Faith and Reason


It’s been a while since I posted. This post is a result of my desire to expand a recent conversation on IRC beyond what the medium allows.

In more than one instance in the recent past I’ve been challenged on my view of Romans 9 as referring to individuals – being Reformed and attending a Calvary Chapel like I had for years will tend to lead to these conversations periodically (ya think?). In general I try to be honest with opposing viewpoints by attempting to understand the arguments made by people that I disagree with, and so I’ve attempted to read Romans 9 the way they might (or, more properly, the people they rely on might).

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Epic Fail

Hat Tip: James White’s blog at aomin.org

No. I don’t mean by the way they look. See if you can tell the difference. Take this quiz:

Quiz: Joel Osteen or Fortune Cookie?

My son Danny and I had a brief conversation about the sacraments and the covenant. I wish I had a recorder. When we were finished I typed in a rough outline of what was said. Here it is as best as I can remember with some minor insertions to preserve continuity.

Danny: How many sacraments are there?

Me: Well, it depends what you mean by “sacrament.” The word literally means “mystery” and there can be many mysteries. But the Roman Catholic church says there’s seven special mysteries they call sacraments. We say there’s two but we mean something more specific by the word sacrament.

But you tell me, what’s a sacrament?

Danny: It’s a mystery :-)

Me: But what is it?

Danny: I don’t know?

Me: It’s a means of grace. Do you know what grace is?

Danny: It’s God’s liking someone.

Me: Right. It’s God’s favor. Grace is favor. So saying the sacraments are a “means of grace” is like saying they’re a means by which God shows us His favor. And can you earn God’s favor?

Danny: No.

Me: The Roman Catholic church believes that when Christ died, he filled up this big reservoir of merit. According to them, when he shows us His favor, He gives us some merit from the reservoir, but then we need to add our own merit to that. They believe there are some people who obey so well that they merit more than they need to have to get to heaven so that extra merit goes back into the reservoir to be used by more people. … Do you know what ‘merit’ is?

Danny: It’s following what God wants you to do.

Me: Well, it’s the “earning.” When you “merit” something, someone “owes” you like wages that should be paid. … Let me ask you this: since God created Adam, was Adam obligated to obey God?

Danny: Yes.

Me: Then, if Adam HAD obeyed God perfectly, would God have owed Adam eternal life? Would Adam have *merited* eternal life?

Danny: Yes.

Me: Would God have *owed* Adam eternal life like a boss owes wages to someone that does work for him?

Danny: Well … yes.

Me: Why? God made Adam so Adam is bound to obey God. But does God OWE Adam anything?

Danny: No, I guess not.

Me: So God would have been within His rights to condemn Adam to hell, even after perfect obedience, if He wanted to. Not that He would, but He wouldn’t violate any rule if He “made Adam for common use,” would He? Doesn’t the potter have the right to do as He pleases with the clay?

Danny: Yes. I guess so. So I guess God wouldn’t have owed Adam anything, even if he obeyed perfectly.

Me: So Adam can’t merit God’s favor. Now, what’s a covenant?

Danny: An agreement that can’t be broken?

Me: Well, not exactly. A covenant is a solemn oath, made by two parties, with promises (and therefore obligations), with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Blessings for keeping the promises or fulfilling the obligations and curses for failing.

Now, what if God created Adam, and entered into a covenant with him? What if God, in a covenant, promised Adam eternal life if He obeyed Him perfectly, but cursed him with death if he disobeyed?

Now if Adam obeyed perfectly would God have been obligated to reward him with eternal life?

Danny: Yes.

Me: Why?

Danny: Because He promised.

Me: So it has nothing to do with Adam *earning* it. God is obligated by His own promise in the covenant, not by Adam’s obedience.

Danny: Yes!

Me: So did God have to make the promise to Adam?

Danny: No.

Me: So when God made the promise he was showing ‘favor’ to Adam. He promised Adam eternal life because He wanted to, not because He owed him anything, and not because of anything Adam did or could do?

Danny: Yes.

Me: Well, that’s God’s grace. Do you see how God’s grace is bound in the covenant and ‘merit’ cannot have anything to do with it?

Danny: Yes.

Me: So the sacraments are a signs of the covenant we have with God. In them His favor, or grace, is shown to us because in them His promises are reiterated. They are like an official *seal* on a letter than contains the covenant promises. That’s what Jesus meant when He said “This is my blood in the new covenant, which is shed for the forgiveness of sin … Do this as a memorial.”

We talked more about baptism and being in the covenant community. About “common grace” and how it applies to unbelievers in the covenant. And the covenant curses. And then about the development of doctrine (Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda) and the unfolding or the history of the rediscovery of the covenant. But I guess I’ll save that for another time

While sipping a Margarita (and watching Doctor Who) and wondering when the book that I ordered, James West’s “Drinking with Calvin and Luther”, will arrive, I just received a response to an email I wrote to the local teaching elder of the Free Presbyterian Church of North America. The original email:

Dr. *******,

A friend of mine has introduced me to your teaching through your MP3 sermons (he listens to you on the radio on Sundays at 1). I’m just beginning to go through your Ephesians study – a book we have been covering in our recent men’s study.

I have a question regarding the FPCNA’s stance on abstinence that is not dealt with in the documentation on the site.

Since Jesus commands us to drink wine as part of the sacrament of communion, abstaining, even as a choice, is an outright refusal to keep the sacrament the way that it was instituted.

If the WCF is a standard of the FPCNA, do you explicitly take exception to 29.3 and 29.4?

Thanks
Jim

Update: And then I get up first thing this morning (Sunday, April 25, 2010) and put on the latest Cato Daily Podcast, which is a discussion about the legacy of prohibition with respect to distribution channels for wine.

This video is a critique of Doug Wilson and the controversy in Moscow Idaho. As those that know me know, I have a great respect for Doug Wilson’s theology and work. The criticism is from the left but non-the-less it has value. While I don’t necessarily blame the maker of the video because I don’t expect an objective presentation, there are some serious misunderstandings.

So, some things to keep in mind while watching the video:

If it weren’t for “the pamphlet” (interpreted as justifying southern slavery – I’m not sure if the link is to the edited or non-edited version of the pamphlet) authored by Wilson and Wilkins this would probably never have been that controversial. While I make no attempt to justify the contents, it should be noted that Doug Wilson enlisted Eugene Genovese, an African American history professor specializing in southern slavery, to correct the factual errors in the pamphlet.

The narrowness of the public school educated mind that sees the Civil war primarily about slavery will have some serious problems with some of the quotes from Wilson and Wilkins in the movie. Most of the quotes that are complementary of the south are with reference to the issue of states rights and limited federal power. This is obvious if you actually listen to the history conference proceedings (which I have) – and I absolutely agree with them.

Wilson has repeatedly taught that racism is a grievous sin. The movie, as most of the general public, confounds “racism” and “slavery.” Wilson will not acknowledge that slavery, in and of itself, is sinful (though I’m not sure why he doesn’t condemn American slavery as horrendous as it was founded on racism, but that’s a question for Wilson). Therefore, when the movie scores points by getting Wilson to admit such about slavery, the viewer is left with the impression that it has confirmed his racism.

Wilson is a Postmillennialist but, having read him for a while, I’m not under the impression he’s a Reconstructionist/Theonomist – a Reformed position I had always found puzzling and wholly unconvincing. In any case, when he’s quoted as describing the triumph of Christianity over all forms of secularism the viewer is given the impression that he’s advocating the immediate institution of a Theocracy. In context he’s talking about a long term post-millennial view that sees this happening over thousands of years, and not by coercion, but by God granting faith and repentance in the gospel to mankind.

Keep these things in mind and watch the movie. There are no heroes; all have feet of clay.

Now imagine what would have happened to this poor soul if my iconoclastic tendencies were carried out en masse in Brazil. Even though it’s probably a photoshop artifact, given the amount of paragliding in the area, I wonder how many times this happens.

Hat Tip: Rafael Chargel

In my previous post I put forth two Easter messages to show the contrast. Knowing that one would eventually be taken down and wanting to keep it for posterity, the core of it is quoted below:

Corpus Christi…Come on Down!

YOU are the next winner of The Ultimate Giveaway! That’s right…With nearly $1 MILLION in prizes and giveaways, this Easter, everyone will win something at Bay Area Fellowship! And, wait…that’s not all. Each service we’re giving away FREE FLATSCREENS, LAPTOPS…and CARS!!! Be here beginning April 1 (and…no, this is no April Fool’s joke). This is the real deal! No tricks, strings or fine print! Show up and let Bay Area Fellowship bless YOU this Easter!

Easter Service Schedule:

April 1 7:00pm

April 2 5:00pm, 7:00pm

April 3 3:00pm, 5:00pm, 7:00pm

April 4 8:00am, 10:00am, 12:00pm, 2:00pm

I offer the following for comparison:

1) Peter J. Leithart, “It Really Happened”

2) Bay Area Fellowship and “The Ultimate Giveaway”

Update (April 6, 2010): Moved the Bay Area Fellowship link to my preserved copy of the message they had on the web. The original link can be found here

Sitting here sipping wine and watching the movie “Underdog” (my kid’s pick) seems like a fitting end to the day that I first saw “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” The juxtaposition is a fitting analogy. When I first left the movie I was elated, thinking “someone finally got it right.” Upon a bit more reflection I now think I have more criticism than praise. For this post I’d like to deal with some of the other criticisms I’ve read.

Ben Stein’s movie “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” has already made an impression on a large number of people. Having just been released the criticisms are legion (pun intended). Even though I think the movie is flawed for reasons I will deal with later, the criticisms are often more flawed than the movie, that is, where they’re not outright false.

One of the points the movie tries to make is that ID is not Creationism. More importantly the movie makes the point that the “tried and true” tactic of critics of ID is to confound it with Creationism. Right on queue enter, The Orlando Sentinel editorial:

How do you re-package that tried and untrue, untested and untestable faith-without-facts warhorse, “Creationism” after its nearly-annual beat-down by an increasingly exasperated scientific community?

After you’ve tried renaming it “Intelligent Design,” I mean.

One wonders if the writer saw the movie. The article goes on to answer the question it posed:

With comedy. Mock your “Darwinist” foes the way comics, thinkers, scientists and educated people everywhere have been mocking creationism since Scopes took that monkey off our back.

One now wonders if the author read their own first two paragraphs – or a history book that contained an assessment of the Scopes trial which was won by the Creationists – it took a longer protracted fight to finally get that “monkey off our back.”

For a more reasonable critique (other than my forthcoming review, which is coming from an ID sympathizer) see “No intelligence allowed in ‘Expelled’.”

Another mischaracterization of what ID is includes the following from beliefnet.com:

Intelligent Design is based the fact that (1) there are questions that natural selection does not answer — which Darwinian scientists admit, and (2) therefore, some intelligent force must be behind creation — which cannot be proven by scientific means and therefore is more appropriately considered within the fields of philosophy or religion.

As the movie states (though perhaps all to briefly and unclearly), ID is, at its core, based on the idea that “design” or “intentionality,” (i.e. intelligent purpose) has certain attributes that allow it to be distinguished from undirected randomness. Several of these attributes that have been popular include: Michael Behe’s “Irreducible Complexity” (a good overview and recent defense can be found here) as well as A.E. Wilder Smith (and somewhat William Dembski’s) application of information theory to the genetic code and biological systems. The idea behind the later is that information theory can be used to distinguish randomness from non-randomness. This idea has wide use in the Electrical Engineering discipline of Signal Processing, Cryptography and Cryptanalysis, and even in SETI (Carl Sagan’s pet project, “The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence”).

Another oft-repeated criticism is that the movie doesn’t deal with the facts of the case for ID or evolution. However, from both the title and the extended trailer I’m surprised anyone thought that the movie would. That the movie never intended to was clear from both. From both I expected exactly what I got, an expose on the political correctness embedded in the scientific establishment that punishes dissent.

Finally, in several places I found the simply false statement that the movie doesn’t provide a definition of “Evolution.” In fact it does so carefully in order to to explain exactly what the disenfranchised scientists are questioning. I found this criticism puzzling because it was so patently false that I can only assume that some of the pre-screenings didn’t have this particular scene.

I will follow this up with my own review of the movie.

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