February 21, 2005

Between Consenting Adults

This post has since been published as a LifeWay.com/apologetics article and can now be found here.

Here is the article "teaser":

"What consenting adults do in private is no one else's business." Is this really a good moral criteria? Based on the outrageous and lethal things that some consenting adults have managed to do, "consent" advocates should be running for cover.

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Thoughts on the taking of the Promised Land

Another question I recently fielded:

Question:

I'm struggling with the conclusion that all life is important to God considering the fact of His ordered the complete genocide of the people in the Promised Land when Joshua was leading the people back in. I know that their practices of idol worship and child sacrifice were abominable to Him. But wouldn't that mean that not all life is important to God all the time...or at least his patience is limited and some lives become forfeit at some point??

Answer:

General thoughts on life and God's sovereignty

  • God values all human life in a general sense because it is His penultimate creation and bears His image. The abuse and murder of our fellow man is divine vandalism.
  • God eventually takes all life. This is a fallen world and therefore not the locus of human pleasure and immortality.
  • All life belongs to God and it is His prerogative alone to take life. Human taking of life, except by God's command or according to His established principles, is overstepping the boundary of our authority.
  • God may take one's life earlier or later, according to His purposes. God does not "owe" us a long life, and there are worse things than death and greater things than life. Even by simple human standards, justice will ultimately be accomplished.
  • God is not just "love," He is also "Holy" and "just." His justice is not simply sorted out at the end of time; sometimes He takes a heavy hand in earthly affairs.
  • The Levitical laws seem to be telling us that, in God's economy, some life becomes forfeit through egregious sin. This is the philosophy (right or wrong in a non-theocratic society) behind the death penalty and why pro-lifer's are not inconsistent in holding it, since the unborn are innocent while the criminal are guilty.
  • It's precisely God's valuation of life that leads him to exact the ultimate penalty from those who kill. If a person's very life is the most valuable thing they possess, then when they take a life the only equitable exchange is to take their life.
  • Those who point out the problem of evil and injustice in the world can hardly complain when God actually does something about it, like purge an evil culture.
  • If earthly judgment from God is inconsistent with His nature, then so would be the final judgment where evil people receive even worse punishment for their sins.

Thoughts on the Amorites/Canaanites who were displaced from the Promised Land

  • God did not just purge them to make room; this was a judgment in its own right.
  • They were "wicked," "detestable," "defilers," and "idolaters." According to Scriptures, they were engaged in such things as child sacrifice, cultic prostitution, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality. (Lev 18) Extra-biblical data seems to confirm the worst of this and also shows the Amorites to be a war prone people.
  • This is a judgment on par with that of Sodom and Gomorrah, but executed through the agency of the Israeli military. The delivery of the Promised Land and the judgment of the Amorites are judiciously parallel. (Deut 9:4; 18:12)
  • God wanted to eliminate the depraved Amorite culture due to His concern for the theological and moral purity of Israel. (Deut 20:18)
  • God was just, even in His patience with the Amorites, waiting first for their sin to "reach its full measure." (Gen 15:16)
  • The Amorites even make a preemptive strike on the escaping Israelites before they come into their land. (Deut 25:17-19) In addition to demonstrating their aggressive nature, this implies that they know of the threat and the Hebrew's claim to the Promised Land. Other acts of aggression by the Amorites are covered in Numbers 21:1; 21-23.
  • The people had plenty of warning of the coming of the Israelites and knew of the power and deeds of its God (Joshua 2:9-11; 5:1). All had the opportunity to flee if they so chose.
  • Not all regions were treated equally. Some were bypassed (1 Sam 15:6, Deut 2:4), some were spared (Deut 2:9), some were subjugated (Deut 20:10-12, Josh 16:10), and some were annihilated completely.
  • There is perhaps more usage of the term "drive out" than that of "destroy" when speaking of the fate of the Amorites. (Ex 23:27-31; 33:2, Num 33:52, Deut 4:38; 11:23)
  • The treatment of the Amorites seems to have been surgically precise in an attempt to destroy its nations and cultural centers while not necessarily its people. It was more a matter of expulsion and reculturation than pure genocide.
  • The loudest objection seems to relate to the few cases where children were killed. But which is crueler if the adults and the city are to be destroyed (these being the ones who would not evacuate): to do so and leave the children to roam homelessly in the waste, or to quickly dispatch them as well? And if left alive, what are the odds that many of these children would attempt to recover the culture and idolotry of their parents and reinfect the land with it? Remember, if the Hebrew God is the true God (our premise), then this would actually be a very bad thing.
  • As it turns out, the Israelites fail to cleanse the land exactly as God commands and, as predicted, they do take up many of the gods and practices of these people.
  • God did not play favorites though; He kept His promise to punish Israel in similar fashion if they descended to the same practices as the Amorites. (Lev 18:28, 2Ki 17:7-23)

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February 19, 2005

Testing the spirits

Here is a question I recently fielded on my website:

Question:
Our Sunday School class has been doing some apologetic studies and last week we discussed psychics, channelers, mediums, etc... We talk a little about each and then find biblical responses so we can be better informed and answer any questions about the subject, hopefully. So we were all talking about that and all and came across evil spirits. We know that they exist and the Bible forbids contact with them. So we got onto ghosts and are they evil and do they exist? I was wondering what your response would be about ghosts, or "non evil" spirits. Are all apparitions necessarily evil? I know in 1 John 4:1-3 we are to question each spirit as to whether or not they will confess Jesus. But not everyone is brave enough to do so. Anyways, just looking for a little insight or other ideas. Thanks for your help.

Answer:
Sounds like an interesting class. I teach youth Sunday School and the kids have often taken the discussion in this particular direction.

We live in a strange age which is as much "spiritual" as it is secular. Many non-Christians seem comfortable with the idea of "angels" and disembodied souls, but they don't have any tools for sorting out where such things fit in and what potential harms might be associated with interactions between our two worlds. For the New Ager, anything from the spirit world seems to automatically have authority and credibility. After all, they are from "the other side," so they ought to know all about spiritual truth. If you ask them about the possibility of being deceived, they will shrug this off by claiming that the bad spirits can be detected simply by the dark or evil "feelings" that they elicit. What they don't seem to understand (or accept) is that evil spirits could be just like evil people, only more insipid; if we can be fooled by con-men, how much more can we be fooled by powerful and ancient spirit-beings! Just as a con-man may seem a friend until we later count our money, so too might a fallen angel seem a helpful guide until we face the final reckoning.

It would certainly be fun to sit down and have a conversation with an angel, but, unfortunately, the only angels that seem to be loitering about hoping for such company are of the fallen variety. The heavenly angels seem to be on a tighter schedule, and they don't go in for special appearances unless they have their orders and objectives in hand. For this reason, a Christian may safely assume that idle (or conjured) encounters with spirit-beings are a recipe for trouble. We are discouraged from meddling in the occult not so much because it is superstitious nonsense but because of the danger and error that we invite, as well as the fact that the things of God cannot be manipulated or pried with incantation or divination.

Scripture seems to give us no reason to suspect that our souls are free to mill about the ether after our death. All we ever see in example are persons being "taken" away to specific places after their death: Sheol, Abraham's Bosom, into the presence of Jesus, etc. And, not that parables are intended to hold analogous truths in their every minutia, but the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) seems to make a special point of saying that the lost are stuck in place and the redeemed are either not permitted to return or they find no purpose in doing so. Even where we do see an example of someone coming back to communicate with the living it is taken to be an exceptional event (1 Samuel 28:12). Note that the witch of Endor is alarmed when Samuel (whom she was supposedly conjuring) actually shows up. This can be taken as a special dispensation by God to send Samuel to judge Saul for his disobedience.

And while near-death experiences may be genuine metaphysical events, we must remember that little can be concluded about the after-life from these (other than that there does appear to be a soul). This is because they are near death experience, not death experiences.

The most probable explanations for "ghosts" and dead relatives being "channeled" by mediums (assuming authenticity here) is that they are demonic manifestations. It takes little imagination to see how a powerful spirit-being with ready access to knowledge about person's lives and personalities could fool gullible and hopeful human minds. And there's no reason to think that they do so only in the form of ghosts. Whatever is most plausible to a person, time, or society would do quite nicely: angels bearing another gospel, ascended masters, or even aliens.

The "testing" we are enjoined to perform would be in relation to the known and clear existing revelation of God. Any prophecies made should be 100% on target, and any theological claims should not be contrary to Scripture. Most (perhaps Christians even less than pagans) would never get a chance at a personal, corporeal visit from a demon in order to subject it to a theological pop-quiz. However, we are constantly being bombarded with second and third-hand "doctrines of demons." Ideas such as moral relativism, religious pluralism, and liberal theology may not have come from a visible encounter with Satan by your local university staff, but the demonic realm is certainly in the mix. We are not only to test such ideas for Biblical compatibility but, according to 2 Corinthians 10:4, we are to "demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."

Let's turn to your cited passage now (1 John 4:1-3):

"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now."

Let me also bring verse 6 into the discussion:

"We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error."

Note that the Greek word for "spirit" at all points is the same, and in verse 6 it looks more like it could be taken as an "attitude," "disposition," or "confession." Perhaps if we are talking about spirit-beings here they need not necessarily be first-person encounters, but perhaps only the drivers and inventors of ungodly ideas, religions, and worldviews.

Also notice that in verse 4:1 it closely links "spirit" and "false prophets," which may be the real carriers (as far as we see with our eyes) of the antichrist virus. John's command is in line with that of Moses, who said that prophets are to be tested to see whether they are of God. Moses provides tests for prophets in Deuteronomy. In the context in which John was writing, some teachers were denying that God had come in the flesh. Their view was that matter was evil and spirit good (a Gnostic heresy), therefore God, being good, could not take on matter. John calls these teachers antichrists. For John, the key test here was what and who the teacher understood Jesus to be.

We should take care not to try to make this "test" do too much work for us. Remember that James (2:19) points out that the demons have good doctrinal knowledge, and Satan quoted the Scriptures to Jesus in the desert. Even though someone or some religion may claim to believe in Jesus and many of the core claims of Biblical Christianity, it is in how one defines those beliefs when pressed for clarification, and how one puts it all into practice, that is the true test for God's active hand.

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February 10, 2005

Diversity in Cokesbury

Awhile back I sent an email to the customer service address at Cokesbury.com (the Methodist online retail store). I asked them about their product base and pointed out the "diversity" in their product mix, wondering if they did any screening of authors or titles. Their marketing director responded and after I provided a few examples and exchanged a few observations her ultimate position was that they like to offer variety and let their customers "make up their own mind."

With diversity like this: Jesus Seminar, Benny Hinn, Atheism, Islam, Mormonism, I don't think you can imply that they are advocating for any view of God at all! Their supported product base goes from flaky Christianity to classical Christianity to liberal Christianity to non-Christianity to raw Atheism. As long as they are affirming, redefining, obscuring, or denying God, then it's all good.

They are not only not distinguising themselves from other denominations (or religions), they are really not demarcating themselves from any other source of products. Someone may just as well go to Amazon or B&N to get their books at a better price. At least LifeWaystores.com does some pre-screening to weed out those things that fall clearly outside the pale of orthodoxy (with reasonable success). Even so, there is much diversity within this; it is not all just "Baptist" material.

Please note their mission statement: "our Mission is to provide quality resources and services that help people know God through Jesus Christ, love God, and choose to serve God and neighbor." In light of this statement, how do they justify offering products that are counter to the knowlege of "God through Jesus Christ." Exactly how is it that atheism, among other things, is to instruct us in these matters? On their philosophy of diversity I'd be inclined to ask them, "Why be a Methodist?" if there is no particular doctrine to which they passionately adhere and commend to their customer base. And if Christ be not raised, I'm sleeping in on Sunday morning.

Please note that I understand that the denomination as a whole does not share this view of theological diversity -- there is much grass-roots evangelicalism among the Methodist rank-and-file -- I am just judging the leadership and this retail outlet for its rejection of its historic theology and its noncompliance with its own mission statement.

RZIM Event

Went to this event last night, sponsored by the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry. The speakers were Dale Fincher and Stuart McAllister. Well worth the time even though Ravi was not personally involved. Dale is an impressive speaker (though I thought Stuart carried himself better in the Q&A time), and given his age he is well attuned with the problems faced by our postmodern youth. Dale mentions being stymied in his youth as a seeker after intellectual justification for Christian belief. He uses the humorous, and apt, term for his condition: Intellectual Suffering. He was also quite keen in his talk to identify the proper understanding of the word "faith" as being something more on the order of trust in what it reasonable and reliable to believe. In fact, he mentions Greg Koukl's admonition to the church to start using the word "trust" in place of the word "faith" until such time as the word can be rescued from the abuse and misunderstandings that are presently obscuring its historical meaning. Dale is also a contributor to the RZIM Slice of Infinity newsletter, which may be of interest to some.

February 01, 2005

Article Index

Thoughts and Commentaries
What if Barack Obama Loses?
Fate and Destiny: Jesse Ventura's Secular Superstition
The Problem of Heroism
Radical Objectors to Radical Religion
How Can You Know if Your Religion is Right?
"Jesus was Wrong"
My Da Vinci Code Apathy and Our Ignorance of History
Why Die For a Lie?
Shedding Light on the "Dark Ages"
Emasculating Christianity
Dan Brown: Plagiarist or Student of History?
The Vatican's Nazi Neutrality: Commendable or Condemnable?
Caesar or Christ?
Season of Skepticism

Atheism, Skepticism, and Debate
Ghost in the Machine
Keep Your Mitts Off My Meaning
Moral Atheists - Good by what measure?
A Challenge to Atheists
Imagine No Religion
Deducing God From Nature
Invincible Skepticism
Reasonable Christianity
An Open Letter to Bill Maher
The Universist Movement: Lost in the Fog and Lovin' It
10 Questions for the Atheist
10 Replies to the Atheists

Philosophy
Adventures in Missing the Point
Santa Claus Morality
Presuppositional Kung Fu
Coin Toss Morality
Euthyphro's Dilemma and the Character of God
Plutonian Morality
Worldview Contradictions
The Laws of Logic: Don't Leave Home Without 'Em
Can I Lie or What?
PETA's Cognitive Dissonance
Who Made God?

Confused Christianity
Cafeteria Christianity
Role Your Own Jesus
Can Evolution and the Bible Live Together?
Reflections on the Authority of Scripture
Liberal Christianity: No Sale!
"No Creed But Christ"? Christ Who?
To Judge or Not to Judge
Jane Fonda's Gnostic Feminist Christianity
Easter Egg Christianity

Alternate Religions & Cults
Not So Much in Common After All
10 Questions for the Seeker
The Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant: Does It Work?
What Mormon Archaeologists and Maytag Repairmen Have in Common
Regarding Devout People From Other Religions
Letter to a Disgruntled Wiccan
Answering the Cults: A Common Defense
Only Two Religions: Meditations on Religious Pluralism
10 Questions for the Mormon
10 Questions for the Buddhist

Biblical
Jesus' Bones Found! Sleep in on Sunday
The Gospel of Judas - An Exercise in Proving Too Much
Presupposing Perfection: Bart Ehrman and N.T. Textual Transmission
On the Defense of Scripture
Regarding Gnosticism
Gospel Contradictions?
Thoughts on the Taking of the Promised Land

Theology
Is the Nicene Creed Biblical?
False Dichotomies of the Emerging Church
Bridge to Terrible Theology
Testing the Spirits
Soteriology on a New Orleans Flatboat
"Too Zealous"
Why Did God Make Weeds?
Why Does God Make Atheists?
Spotlight on the Narrow Path
The What and Why of Apologetics
The Compleat Apologist

Sexuality
False Parallel Between Interracial and Same-Sex Marriage
Born in the Wrong Body
Is Homosexuality a Dysfunction?
If Homosexuality is a Dysfunction, Why the Condemnation?
Why Not Condemn the "Heart Attack" Lifestyle?
How We Know That Sex is Sacred
Alcoholic Pride
Between Consenting Adults
Is Homosexuality Compatible With Christianity?
What Homosexuals Find Offensive
James Rachels: The Question of Homosexuality

Bioethics
Eugenics: It's Only Natural
Bad Arguments Against Abortion
Bad Arguments for Abortion
Life Begins at Conception
Debating Abortion - Going Deeper
A Reply to Peter Singer's "Sanctity of Life"
John Kerry's Modified Pro-life Position
Stem Cell Reality Check
Schiavoan Rhetoric
Terry Shiavo Redux
Personhood: The Measure of Life
Ron Reagan Jr. and the Embryonic Stem Cell Shuffle

Science
Evolutionary Morality
MIT Biology Class - Reading Between the Lines - part 1, part 2, part3,
Appearance of Design: Intuition or Illusion?
Cosmological vs. Biological Evolution
Punc Eq: Hide and Seek in the Fossil Record
Evolution's Credibility Problem (part 1)
Evolution's Credibility Problem (part 2)
Evolution's Credibility Problem (part 3)
Deducing God From Nature
The Heavens Declare His Glory (part 1) - Space, Size, and Significance
The Heavens Declare His Glory (part 2) - Location, Location, Location
The Heavens Declare His Glory (part 3) - It's in the Stars
The Heavens Declare His Glory (part 4) - Habitat for Humanity
Christianity and Science
Abiogenesis Woes - Harvard to the Rescue
Abiogenesis: A Problem of Origins (part 1)
Abiogenesis: A Problem of Origins (part 2)
Abiogenesis: A Problem of Origins (part 3)
Abiogenesis Leftovers (quotes and images)
Misconceptions About Intelligent Design (part 1)
Misconceptions About Intelligent Design (part 2)
Misconceptions About Intelligent Design (part 3)
Theistic Evolution: Oxymoron?

Creative Musings
Bumper Stickers I'd Like to See
How the Snee Came to Be

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Westminster Presbyterian Church Columbia, TN