How to escape the Bible with your theology intact

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There is a way of using the Bible to support your theology that really just amounts to doing everything in your power to avoid what the Bible has to say so that you can escape from the ravages of Scripture with your precious doctrine still intact.

Without naming names, over the last year I have had several conversations about the doctrine of hell with people who advocate the doctrine of eternal torment, where they argued in a manner very much like John in the following conversations (right down to the same phraseology, eg “equally likely as an interpretation” and “use Scripture to interpret Scripture”):

Karen: Hi John. Have you read passage A? It seems to pretty clearly deny the doctrine of eternal torment. It says that one day the lost will be destroyed. They will die and be gone. Don’t you agree?

John: No, I don’t think so. I think eternal torment is equally likely as an interpretation. Continue reading “How to escape the Bible with your theology intact”

Episode 056: Material Salvation

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In this talk, I ask the question – What difference does it make if the Bible teaches we are physical creatures, rather than dual body-soul beings? How does that impact on  anything else we believe as Christians?

From gender identity to mental health more generally, to salvation, the way we view human nature has a profound impact.

 

 

Some thoughts on New Zealand’s loss of faith

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What should we make of what people say about why they don’t believe, and how should the Church respond?

According to a report commissioned by the Wilberforce Foundation, just over half (55%) of New Zealanders do not identify with a “main” religion. 35% described themselves has being neither spiritual nor religious, and 33% identify with Christianity.

Along with an increase among those with no religious or spiritual beliefs, the study shows an increase in ignorance about Christianity. More than one in five people know nothing about the Church in New Zealand, and 9% of respondents know no Christians. This growth in non-exposure is reflected in the makeup of the group that does not identify as religious or spiritual. When comparing a person’s current status (religious/none religious) with the home environment in which they were raised, the single largest combination (26% of respondents) is “Never been religious: I was shaped in a non-religious household and am non-religious to this day.” Continue reading “Some thoughts on New Zealand’s loss of faith”

“You will never die”: What did Jesus mean?

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Did Jesus say that believers would never ever die, indicating that even when their bodies die, they will live on with him in glory? You might have heard that, but what if he meant something different, promising that we would be spared the fate of disappearing into death forever?

I get some resistance to the biblical concept that human beings are frail and mortal, “dust of the earth,” that we return to the dust when we die, and that there’s no heavenly life to be had while our bodies lay in the grave awaiting the resurrection of the dead. Sometimes people even pit Bible verses against this biblical idea. One verse at a time, I think we can see that these objections fail, and the overall clear biblical portrait of human nature and death remains intact.

One of those objections comes from a particular interpretation of Jesus’ saying after raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11:25-26:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Never die. That gives pause to some people when they consider my view that immortality is received at the resurrection and that the dead are really dead in the grave, not living on as immortal souls. They wonder if this claim by Jesus must mean that if we live and believe in him now, we cannot lie dead in the grave without our souls living on in glory, because we will “never die.” It’s a good question to ponder, but there’s already a reasonable response to this worry, quite apart from the observation I’ll make soon. Jesus is here talking about those who live the new life that he has just referred to: Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live – that is, via the resurrection. So when Jesus goes on to say “whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” he’s talking about the life of immortality after the resurrection. Continue reading ““You will never die”: What did Jesus mean?”

Making self-help sound like terrorism

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You’ve heard of Jordan Peterson. He’s a Canadian professor of psychology and a clinical psychologist. In his work in the latter role, he has helped a lot of people deal with mental health issues and sort their lives out, as clinical psychologists are wont to do. He became notorious because of the hate he received when he objected to a university trying to force people to use the gender pronouns of transgender individuals. Not that he never uses those pronouns, but he objected to being told that he had to use them, or else face consequences. He didn’t create the situation, he just responded to it because it affected him directly.

Peterson has managed to offend people in other ways, too (not that this is a great feat today), for example by arguing that genuine sex differences exist – hardly a radical theory. Cathy Newman notoriously made him more famous via an interview in which she spent nearly all of her time re-stating and misrepresenting most of his answers when discussing the gender pay gap. Peterson didn’t force her to do that. She did it herself, and so badly that she became a meme. She was a train wreck, and in retrospect few people doubt that she knows it. Otherwise the interview would have been much less remarkable and would almost certainly not have had the positive effect on Peterson’s fame that it did.

Most of Dr Peterson’s subject matter is psychology and self-help. But (generally when the issue is raised with him) yes, he has talked about things with broader political and social implications. When he does, the target of his criticisms are generally not just people on the left or the right, conservatives or liberals, but rather the space on the political spectrum he calls “the radical left,” although at times he has also spoken specifically about the dangers of fascism in particular as well as the factors that enable it.

Unsurprisingly, the radical left (as much as I dislike collectivism – take me to mean “many people who could fairly be described as radical leftists”) tend not to like Jordan Peterson. But even not liking somebody or their views should surely be compatible with some very basic principles of fairness and decency. Continue reading “Making self-help sound like terrorism”

Purgatory requires dualism

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You can only believe in purgatory if you hold a substance dualist view of human beings.

Purgatory is a place that exists according Roman Catholic Theology, and a number of people who are not Roman Catholic believe in it, too. In Catholic theology, it is a place where you go after death if you are not yet ready for heaven, so that you can receive punishments for the venial sins (the less serious sins, as opposed to mortal sins) that have not yet been dealt with in this life. As Thomas Aquinas put it,

[I]f the debt of punishment is not paid in full after the stain of sin has been washed away by contrition, nor again are venial sins always removed when mortal sins are remitted, and if justice demands that sin be set in order by due punishment, it follows that one who after contrition for his fault and after being absolved, dies before making due satisfaction, is punished after this life. Wherefore those who deny Purgatory speak against the justice of God: for which reason such a statement is erroneous and contrary to faith.

Outside of this historical Catholic understanding of purgatory, others have suggested, not that people need to be punished, but rather that they simply need to be fully sanctified (made holy) before reaching their final state in heaven. Jerry Walls defends this view in his book Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. In public conversations, Dr Walls has remarked that while no doubt the sinful human desire is to have total transformation all at once, the reality is that sanctification is a process that takes time, hence purgatory.

I do not believe in purgatory, but I will not here argue that purgatory does not exist. Instead, I will just make one observation: To believe in purgatory presupposes mind-body substance dualism. Continue reading “Purgatory requires dualism”

Calvin and the Marian Doctrines

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Calvin did not accept the Marian doctrines. Without wanting to sound too rancorous, I have to say that anti-Protestant polemics can be the worst.

I’m sorry. I know that’s a very one-sided thing to say, but I encounter anti-Protestant polemics more than anti-Catholic polemics, because I’m not Roman Catholic. Sometimes the phenomenon goes by the name “Catholic apologetics,” as though it’s really a pro-Catholic thing, but that’s not how some of these warriors-for-Rome present themselves. They’re about claiming scalps in arguments.

I love some Catholic theologians and philosophers – and Catholic people in general. So I’m not going to refer to these people as just “Catholic scholars.” It would be unfair to Catholic scholars in general to lump them all together, which is why I keep open a category for anti-Protestant polemics, separate from Catholic scholarship. It’s a let-down for me, because some of the finest work in philosophical theology today has been produced by Roman Catholic Scholars (think Brian Leftow, Brian Davies, Edward Feser – EDIT: My mistake, Brian Leftow is not Catholic. He’s Anglican. But he sure writes like the best Catholic philosophers), so to turn from such fine minds and work to online blunt-axe-swinging warriors is a bit like swallowing the cheapest bourbon and cola money can buy after sampling a fine port.

That somewhat frustrated preamble aside, here’s what moved me to write this post. The other day I saw yet another anti-Protestant polemicist make the familiar claim: “Most Protestants would be surprised to learn that all the early Reformers accepted the Marian doctrines.” That’s not a direct quote, but it’s close (the part about all the early Reformers was central to the claim), and I’ve seen the claim made numerous times.

Continue reading “Calvin and the Marian Doctrines”

New directions in 2019

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I have big plans getting underway this year!

“New directions in 2019” might sound like a New Year’s resolution, but it really isn’t. These plans came to be some months ago, but it just happens that I’ll be putting them into effect this year.

In February this year I’m returning to study. I will begin a psychology degree. And why would I do that? There are a few reasons. Continue reading “New directions in 2019”

Keeping them in: The Church’s motive in marriage policy

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Don’t create a church’s stance on marriage in order to make people happy or stop them from leaving.

In early 2017 (when I started writing this article, since which time it has sat gathering dust) the general Synod of the Church of England voted on same-sex marriage. Well, sort of. The General Synod voted not to endorse a report by the House of Bishops on Same-sex marriage. The report affirmed the biblical and historic Christian view that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. To be specific, there are three houses in the General Synod. The House of Bishops voted in favour of the report. The House of the Laity voted in favour of the report. But the support of all three houses is required, and the House of Clergy alone voted not to endorse the report, confirming the widely-suspected reality that the clergy are the more liberal element of the Church of England.

There were many issues discussed at the time and obviously I wasn’t present. On Twitter however I encountered a speech by activist Lucy Gorman. When I saw it I raised a criticism of it, but Lucy quickly blocked me so I can no longer see the portion of the speech that was shared there. Ever the believer in dialogue, I found this a little disappointing (especially since she had initially asked me for my view on the suicide of people who felt hurt by the church, but then told me that she didn’t really want to talk about it with me and blocked me).

So let me bring the issue to you, dear reader. Continue reading “Keeping them in: The Church’s motive in marriage policy”

You don’t matter just because I care

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We can’t erase the fact that abortion is homicide just because we aren’t as attached to the unborn as we are to other humans. The truth is that whether or not your life has value, and whether or not you are disposable, cannot be determined by how I feel about you.

There’s a view that pro-lifers (those who think it is wrong to kill unborn humans) are ignoring the reality that the death of an unborn child is less tragic than the death of somebody else. The death of an unborn is not the death of a human – not really – and actually we all know it, because we react differently to the death of an unborn child than to the death of somebody else. So wrote one blogger:

If you try to get pregnant and fail, it is frustrating. If you have a heavy menstruation slightly late, suggesting that fertilization occurred but the pregnancy failed very early on, it is even sadder. But it is not the same as managing to be pregnant for several months and then finding that the fetus has died. And that in turn is nowhere near as tragic as having your delivery date arrive and the child be stillborn.

Mothers know this. Fathers who’ve experienced any aspect of this know it too. And so how can so many people nonetheless accept the stark and unnuanced claim that “abortion is murdering babies” without a blink?

Continue reading “You don’t matter just because I care”