Topics: Doctrinal Issues

This category is about topics relating to Christian doctrine

“The Fool” of Psalm 14

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

The themes of Psalm 14, although exegetically difficult, have been popular subjects of theology and philosophy from the time of Paul until today.  Paul loosely quotes verses 1-3 in Rom 3:10-12 to describe the fallen state of godless Jews and Gentiles to a Jewish audience.  Anselm of Canterbery, who developed his logical argument for the ontological existence of God in Proslogium,  cited Psalm 14 as an important building block in his line of reasoning.  He was refuted by Gaunilo of Marmouter in an essay entitled In Behalf of the Fool, who based his criticism on the theology of Psalm 14.
Neo-Calvinistic scholarship of the later reformation era later begin exploring these themes as well with the goal to define a concrete theological doctrine to refute Arminianism.  The tenant of total depravity,  a cornerstone belief in Reformed theology, rests heavily on a universalized interpretation of verses 1-3.  It is likely that the origin of this interpretation came from an understanding based on Paul’s re-contextualization of its verses in Romans, a creative practice he sometimes employed in the formulation of his arguments but obscured their original meaning and context.
The purpose of this research is to conduct a formal study of Psalm 14 from a literary-theological exegetical approach.  Paul’s treatment and usage of this text will not be used for understanding the psalmist’s original meaning in this review, although a study of that subject would be a good compliment to more fully understand the issues they both address. Read the rest of this entry »

“Knowing” God in the Old Testament

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

In my experience in popular theology, I have frequently read and heard the notion that the God of the Old Testament scriptures was somewhat distant from his people in relation to how the modern Christian experiences him today. With the advent of the coming of Christ and the ushering in of the New Covenant, a new closeness and intimacy with God was now possible to a degree not experienced before through the impartation of the Holy Spirit.  This concept may be further solidified by Jesus’ comment that “the Counselor” will not come to his people until Christ had completed his work and returned to the Father.[1] This idea of God’s closeness to his people being different from one Covenant to the next has always bothered me, most likely because of a perceived consistency of God’s character and his dealings with people summarized by the author of Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”[2] It seems odd to me that he would treat his people differently in terms of relational intimacy from one covenant to another.

In order to understand this issue better, I have chosen to examine the Old Testament’s use of the Hebrew word yāda , (to perceive, to know) in terms of God “knowing” man or man “knowing” God.  With a thorough study of this word and its nuanced meanings found throughout the Old Testament and a brief look at its counterparts in the Ancient Near Eastern languages of the time, a good foundation can be laid for further studies in the disciplines of theology and philosophy.  None of these disciplines or any topic within them, however, will be addressed. Read the rest of this entry »

The Problem of Natural Evil

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Within the last 6 years, two devastating natural disasters have shaken the consciences of our generation.  On December 26th 2004, an underwater earthquake with a magnitude measuring between 9.0 and 9.3 on the Richter scale occurred a hundred miles off the coast of northern Sumatra, a province of Indonesia.  The resulting tsunami, later named “The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami,” devastated the coastline communities of nearly all nearby land masses with tidal waves up to a hundred feet high.  The death toll was enormous: nearly a quarter of a million people perished, and based on the many photos taken in the aftermath, many of its victims were small children, whose bodies were found scattered up and down the coasts where the tsunamis hit.[1]

Six years later in January of 2010, another devastating earthquake hit a small town 16 miles away from the heavily populated city of Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti.  The quake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, and the death toll according to the Haitian government was 230,000 with 300,000 injured and 1,000,000 left homeless.

No more than a month later, an even more severe earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale hit off the coast of the Maule region of Chili, devastating coastal towns thought the region. Although the death toll was not as high as the Asian tsunami or the Haitian earthquakes, local news services at the time reported that more than 1.5 million people had been displaced.

This was not the first time such visceral evil and suffering had jarred the minds and hearts of people in this decade.  From an American perspective, the beginning of this century was marred by a horrifying display of terrorism as the infamous events of 9/11 flashed before our eyes on television and computer screens across the world.  People all over the country, unaccustomed to violence so immanent in their lives, sought to find answers and consolation.  How could this kind of evil have happened to our country?  Some people turned to religion to answer questions.  Church attendance grew for a time.

However, the Tsunami of 2004 awoke in men and women of this generation the realization of a different kind of evil – one that could not be blamed on men, but on whimsical natural forces of the earth.  No longer could the senseless violence and the deaths of thousands be blamed on moral agents as we had been culturally accustomed to thinking about evil over the last 3 years, but was instead the fault of an “act of God.”  A discomfort with religion and its attempts to explain such suffering began to emerge.  Both the atheist and the theist could see a common enemy behind the 9/11 attacks, but with the horrors of a natural disaster now in the forefront, the national and international religious communities began to struggle with answers for questions they were not used to addressing.

In some cases, Christians and religious leaders could not digest the events of the Tsunami or other instances of natural evil without readjusting their views of the goodness or power of God.[2] Outspoken atheists seemed to find real proof that the claim of the Christian God being all-powerful and loving was illogical.[3] Outspoken Christians unconcerned with correlating these events with God’s character were quick to see them instead as being a righteous judgment against people who deserved it.  Others saw it as an act of God that was in some way beneficial to the human race or more specifically to enlightened Christians.  As it turned out, there were a lot of bad explanations for the reasons behind these terrible disasters, but there was an absence of any good ones.  Why would God allow such devastation?  Many more thoughtful and rational religious thinkers agreed: there was no answer.[4] Read the rest of this entry »

Disputable matters

Friday, June 1st, 2007

Elise got me thinking about an interesting topic based on my last post – the discussion of what is a sin for you is not a sin for me – i.e. disputable matters within Christianity. Even though the apostle Paul clearly stated how to deal with them, religious institutions have a hard time with them because they want to codify the sin lists into “doctrinal statements” – unfortunately including the issues that are disputable. This is just more religion piled onto otherwise healthy Christianity. By doing so, they are in violation of Paul’s command (and thus sin): to not “pass judgment on disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). I will not attend a church that has disputable matters in their doctrinal statements for this reason.

However, there might be some argument as to if a “disputable matters”-focused church is good. Could there be a church of weaker believers who can keep each other accountable in a common area of weakness?

Read the rest of this entry »

My conversation about drinking

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

Thought I’d post a re-occurring discussion I have with other Christians around this area. I’m kind of a jerk in it, but that’s because I’m getting tired of this kind of debating in general, which I find myself getting pulled into it a lot. The irony is that I don’t like drinking alcoholic beverages. So why do I defend it? I’m just a stickler for not calling something a sin that clearly isn’t. I believe that drinking may be a sin for people who have alcohol addiction problems, but if you don’t, than it is OK in moderation.

I don’t have a problem with people who think it is a sin for them. In fact, I have a lot of respect for them. However, I do have a problem with people who think it is a sin for everyone on the planet and like to vocalize this opinion.
Read the rest of this entry »

The dark side of free will

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

warn2.gifNote to atheists: this post may look like I’m pointing a critical finger exclusively at you, but I’m not! This isn’t a happy or easy topic for me. After reading this (if you choose to) please believe me that I, like all humanity suffer from the same problems that free will makes us susceptible to. If I end up offending you, please forgive me! I’m not perfect and I don’t have the ability to write about this sensitive subject very well. Please know I have a great respect for you and that I do not know the whole story for why you believe the way you do. I borrowed the cute warning sticker off of alistapart.com, and will use it when the posts I write have potential to annoy or offend people. BTW, this is NOT reverse psychology trick. It means to get ready to be offended (possibly).

I have talked in earlier posts about the concept of man’s free will in a worldview of an all-powerful God. It’s a nice thing – it makes us different than robots and all that. We have the freedom to choose what to do with the time we have – to live a spiritual life or to live a selfish one. What has haunted me for the last 5 weeks has been this – that free will, as rosy as it seems on the surface, has a terrible side-effect.
Read the rest of this entry »

Can a person please God or be saved without direction revelation?

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

These are some thoughts from my father on this subject – one that has bothered me for a long time now and I have often sought to figure it out in more detail. But as you can see in a list of 26 points, the Bible is pretty clear — absolutely!

  1. Enoch, who had no access to any direct revelation from God, “walked with God” (Gen 5:24). Apparently human beings, even without direct revelation, had been given enough to enable them to seek to live righteously and to be able to please God.
  2. Likewise Noah “walked with God” prior to receiving any direct revelation from God; he was “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time” (Gen 6:9); and “he found favor in the eyes of the Lord”–before God spoke to him (Gen 6:8)
  3. It seems unlikely that Enoch was the only human being who pleased God during the time between Noah and Abraham (the two individuals who received direct revelation from God). God apparently did not seem pressed to give more direct revelation in order to make it possible for the millions of human beings who lived during those 10 generations to hear, and be saved.
  4. Did all the people on earth go to hell during the 400 years that the Israelites sojourned in Egypt, since there was no direct revelation from God during that period of time?
  5. Did all the people on earth go to hell, except for a few Israelites, between the time of Moses (ca. 1440 B.C.) and Jesus’ death (A.D. 31), since no one except for the Israelites had access to God’s direct revelation during this time? If God provided a way for human beings without direct revelation to be accepted by God during these years, does this mean that God-fearing people in the Fiji Islands (or China or Tibet) could go to heaven if they lived during the time from 3000 B.C. to 31 A.D., but would go to hell if they lived during the time from 31 A.D. onward? Wouldn’t this mean that Christ’s death actually doomed to hell countless thousands or millions of God-fearing people in distant lands who had the misfortune of being born after, rather than before, Christ’s death?
  6. If God provided a way for God-fearing non-Israelites to “be saved” without access to direct revelation during the millennia before Christ, did he suddenly change the rules at the moment Christ died on the cross?
  7. God’s revelation of himself to the Israelites (the OT) never claims that it gives the Israelites a better chance of going to heaven than non-Israelites.
  8. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who had never received revelation from God, was a priest of God and instructed Moses (Exodus 18).
  9. Melchizedek, who never received any direct revelation from God, was a priest of God who was highly commended in Scripture.
  10. The Law given to Moses was not perceived as a way for people to “get saved” or go to heaven.
  11. God would have saved the city of Sodom if there had been 10 righteous people there–which suggests that people in a non-Israelite city could live righteous lives and be pleasing God.
  12. The Syrian Naaman and the Phoenician woman of Zarephath were righteous individuals, and they were more pleasing to God than the Israelites, despite the fact that, unlike the Israelites, they had not received any divine revelation.
  13. Job, who had never received any direct revelation about God, was the most righteous man on the earth at the time. This would mean that Job was more pleasing to God than any of the Israelites, who had access to God’s direct revelation. People in OT times who had never heard about the true God of Israel could live righteous lives and be more pleasing to God than those who had received God’s direct revelation.
  14. The book of Job often refers to “the righteous” (among the nations), as those who please God, etc. (e.g., Job 28:28).
  15. God accepts Job’s three friends (Job 42:9ff.)
  16. The books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes divide mankind up into “the righteous” and “the wicked”–without regard to whether or not they have received direct revelation (e.g., “it will go better for those who fear God . . . ”–contra the wicked)
  17. In the NT, the Phoenician woman amazed Jesus by her faith (Matt 15:21-28).
  18. The Roman centurian amazed Jesus by his faith (“I have not found such great faith in Israel!” (Matthew 8 ).
  19. Jesus declared, “Many will come from the east and west and take their places at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the subjects of the kingdom [of Israel] will be thrown outside . . . ” (Matt. 8:11-12)
  20. The Roman Cornelius and his family were living lives that were pleasing to God before they heard anything about the Gospel: “He and his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (Acts 10).
  21. Peter to Cornelius: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35)
  22. The woman from Thyatira, Lydia, who was not Jewish, is described as “a worshiper of God”; and the Lord opened her heart to receive Paul’s message of the Gospel (Acts 16:14).
  23. Not only Jews, but God-fearing Gentiles keep turning to Christ throughout the book of Acts.
  24. Paul to the Athenians: “God has given all men life and breath and everything else, . . . God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each on one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’. As some of you own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” (Acts 17:25-28).
  25. God said to Paul, about the city of Corinth: “Do not be afraid; I have many people in this city (Acts 18:9). Apparently a number of the (Gentile) inhabitants of Corinth, even before Paul arrived there with the Gospel, were God-fearing people that God considered his own.
  26. Regarding those who have never received the kind of direct revelation which the Jews received, Paul explains: God judges all human beings justly, rewarding those who seek to live righteously and punishing those who live wickedly. God gives eternal life to the righteous, and he punishes the wicked (Romans 2:6-11).