Category Archives: Metaphysics

PODCAST: Fight the Powers – What the Bible Says About the Relationship Between Demonic and Political Power

fighthepowersimage

Download:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170920-FightthePowers.mp3

Notes:

In a recent podcast which I titled “Make Christianity Weak Again,” I talked about the approaches which the church in the United States has used in interacting with the political realm. The place where I landed is that the church should look at the state with suspicion, view its relationship to it as an uneasy one, and not seek to consolidate political power but to emphasize its spiritual power.

In this podcast, I want to give the biblical theory behind my practical application. Why should the church not seek to align itself with the state?
Continue reading PODCAST: Fight the Powers – What the Bible Says About the Relationship Between Demonic and Political Power

PODCAST: Cantus Firmus At the Movies Ep. 3 – What Dreams May Come (w/ Chris Date)

what dreams may come

In this episode we talked about the 1998 film What Dreams May Come, which sparked some great discussion about heaven, hell, love, the physicality of human nature, mental illness, and how Christians should approach art. Audio can be downloaded below or found on iTunes if you search “Cantus Firmus.”

Chris Date was my special guest and can be found at http://www.theopologetics.com and http://rethinkinghell.com

Audio:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170427-CFATM-Ep3-WhatDreamsMayCome(wChrisDate).mp3

Music:
“Octagon Pt 2” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0
http://www.needledrop.co/wp/artists/polyrhythmics/

Can Life Have Meaning Without God?

An atheist going by the moniker “Counter Apologist” wrote an interesting post which goal was to undermine the Christian claim that man can have no meaning or purpose if he is not created by God. It can be read in its entirety here:
http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/2013/02/big-questions-02-meaning-purpose.html

While I felt that much of this post read as fairly visceral, there was one point made that read like a true argument, and I thought it was worth thinking about and responding to:
“[If] only things that are designed can have a purpose, even if they’re sentient beings – then on Christianity clearly god has no purpose since he wasn’t designed.  If god can have a purpose for himself, then he would have to give it to himself.  Why then is god the only being that can give a purpose to himself?  And if god has no purpose, then why is having a purpose important in the first place?  The entire assumption [William Lane] Craig makes here relies on special pleading.”

Let’s syllogize this thing!

1. According to Christians, only things that are created can have a purpose.
2. God wasn’t created.
3. Therefore God doesn’t have a purpose.

If you look at this argument for a moment, you’ll notice that the word “purpose” in the conclusion seems to mean something different than the word “purpose” in the first premise. In other words, our atheist has committed the fallacy of equivocation– using the same word in two different ways. In the premise, a purpose means something like, a reason for existing. In the conclusion, it means something more like, a goal one has made for oneself. No Christian denies that an atheist may make a goal for himself, but he would question whether this goal can be meaningful transcendentally speaking if atheism is true. Also, no Christian would say that God can’t have goals, but they would claim that He doesn’t have a reason for existing, which is to say some cause or purpose that transcends Him and for which He was brought into existence.

To provide a parallel from human experience, when a creator makes a work of art, one might ask that creator what his art means. The creator gets to determine this– not the art itself or the audience. When someone mischaracterizes what an artist or speaker is saying, he is not creating a meaning equally valid to how the speaker understood his words– he is simply wrong. Unless Counter Apologist has been heavily influenced by post-structuralists like Derrida, I suspect that he would probably agree on this point.

So who gets to determine what the meaning of human life or the universe is? Well, clearly its creator. If there is no creator, there is no meaning. As Kevin Vanhoozer wrote, “there is meaning only where someone means, or meant, something” (Is There a Meaning in This Text? p. 233). We can, as Derrida does, engage in the “play” of inventing our own meanings if the creation, lacking a real author, doesn’t have any objective meaning, but we can’t claim that any one interpretation is true or valid. The will to power, the pleasure principle, glorifying God forever– all are equally valid purposes for one’s life (which is to say that they are all invalid objectively speaking). This line of reasoning can also be applied to purpose. If you want to know what the purpose of a vacuum cleaner is, you’ll have to read the manual that its creators provided.

So, does God have a purpose in the same sense that a created thing has a purpose? No. As A Creator, he has purposes, but no purpose or meaning that has been bestowed upon Him from the outside. This is simply to say that God is not created, which Christians were already happy to admit.

As humans, we may be creators as well as creatures. As creators, we can purpose to do something. As creatures, we have been made with a purpose. God, as only Creator and not creation, was not made with a purpose, though He does purpose to do things. These definitions must be kept distinct, or else we commit fallacies of equivocation that do not hold up to scrutiny, as the Counter Apologist has done.

Interview with Dr. Bill Ury – Social Trinitarianism

New podcast is up.

Click here to listen.

This podcast features an interview with Dr. Bill Ury. Dr. Ury received his doctorate from Drew Univeristy and is an adjunct professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. The topic of discussion was Social Trinitarianism– the view that God ought to be thought of primarily in His relational threeness as opposed to a more static oneness. One insight of this view is that personhood as modeled upon the Trinity is necessarily relational– that if we are made in the image of God, then, like God, we cannot be persons without being in relationship to other persons. He also pointed out how this perspective shapes our view of God, the church, sovereignty, and ethics, particularly in contrast with other perspectives on the Trinity.

 

The Lord’s Supper, Passover, and Redemption

The topic of the Lord’s supper has been a controversial one. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and even some protestants have understood celebrations of the Lord’s Supper to be, in some sense, a sacrament wherein the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ. Other protestants have argued that there is no basis for this reading in the New Testament. While the difference between these two views is significant, the more heated, and important, debate is focused on the view that the elements become the body and blood of Christ in order to be a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins of those who take part. In contrast, protestants (including many who do in fact believe that in some sense the wine and bread becomes Christ’s blood and body in the supper) believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is a once-for-all sacrifice that completely saves His people, forgiving them of their sins, when they turn to Him. To begin, we should look at what the Lord’s Supper was in its original historical context.

The Lord’s Supper as a Passover

To understand what the Lord’s Supper is, it helps to go back to its origin. So often, we as Christians divorce our beliefs from their Jewish context, assuming that Jesus brought something completely new and distinct from His Jewish background. While He did most certainly innovate, we shouldn’t over-emphasize this truth. There is far more continuity than discontinuity with what God had revealed to Israel before.

John Zizioulas, the Eastern Orthodox metropolitan of Pergamon, focuses on the discontinuity to emphasize the Lord’s Supper as something completely new. He sets the groundwork for this by contrasting the Jewish and the Greek views of truth:
“It is usually felt that the principal characteristic of Hebrew thinking as opposed to that of the Greeks resides in the Jews’ interest in history. The ‘signs’ which the Jews seek, says St Paul, are precisely the manifestations of God’s presence and his activity in history… The Greek mind, for its part, seeks truth in a way which transcends history” (Zizioulas, Being As Communion, p. 68, 1985, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, New York).

Zizioulas then argues that Christ as truth corresponds to and even transcends both views. He does so through the eucharist. For Zizioulas, the eucharist exemplifies Christ as historical as well as ontological truth. The eucharist points to God’s saving work in history, while connecting believers through all ages and places to this salvation event.

However, the concept of a historical salvation event that transcends time was not new with the incarnation, but simply poured out in its fullness. When a Jew kept the Passover, he was told that the Passover seder in some sense brought the participant back to the first Passover, so that God’s saving action in history could be demonstrated to have been for all of Israel.

This concept is still found in contemporary Haggadahs (guidebooks to keeping the Passover seder):
“In every generation it is one’s duty to regard himself as though he personally had gone out from Egypt… It was not only our fathers whom the Holy One redeemed from slavery; we, too, were redeemed with them” (p. 45, The Family Haggadah, Rabbi Nosson Scherman trans., Mesorah Publications ltd., 2006).

“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but HASHEM our God took us from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (p. 27).

This is what communion is for the church– a celebration in the present that links all Christians throughout time, connecting us back to the sacrifice of Christ in history which reflects God’s purpose in salvation from all eternity.

This similarity is not simply coincidental, because the Lord’s Supper was in fact a Passover meal which took the Passover symbols and imbued them with additional meaning which had not been understood before. Jesus was our Passover lamb, and His sacrifice in history connects all of those whom He died for, constituting the church. Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper reminds us of this truth, just as Passover reminded the Jews of the same (though not fully explicated) truth– that God saves His people through the sacrifice of the unblemished lamb.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church would acknowledge much of what is stated above, but includes additional information which more fully reflects the Roman Catholic view of the Lord’s Supper. To begin with, it deals with the Catholic Church’s teaching that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood through the work of a priest:
“As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out” (CCC, 1364).

It then goes on to explain how this aforementioned redemption is carried out through our observance of the Lord’s Supper:
“[Christ left his church the visible sacrifice of the eucharist] by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit” (CCC, 1366).

In other words, the eucharist is offered continuously, until the end of the world, for the purpose of providing forgiveness for the sins we commit that Christ’s bloody sacrifice did not cover, and indeed cannot cover, unless we continue to take communion. Forgiveness is not accomplished by faith in Christ, but faith plus receiving communion– and even that must be done regularly to be efficacious and cover the sins we continue to commit. This bit-by-bit salvation may not even be accomplished at death, as 1371 of the CCC clearly teaches (“The Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who ‘have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified,’ so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ”).

But if the eucharist takes its cue from the Passover, and the Passover celebration does not require that the unleavened bread change substance to become the bread from the first Passover in order for Jews to be associated with God’s saving work in Egypt, why should the communion elements become the literal body and blood of Christ? Of course, many protestants have argued that Christ is in some way contained in the wine and bread of communion, or is in some way more strongly present in the sacrament (in a similar way that Jesus claims His presence is more strongly there when two or more Christians are gathered). However, Roman Catholics have insisted upon the transubstantiation of the elements into the body and blood of Christ as a means of handing out bits of grace at a time, which strongly undermines the finished, once-for-all, work of Christ on the cross.

Offered Once to Bear the Sins for Many

While the Catholic Catechism pays lip service to the concept in Hebrews that Christ died “once for all,” it shoe horns in the concept of the eucharist as “re-presenting” the sacrifice of Christ so that new sins can be forgiven every time one goes to mass. The result is that one does not have total peace with God, and if someone dies with un-atoned-for sin on their account, they will have to have it expiated in purgatory. The distinction that the Catholic Church attempts to make is that while Christ’s sacrifice was made once for all (He is not continually crucified), it must be applied over and over again, never completely forgiving the one who draws near until Christ comes in judgment and purges sin from His people. While this is a clever way of trying to get around the concepts that the author of Hebrews uses to describe the atonement, one has to wonder why he would have used such strong language about “once for all” and the like if in the back of his mind he knew that sins had to be regularly atoned through taking the Lord’s Supper in mass or else paid for in purgatory.

Note the contrast that the author of Hebrews makes between Christ’s once-for-all atonement, and what the temple priests did every day–

Hebrews 7:27 NET
“He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all.”

Jesus does not need to offer a sacrifice every day, but the sacrifice was completed once for all. This verse focuses explicitly on Jesus not having to offer a sacrifice again and again because once was enough, but this is later followed to its logical end- that the one sacrifice need only be applied to the sinner once for all – as the author’s argument builds.

Hebrews 9:24-28 NET
“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands – the representation of the true sanctuary – but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us. And he did not enter to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the sanctuary year after year with blood that is not his own, for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice. And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation.”

There are two important contrasts in the previous passage. The first is between the sacrifices of the temple which never made full atonement and the sacrifice of Christ which “put away” sin once for all. The second contrast is between Christ’s two comings. In the first he bore the sins of many, and as a result of this first coming, those who wait for His appearance do not wait for Him to bear sins again but to bring His kingdom and to completely destroy death.

Hebrews 10:1-3, 10, 17-18 NET
“For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship. For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year.  By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Then he says, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.’ Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

This is what the author of Hebrews has been building up to, and this is his strongest statement against what later proto-catholic theology would devise. The sacrifices of the priest did not “perfect” those who drew near to worship. If they did, they would not need to be offered again and again. Instead, the temple had a continual sacrifice to remind the people that their sin had not been fully dealt with. They must continue to come to the temple in order to receive new grace and forgiveness for new sins committed. This is where the rubber hits the road. The Catholic can claim that Jesus’ sacrifice was once-for-all, but their view of the Lord’s Supper entails exactly what the author of Hebrews is saying Jesus came to destroy. Jesus is sacrificed once-for-all, and the result of this is that our sins are atoned once-for-all. If there is forgiveness, these is no need to present a new offering.

Summary

The Lord’s Supper is important because of what it teaches us about Christ’s atonement for us. It reminds us that God had from the foundation of the world set out to redeem His people from sin and death. To claim that keeping the Lord’s Supper doesn’t offer additional forgiveness of sins is not to undermine the importance of the Lord’s Supper, but to magnify the God who saved us completely. Jesus told us to keep the supper “in remembrance” of him, because, as the author of Hebrews states, since Christ there is no longer “a reminder of sins.” As the author of Hebrews also states in this section, “for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV). We are perfected in Christ, even before we are sanctified. The Lord’s Supper reminds us that we, being one body existing at different times and places, have been completely redeemed by our God.

The Anthropic Principle and Teleology

Arguments for God from teleology (the appearance of design in the universe) have existed for millennia. The Aposle Paul gives a vague formulation of teleology in Romans 1, and the Psalmist often argues for God’s existence from that which is made– including its beauty and complexity. Thomas Aquinas’ formulation is one of the most famous versions of this argument. However, in recent years, the teleological argument has been strengthened by evidence in biology and physics. In the case of the latter, the minute fine-tuning of various constants to permit life has astounded physicists– regardless of their religious beliefs.

To give just a few examples:
“…If αs [the strong force] were increased by as much as 1 percent, nuclear resonance levels would be so altered that almost all carbon would be burned into oxygen; an increase of 2 percent would preclude formation of protons out of quarks, preventing the existence of atoms. Furthermore, weakening αs by as much as 5 percent would unbind deuteron, which is essential to stellar nucleo-synthesis, leading to a universe composed only of hydrogen. It has been estimated that αs must be within 0.8 and 1.2 times its actual strength or all elements of atomic weight greater than 4 would not have formed. Or again, if αw [the weak force] had been appreciably stronger, then the Big Bang’s nuclear burning would have proceeded past helium to iron, making fusion-powered stars impossible. But if it had been much weaker, then we would have had a universe entirely of helium. Or again, if αG (gravitation) had been a little greater, all stars would have been red dwarfs, which are too cold to support life-bearing planets. If it had been a little smaller, the universe would have been composed exclusively of blue giants, which burn too briefly for life to develop.”
–God and Design: The Telelogical Argument and Modern Science (editor Neil A. Manson)

The fine tuning argument is not claiming that if the laws of our universe were different life could not exist. It is instead arguing that if the constants which exist within a universe containing our universe’s laws were changed, life– particularly intelligent life– could not exist.

But if we grant that these constants are fine-tuned, and that at incomprehensible odds, does this actually prove anything? A key consideration in the discussion of teleological arguments for God’s existence is the anthropic principle. This principle posits, fairly uncontroversially, that if beings are able to observe the universe, then the universe must be compatible with conscious beings capable of observing it.

The controversy surrounds how exactly one formulates this principle. A strong formulation (Strong Anthropic Principle, or SAP) claims that this is the case because the universe is somehow compelled for conscious life to emerge. This form is consistent with, though not necessarily equal to, a claim that a Creator is behind the universe. It does not require this interpretation however, because one could formulate the SAP to simply be saying that conscious human life is inevitable, though unintended. This would require one to believe that the emergence of human life is necessary– a brute fact. However, there is no reason to believe that this is so.

In contrast, a Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP) tends to imply chance. According to the logic of this formulation, just because we seem to fit perfectly in this universe, that doesn’t mean we were intended to– after all, if we didn’t fit we couldn’t notice it because we wouldn’t be here. Humorist/novelist Douglas Adams supported WAP by using the illustration of a sentient puddle who, noting that it fit perfectly into a hole in the ground, supposed that the hole had been made expressly for it, as opposed to it being made for the hole. Atheist debater Dan Barker and comedienne Julia Sweeney used a similar example of a person’s hand fitting perfectly into a glove and them assuming that the hand was made to fit into the glove instead of the glove to fit around the hand. In other words, WAP asserts that the appearance of design is illusory. However, other philosophers have claimed that in the case of the universe’s fine-tuning, we are dealing with something qualitatively different:

“[Philosopher John Leslie] gives the illustration of your being dragged before a firing squad of one hundred trained marksmen to be executed. The command is given: ‘Ready! Aim! Fire!’ You hear the deafening roar of the guns. And then you observe that you’re still alive, that all the one hundred trained marksmen missed! Now what do you conclude? ‘I really shouldn’t be surprised at the improbability of their all missing because if they hadn’t all missed, then I wouldn’t be here to be surprised about it. Since I am here, there’s nothing to be explained!’ Of course not! While it’s correct that you shouldn’t be surprised that you don’t observe that you are dead (since if you were dead, you could not observe the fact), nevertheless, it doesn’t follow that you shouldn’t be surprised that you do observe that you are alive. In view of the enormous improbability of the marksmen’s all missing, you ought to be very surprised that you observe that you are alive and so suspect that more than chance alone is involved…” –Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig

The eminent biologist and not-so-eminent-to-some atheist thinker Richard Dawkins has stated on numerous occasions that the teleological argument has, for him, more weight than any other theistic argument. While he feels that evolutionary theory removes much of its force in the biological realm, he still finds it difficult to account for fine tuning in the realm of physics (see pages 157-158 of the first edition of his book The God Delusion). In other words, the Strong Anthropic Principle (that we are here because we were intended to be) has some apparent explanatory power according to Dawkins. However, he rests this troubling difficulty on a (dare we call it?) faith that science will one day find a naturalistic explanation in physics that is as impressive as Darwinism is for biology.

Many atheists, following this type of thinking, have argued that theistic arguments are based on filling in gaps of current knowledge with superstition that will eventually be filled in by natural explanations. If we are to be patient, we will see solutions compatible with the philosophical presupposition of atheistic materialism. Of course, even if natural mechanisms were found that helped to fine-tune universal conditions, this would still not undermine the force of the teleological argument or the Strong Anthropic Principle. God can certainly intend the universe to produce conscious beings while still using natural mechanisms to achieve this goal. Perhaps He has done just this. In any case, the force of the teleological argument is felt by nearly all of us. We see what looks to be the mark of intentionality throughout the universe. Evidence of fine tuning may not be totally conclusive on an evidential framework (what evidence is?), but like all evidential arguments, it raises the likelihood of its conclusion considerably. When we examine the odds of fundamental constants (gravitation, the weak force, the strong force, etc.) having the precise values that they do, and this precision being necessary for a life-permitting universe, it is difficult to say that this argument has no force or that it doesn’t provide good evidence for a Creator.

The Apostle’s Creed and the Historical Nature of Truth

I remember reading once (maybe someone can tell me where as I seemed to have forgotten. Maybe Zizioulas?) that Christianity was unique in its approach to truth. To the Greek mind, it was claimed, truth was something disconnected from our day-to-day reality and was wholly transcendent. To the Jewish mind, truth was historical (as evidenced by the Jewish focus on events like the Exodus, which, during the Passover seder, each Jew was to celebrate as if he had been there and was personally delivered by God). In contrast to both, John’s Gospel tells us that “in the beginning was the Word” (the Greek word for “Word,” logos, was used by Heraclitus to mean the principle of all order or knowledge), and that this Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In other words, John tells us that the Truth, which is transcendent above all things, chose to enter into humanity at a certain point in history.

This transcendent truth as rooted in history is reflected in the Apostles’ Creed (probably in written form by the second half of the second century). I love how this creed doesn’t just say vague stuff like, “I believe in heaven” or “I believe in being good to people,” but “I believe in Jesus Christ [who was] born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate…” To its originators, it didn’t carry the weak force of a faith in an arbitrary principle or a simple moralism, but of historical certainty grounded in reality. The creed’s message is very different than nebulous new age creeds like “you are God,” or “God is in everything,” and far more like the confidence with which one might assert “I was there when your mom brought you home from the hospital,” or “I saw Jim punch Robert at the 7/11 last night in front of everybody!”

That’s one reason why Christianity is so cool to me.

“Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?” Blog Debate Listing

I recently engaged in a blog debate with an atheist friend, Ben Doublett, on the question, “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?” I posted my portions of the debate on my blog Argue With a Christian, and he posted his on his blog– Fool of Psalms. I thought it might be helpful for those who are interested in the debate to see all of the posts listed in one place.

Debate to Take Place January 24th– Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

WHY IS THERE SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING?
An atheist/Christian debate by Ben Doublett and Cody Cook taking place on

 

beginning January 24th at 11 p.m. EST

The rules:

Both debaters will post on their respective blogs an opening statement making a positive case for their viewpoint not exceeding 1,200 words.

Within 72 hours, both debaters will post rebuttals not exceeding 1,600 words.

Within another 72 hours, both debaters will post a three question cross-examination they have done of the other debater, questions not exceeding 50 words and answers not exceeding 200 words.

Within another 72 hours, 400 word conclusions will also be posted by each debater.

Links to the post responded to and the response posted (when they are submitted) will be placed in text of each post.

The debaters:

Ben Doublett is the owner of a small business and a British citizen living in the United States. He spends his free time volunteering with the business program at Mason High School, mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs and, most relevantly, as an amateur atheist and rationalist polemic.

In his new blog, Fool of Psalms, he criticizes all kinds of irrational belief, including alternative and faith-based healing practices and (coming soon) astrology, but mainly he focuses on dispelling the reasons given for religious belief and providing reasons for disbelief. This blog has attracted nearly a thousand unique visitors from all over the world in less than three weeks.

While he is definitely not reserved in his criticisms of beliefs he considers irrational, Doublett always tries to remain as respectful as possible in debates with the faithful. He is a strong advocate of the notion that one should attack the belief and not the believer.

To read more about Doublett’s positions on religious faith and other issues, check out his blog at http://foolofpsalms.blogspot.com/

Cody Cook is a theology student specializing in apologetics. He seeks to follow the biblical command to, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” and seeks to dialogue with non-Christians about the truths of the Christian faith. He believes that since reason and morality come from God, they cannot be consistently used against Him by the atheist/agnostic/skeptic. As a result, he seeks to demonstrate circular reasoning, unfounded assumptions, and faulty reasoning in atheistic thinking, while at the same time seeking to maintain a friendly and generous spirit. He has two blogs which he uses to encourage dialogue with fellow Christians as well as non-Christians: http://arguewithachristian.blogspot.com/ andhttp://codysblackbox.blogspot.com/

I Respond to Sam’s Comments on My View of Hell, Part 1

Oh, it’s on! Online blog debate about hell with my friend and nemesis, Sam. Here is the order of the debate, for those who might be interested in keeping up…

1. My Blog, “Is God Wrathful by Nature?”
2. Sam’s First Blog in Response

In a recent blog I posted (Is God Wrathful by Nature?) my good friend and theological nemesis Sam debated a few of the points I had made and attempted to correct what he saw as a mischaracterization of his position. I suggested that we go back on forth via blog on the subject of hell, where I would argue for a hell which is not eternal, and he would argue for one that is. He recently responded to this challenge.

He mainly went after a statement I had made in our “comment battle” on my “Is God Wrathful” post. Sam stated that because God is infinite, sin against Him must have infinite consequences, and one part of my response was stating that man is not infinite but depends on God, so eternal punishment does not necessarily follow.

He viewed my argument as being man-centered instead of centered around God, creating unbalance. He quoted me as saying, “Just because God is infinite, why would the sin against Him deserve infinite punishment? After all, it is committed by finite agents which have no immortality in and of themselves, and depend on Christ for their continued existence.” I went on to talk about how Scripture seems to argue that God’s wrath does in fact have an end. However, I think I wasn’t entirely clear about what my argument was. I wasn’t attempting to make a man-centered argument against Sam’s God-centered one, but was pointing out certain assumptions Sam was making and asking him why they were necessary. In the next paragraph, I will try to demonstrate the flow of argument that I was attempting to share with Sam:

While annihilation does satisfy eternal consequences for sin (final and eternal death is an infinite consequence), the idea that the punishment must be infinite and conscious because God is infinite does not necessarily follow. After all, man is not inherently infinite but Scripture points out that we depend on God (and more specifically Christ) for our continued existence (2 Tim 1:10, Rom 2:7). If man does not have infinity, why should he have to suffer through it’s duration? Sinful man would only be made to suffer eternally if God sustained Him. God would only sustain the damned person if Sam’s view that a sin deserves conscious eternal punishment was true. But why should we believe this? As I pointed out in our comment battle:
“Isaiah 40:2 seems to say that a person can be punished by God double for their sins, and only during one lifetime. While this is certainly a figure of speech, it points to the fact that there is an end to God’s wrath. I think it would be silly to say that God punishes on both a temporal time scale that can be satisfied and on an infinite one that cannot for the same sin. I say with Isaiah: ‘The heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever” (Isaiah 51:6).'”

Furthermore, Sam’s view has another major flaw. Jesus is clear that there are degrees of punishment for sin (Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 5:26, Matthew 18:34), and yet Sam says that sin deserves eternal conscious torment because God is infinite. However, if it takes infinity to suffer for sin, there can be no degrees of punishment. One would have to suffer infinitely all the time to accomodate God’s wrath. Thus, the traditionalist who argues this point consistently has to throw away portions of Scripture. The argument that sin must be punished infinitely and consciously is illogical in the light of Scripture.

Sam also makes two other points I would like to address.

Sam asked, “Why does God not let the wicked into heaven after they have paid for their sins, which only incurred a finite penalty? As James White pointed out, after [their] punishment for their finite sins, they have made propitiation. Why does God then annihilate them?”

I actually heard Dr. White make this point on his podcast recently on reflecting about a debate he had with Roger Forster on Unbelievable radio. He asserts that Forster was unable to satisfactorily answer this question. I haven’t heard the debate, so I can’t attest to that. However, I think the Bible does shed some light on this issue.

We read in Romans that the wages of sin is death (the same message is in the first few chapters of Genesis, although the serpent seems to argue that one can live perpetually as a god even after sin). Because the wages of sin is death, we can say that, in other words, the penalty for sin is annihilation. However, it would hardly be fair to God’s justice if both great and little sinners suffered the exact same fate, so additional punishment is tacked on, as Jesus says in Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 5:26, and Matthew 18:34. Once this additional punishment has been undergone, the final sentence of spiritual death (annihilation) can be given, where the sinner has “paid the last penny” (Mat 5:26) and paid back “all he owed” (Mat 18:34) to God. So, White’s understanding of annihilation has this flaw, but not the position itself.

Sam also accuses me of equivocation, and I believe that he isn’t doing so unfairly, though I would like to explain what I mean by the term “eternal” which the Scripture uses. Here is what Sam had to say:
“Verses that speak of eternal life in Cody’s view refer to eternal life. Those same terms that refer to eternal punishment means a cessation of existence that lasts an eternity. He must add additional premises to account for this, and thus violates Occam’s razor.”

The Scripture which parallels the terms “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” is Matthew 25:46–
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (ESV).

The fact that I can get two opposites from the terms “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” appears to be an equivocation (using one term to mean two different things). However, I would like to explain why I do so.

First of all, Matthew 25 is not in a vacuum. The whole of Scripture is inspired, and carries the same message throughout. Sometimes a verse might seem to support one thing, but a clearer Scripture can help to clarify its meaning. I cite numerous passages in my main argument for conditional immortality (click here to read) and feel that the main thrust of the Bible supports my view. This would be one of the few verses that appear at first look to be a “problem verse” for my position.

Second of all, the language Matthew is written in is Greek, not English. So it is important to examine the Greek words used and their range of meaning. For instance, the Greek word for “eternal” is used in Jude verse 7 to say that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered an “eternal fire.” It is obvious that Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning, so we can see a clear example where “eternal” refers to the consequences of the fire, and not the fire itself (see also Isaiah 34:9-10). On the contrary, 2 Peter 2:6 clarifies for us exactly what Jude is saying:
“by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…”

So eternal can refer to the consequences of a thing as opposed to the thing itself. Thus, the punishment can have eternal consequences (or for that matter, be eternal itself if the punishment is death) and still support my position. I acknowledge that this verse can be tricky for my position, but I can throw out countless others which would be tricky for Sam’s. The question is, what does the entirety of Scripture say? I believe that the entirety of Scripture points to the destruction of sinners and the salvation and redemption of the elect.