though often one or the other have been denied by trinitarians, are for Athanasius the true practical importance of the doctrine of the Incarnation: those assurances are what the cross is all about, and what being born as a baby from a woman is all about. Otherwise, it's at best a technical religious doctrine, be it right or wrong, like any other religious doctrine.

    And this gets back to the unseemliness of orthodox claims in the eyes of their opponents, in the early Christian centuries. After reiterating in OIW 21 that apart from the grace of God, rebellion against God (sin) leads eventually to non-existence and annihilation; and after reiterating that Christ suffered and died in the place of all persons (as he has done so often already that he apologized in the previous chapter in case his audience was getting annoyed at the repetition!); Athanasius addresses again the expected objection that a public crucifixion, of all things, is shameful and so unworthy of God -- being born of a woman would be no less shameful in their ideas of God. "One might say, why then, if it were necessary for Him to yield up His body to death in the place of all, did He not lay it aside as a man privately, instead of going as far as even to be crucified?!"

    But the public dishonor and injustice of Christ's death, and life, though Himself full of honor, and indeed the source of all honor, was the point. In order to come to trust God, we must come to realize how far He's willing to go to share our sufferings with us, whether we are suffering because of other people's injustices, or are suffering because we ourselves have been unjust. Justice Himself suffers with the unjust to save the unjust; and not to save them from immediate physical death, for He dies that, too, so far as to die on a cross. Physical death is present before, during, and after Christ's sacrifice; the destruction of spiritual death must take priority. (OIW 27) Athanasius acknowledges (in his finale) that those who do good will have the Kingdom of the Heavens at the second manifestation of Christ when He comes in triumphant glory, while those who do injustice will have the outer darkness and the eonian fire; but He comes in glory to bestow upon all persons the fruit of His cross, resurrection and incorruptibility, which is part of His judgment of all people according to the good or evil deeds they performed while in the body. Christ thus comes, and shall come, in His goodness and love (Festal Letter 3.4.8-9) to bring fire onto the earth in order to burn away all evilness from all persons: because He wants the repentance and conversion of the person rather than the death of the person.

    The ungrateful suffer this as punishment in the fire prepared for the devil and his angels -- but they don't suffer that alone either. The ultimate Judge of justice dies on the cross along with them, too. Even the bonds that cannot be broken (referring apparently to the {aidios} chains binding rebel angels, in Athanasius' Rescrip. ad. Lib), can and will be broken by God to set them free; for not only all humanity but the rebel angels need the grace of the Logos to be saved (Ep ad Afr 7).

    Athanasius stresses this in his argument against Arius, too (in column 1081 of the Adv. Ar.): the reason the Logos Himself takes up human flesh, is to liberate all persons {pantas anthrôpous} and resurrect {pantas} all of them from the dead and ransom all of them from sin; to set free {ta panta} the totality of all in Himself, to lead the cosmos to the Father and to pacify {ta panta} the totality of all in Himself, in heaven and on earth. Even the rich man in hades (of Jesus' parable in GosLuke 16) shall repent in the final judgment by the aid of Christ; for Christ has died for all to abolish death with his blood and has thereby gained all humanity; the totality of people has entered into Christ's humanity so that every person shall be saved (Festal Letter 27.19-24). In the full humanity of the Incarnation, the love of God does not only address those already morally perfect (if there were any), but descends among those who are in a middle and even a third position, in such a way as to redeem all human beings to salvation (Festal Letter 10.4.8-9).

    Now, I don't personally agree with Athanasius' Platonic rationale (involving perfect forms and ideals) for all rational creatures being taken up by the Logos in the Incarnation; but I recognize the points of it, and I respect that he was deploying it for purposes of emphasizing the total humanity of Christ -- over against non-trinitarian and non-Christian Platonists! Athanasius is saying that there is a total humanity beyond the mere humanity, so to speak, of any human creature; a total humanity that only God Most High Who created all humanity could achieve, and not any creature whether human or super-angel. A mere demiurge might assume all characteristics of humanity, thus all human nature in that limited extent; but only God Most High, from Whom all spirits must come, can and does connect all humans and indeed all rational creatures, and so bring that connection into the full humanity of His Incarnation.

    You could put it this way, that Athanasius wasn't only saying, "Our Christ is more of a God than yours," he was also saying, "Our Christ is more fully human than yours, in a way that only God Most High could make Himself be."

    The Arians regarded that as unseemly; the Gnostics regarded that as unseemly; the non-Christian Platonists regarded that as unseemly; the non-Christian Jews regarded that as unseemly.

    But Athanasius regarded the loss of even one soul from God's salvation of sinners from sin, as unseemly to the highest degree: so much so, that the dishonor of the birth and the dishonor of the death of Christ was worth nothing compared to the honor of that salvation, of bringing all who dishonor God to finally honor God instead.

    That honor, is why Christmas is worthy of honor even today. That honor, is why we honor the birth of Christ -- even when we don't know exactly what day to honor it on.

    That honor, is why the birth of Christ will always, even in mythical meaning, matter vastly much more than the birth of any lesser lord or god; and why the birth of Christ will always matter vastly much more, even in historical meaning, than the birth of any other man.

    That honor is why no Christian who understands the meaning of Christmas (even when we dispute about whether both gospel assurances are true or whether one or the other is false) will ever be impressed with any number of vaguely distant parallels -- much less with any number of vaguely handwaved non-parallels!

    Nor should any non-Christian really. Believe it or don't believe it, but be clear about what you're rejecting: it isn't something just like a bunch of many other things. It is what it is, in all its complex glory.

    And there is an end, a consummation and a fulfillment, to it.

    In honor of Christmas week

    once again, 2016

    Jason Pratt

     Atheists often resort to the question "who created God?" when theists ask the origin of the universe, the theist says "God doesn't need a cause he's eternal." The atheist then says "so is the universe so there's no difference." There is a vast difference.
    But how to prove that? Failing proof we can at least understand why God and the universe are on a different par, that is what the tie breaker does. The issue was couched in terms of brute fact. The universe is a brute fact, if it is not created by  by God, but God cannot be a brute fact. The tie breaker is the basic difference. The essential difference is summed up in the old existentialist distinction of Jean-Paul Sartre between being-in-itself vs. being-for-itself. Within that framework we are looking at God as the origin of both being and love.

    God is not the result of any  purpose higher than himself, but that doesn't mean he is bereft of purpose. Just as God is the final cause of all causes so God is the ground of  all purpose,will, and volition, There is a link between  love and being such that God's nature as the ground of being also makes him the ground of love. This means God has purpose thus is not a brute fact. Everything begins with God and thus God is the source of Love. Modern secular thinkers try to truncate reality and argue that love is just a nice little emotional feeling that is caused by brain chemistry. Love is much more, Love is an ontological reality that transcends any emotional feeling. Paul Tillich writes about the ontological basis of love and he finds that it is neither limited to nor can leave out the emotional aspect. He finds that there is a clear relationship between Being itself and love.[1] 

    Tillich's version of ontology is very Heideggerian. Ontology is not  a description of things in the world but a reflection upon the nature of what it means to be. Primordial being is one thing that becomes diversified and forms qualities such as power and justice which are offshoots or aspects of love. Love is a reunification. Travis Pickell explains:

    This means that he grounds his understanding of the relation between love and justice (and power) in an analysis of how each concept relates to “Being itself.” Love is basically a drive toward reunion of what has been separated from an original unity of being (25). Power is being “realizing itself with increasing intensity and extensity” (35). Justice is the “form” adequate to being in reunion, i.e. love (62). Given this method, which presupposes an original unity of everything in “Being itself,” it is not surprising that the basic relation between love and justice (and power) is a “unity.”[2]
    Ontology seeks to reveal the texture of being,what it means to be, not detailed analysis of all beings. [3] In the reunion of being and love we can sense a passion of creativity that seeks to bestow being as an act of love. Thus God's creativeness is not a lack in God but an act of love itself. The question of what it means to be raises the question of human finitude in the face of the infinite, Hans Urs Von Balthasar asks these questions. The common human tendency is to think God created because he needed something. Balthasar is hinting, I think, that God creates because its his nature as being to foment more being.In other words, its creative and God is Creative. It is not for God’s need that he creates but for what will become our need once we are created. In other words, God created us so that we can enjoy being, not because he needed us because once a part of being we would need and would be fulfilled in the need by love.

    No Philosophy could give a satisfactory response to that question [why did infinte create finite?] St Paul would say to philosophers that God created man so that he would seek the Divine, try to obtain the Divine. That is why all pre Christian philosophy is theological at its summit. But, in fact, the true response to philosophy could only be given by Being himself, revealing himself from himself. Will man be capable of understanding this revelation? The affirmative response will be given only by the God of the Bible. On the one hand this God, creator of the world and of man, knows his creature. “I who have created the eye do not see? I who have created the ear do not hear?” And we add who who have created language, could not speak and make myself heard?” This posits a counterpart: to be able to hear and understand the auto-revelation of God man must in himself be a search for God, a question posed to him. Thus there is Biblical theology without a religious philosophy. Human reason must be open to the infinite.[4]

    Notice how he capitalizes “B” in being and refers to being as “himself.” He personifies being and clearly speaks of it as the creator.

    Balthasar sees the understanding of the revelation of “being himself” (my phrase based upon his) to humanity as rooted in the most fundamental human relationship. He says, “the infant is brought to consciousness of himself only by love, by the smile of his mother. In that encounter the horizon of all unlimited opens unto him.”[5] What he means by that is it is only through being por soir, for itself, in other words, consciousness, that we are able to comprehend the infinite and that only in contrast to the finite. Before we can do that, however, we have to become aware of ourselves so we can know we are finite. I think he’s making an implication that love is a link to being itself, and that through our encounter with love, the mother, we encounter the father, so to speak—by way of encountering love. We can see this in four truths that Balthasar finds rooted in this encounter:
    (1) realizing that he Is other to the mother, the only way the child realizes he loves the mother; (2) love is good, therefore, being is good; (3) love is true, therefore, being is true; (4) love evokes joy therefore being is beautiful.[6] Notice the link between being and love. He is one of the rare theologians to point out this crucial link.

    The one, the true, the good, the Beautiful, these are what we call the transcendental attributes of being, because they surpass all the limits of essence, and are coextensive with Being. If there is an insurmountable distance between God and his creature, but if there is also an analogy between them which cannot be resolved in any form of identity, there must also exist an analogy between the transcendentals—between those of the creature and those in God.[7]

    In this quotation he as much as equates being and God, since he speaks of the attributes of being then connects the understanding of these to the link between God and the creature. There is more to be said about Balthasar based upon this observation and it will figure importantly in two more chapters, including the last one, and the over all conclusion.

    John Macquarrie, another major Theologian who asserts that God is Being itself, calls God "primordial being.' He speaks of Being as "letting be." God's creative nature and his creative acts are summed up in this phrase. God's act of creation is an expressionism of his loving nature.[8] Macquarrie understands the Trinity, not as a modality, but as diversified functionality within primordial being (creator=father = primordial, Son = revelatory, Spirit= Unifying).[9]

    Tillich discusses a historical tradition in philosophy in which an ontological aspect to love has played a role. "...from Empedocles and Plato, to Augustine and pico, to Hegel and Schelling to existentialism and depth psychology Love has placed a central ontological role."[10] That brings us to Sartre's concept of being por soir (being -for-itself).  That's not about love but it's a framework in which God's purpose might be be understood (to the extent that we can understand anything about
    God). God as being itself means God is the basis of all that is, God is the ground or the foundation of all being. We might understand it this way: to be is either to be God or to be a creature of God; all being is bound up with God. Being has two aspects, in itself which  is inanimate, and or itself which is conscious. Human beings are part of being-for-itself,

    About these two aspects Flynn says:

    Being-in-itself and being-for-itself have mutually exclusive characteristics and yet we (human reality) are entities that combine both, which is the ontological root of our ambiguity. The in-itself is solid, self-identical, passive and inert. It simply “is.” The for-itself is fluid, nonself-identical, and dynamic. It is the internal negation or “nihilation” of the in-itself, on which it depends. Viewed more concretely, this duality is cast as “facticity” and “transcendence.” The “givens” of our situation such as our language, our environment, our previous choices and our very selves in their function as in-itself constitute our facticity. As conscious individuals, we transcend (surpass) this facticity in what constitutes our “situation.” In other words, we are always beings “in situation,” but the precise mixture of transcendence and facticity that forms any situation remains indeterminable, at least while we are engaged in it. Hence Sartre concludes that we are always “more” than our situation and that this is the ontological foundation of our freedom. We are “condemned” to be free, in his hyperbolic phrase.[11]

    That in itself is the tie breaker, the universe by itself apart from God is merely being-in-itself, God is being-for-itself. That entails purpose which is creative love. The eternal necessary foundation of all being has a volition and a purpose which to create beings to love. Thus God and a hypothetical accidental universe are on different ontological levels.

    That is the Answer to The Question  Who created God? Being-for-itself did. There has to be av stopping point to causes. With God as that stopping point there is purpose and with the universe there is not.


    [1] Paul Tillich, Love, Power. and Justice: Ontological Analysis and Ethical Applications. London. Oxford, NewYork: Oxford university Press, 1954, 18-21.

    [2] Travis Pickell, "Love and Justice 4: Tillich's Love, Power and Justice," What is More, blog published 09/28/2012, URL:
    accessed 7/26/16

    [3] Tillich, Op Cit, 20

    [4] Hans Urs Von Balthasar, “A Resume of my Thought,” in David L. Schindler, Hans Urs Von Balthasar: His Life and Work. San Francisco:Ignatious Press, 1991, on like version p1-2 URL:

    [5] Ibid.

    [6] Ibid.

    [7] Ibid.

    [8] Macquarrie, John. Principles of Christian Theology. New York: SCM Press, (1987)

    [9] Ibid.

    [10] Tillich, op cit, 4

    [11] Flynn, Thomas, "Jean-Paul Sartre", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .  access 7/27/16

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