Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Have We Outgrown Christianity?

Dr. Arend Hintze and I had a conversation on Atheist Central a few months ago about whether or not theology is logical, and we decided to continue it on our blogs. Although this is a fascinating subject to me, it occurred to me that a blog post titled, "Is theology logical?" would probably bore most people to tears, so I decided to take it in a more relevant direction (hopefully you don't mind, Arend). Have we outgrown Christianity, and what role does logic play in making that determination?

The issue of whether we take the Bible "literally" often comes up, but this is a misleading question because nobody takes the Bible completely literally. For example, when we read John 6:61, where Jesus says, "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven," none of us (I think) pictures a winged loaf of bread soaring down from the sky. We all know that it is symbolic, and a literal interpretation would be incorrect. The correct way to interpret it would be to look at it in the context of the whole Bible, and if we do so we will understand the deeper meaning, that Christ is our spiritual sustenance. In the Old Testament, he was the manna the Israelites ate in the desert, and in the New Testament, he is the bread of Holy Communion. But Deuteronomy 8:3 and Matthew 4:4 tell us that bread is just symbolic: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." We live physically by food, but spiritually by the word of God.

The correct interpretation of that verse was not literal; it was symbolic. And we interpreted it in light of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament--in the context of the whole Bible. We didn't just take it at face value.

So the question really should be whether or not we take the Bible seriously. Is it the inspired word of God? That is, do we think it's objectively true or do we dismiss what we don't like or understand?

That is fundamentally a logical question, because if we don't think it's true, why do we believe it? There is absolutely no reason to believe something false, and the Bible makes significant statements of fact. It says that Jesus was the Son of God and that he rose from the dead. Furthermore, it claims that he is the Way and the Truth and the Life--not just a Nice Idea.

A while back I read an interview of Christopher Hitchens where the interviewer claimed to be a Christian. But she didn't really believe that Jesus was the Son of God or that he had risen from the dead, so Hitchens had to break the news to her that she was not a Christian. And I relate more to his logical thinking than to her mishmash of vaguely Christian ideas. As C.S. Lewis said, "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."

So for Christians to pick and choose what to believe in the Bible is not logical because it implies that it doesn't contain objective truth. And if it isn't objectively true, we might as well reject the whole thing.

Is the alternative to take everything literally? No, because not everything is intended to be literal, and some things may be both symbolic and literal, with an emphasis on the symbolic. The New Testament is a fulfillment and interpretation of the Old, which foreshadows, typifies, and prophesies Christ. If we read the whole Bible we will understand the context and interpretation of many difficult parts. There is an objectively correct way to interpret everything and we can find it if we read the Bible, letting the Holy Spirit instruct us.

The question often comes up whether something in the Old Testament actually happened, and although I generally assume that it did, logically that is not the important thing (nor can we prove or disprove it). When Jesus said in his parable, "A certain man had two sons . . ." we don't immediately start asking, "Is this really certain? Who is this man? Are you sure he didn't have three sons? Why no daughters?" Some will even say that if something didn't happen exactly the way it's portrayed in the Old Testament, God lied. But that is a false dichotomy, because a literal interpretation might be incorrect, like the "living bread out of heaven" example. The Bible is exactly the way God wants it, but we have to read it correctly, without logical fallacies. Logic has been defined as "a tool for distinguishing between the true and the false," so of course we have to use good logic while studying the word of God. And when we do, it makes a lot more sense.

If a particular interpretation of the Bible is self-evidently inconsistent with reality, we have two options aside from rejecting the Bible: We can pretend that the problem doesn't exist or we can take that as a clue that our interpretation might be wrong. To me the latter option is a greater expression of faith than the former, because it says that the Bible can withstand our most rigorous and honest scrutiny and will only bring us into a deeper and more consistent understanding of it. The former attitude is to shrink back from what such scrutiny might reveal. How can we insult God by doing that? Hebrews 10:38 says: "But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back My soul has no pleasure in Him."

The word of God has to be fundamentally logical if it is true, and it has to make more--not less--sense the more we grow up intellectually. This is why nobody seriously considers the primitive polytheistic religions when they are searching for truth. Holding to a childish faith after we reach adulthood is like trying to squeeze into the clothes we wore as children. We will look ridiculous and it will garner us no favors with God. 1 Corinthians 14:20 says: "Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature." And mature thinking will, with the help of God, bring us ever closer to the true meaning of his word.

35 comments:

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

Hi Anette,

I like the extension of our initial topic. In a sense I would argue that atheism is the logical continuation of Jesus mission on earth. We go from a dogmatic centralized God from the old Testament, to Jesus love commandment, which is human centered and the first legit moral commandment that implicates doing good for the love of yourself. For me personally Jesus could have been an atheist.

I know that this is probably the most extreme position I could take, to argue Jesus wants us to become atheists. But in a sense I suppose this is almost the opposite to saying: The Bibles logical implication is to prove Gods existence, and all that is implied by that. But I think our following discussion will shine a much better light on this issue.

But why do we use logic in the first place? C. Hitchens is the perfect example: Hitchens tells the interviewer that he is not a Christian. Hitchens basically decides what is true and what is not. I am in the same position as the interviewer, and if someone tells me I am not a Christian for the same reasons as Hitchens uses, I would obviously argue, that Hitchens is the one getting it wrong, and that he is in fact not a Christian.

For all we know, if God exists, he is the one being able to decide who is a Christian and who is not. But since we can not ask directly, we have to rely on the document claiming to be a true authority - the Bible. If we could use logic, we would be able to extrapolate correctly who is right in this matter.

I hope this captures our mutual interest in logic. If logic is applicable to the Bible interpretation we have a neutral judge.

I guess you already answered this question, but just to make sure: You think (as well as I do), a strict literal interpretation of the Bible doesn't make sense, we have to accept metaphors. And I agree most of the obvious metaphors are easy to understand, Jesus the bread, is Jesus who feeds us. It is a nice colorful picture. And it actually doesn't change anything conceptually, Jesus is also the lamb, the light, the truth ... and so forth. These types of illustrating metaphors don't do anything. In logic terms: We can just cut them or cross them out, since they do not necessarily influence the meaning.

My question is: How do you distinguish between metaphors and non metaphors?

Cheers Arend

Ryk said...

This is unrelated to your post. I simply wanted to contact you and tell you I finally saw your comment on my blog and have responded.

Ryk said...

As to your post. I would be interested to know where the dividing line between real and symbolic is. The bread example is clear enough but what of the flood, the creation myth, the angels. Are they literal or figurative and if figurative to what degree. These are much harder to divine how they were intended.

Your point could become a simple dodge, if it were used to simply call everything that contradicts evidence to be symbolic. The obvious extension of that is to simply say it is all simply symbolic and then there is no cause to expect it is true.

Anette Acker said...

Hi Arend,

Thanks for your response! I’m glad you are okay with the direction in which I took our discussion.

In a sense I would argue that atheism is the logical continuation of Jesus mission on earth. We go from a dogmatic centralized God from the old Testament, to Jesus love commandment, which is human centered and the first legit moral commandment that implicates doing good for the love of yourself. For me personally Jesus could have been an atheist.

I would have to disagree with you there. The divinity of Christ is not only central to the NT, but to the OT as well. The argument that Jesus either didn't claim divinity or was mistaken about his divinity is extremely unlikely for the simple reason that the whole OT either foreshadows or prophesies Christ and his redemption.

His message is fundamentally inconsistent with atheism, because he always spoke of his Father in heaven, even when he wasn't referring to himself as God. In the love commandment, he first said to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. And John 15 says that we have to abide in him because apart from him we can do nothing. So the fulfillment of the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is dependent on loving God, or abiding in him. It is his love through us that makes the difference.

This is the central teaching of Christ, and it is reaffirmed by the other books of the NT.

But why do we use logic in the first place? C. Hitchens is the perfect example: Hitchens tells the interviewer that he is not a Christian. Hitchens basically decides what is true and what is not. I am in the same position as the interviewer, and if someone tells me I am not a Christian for the same reasons as Hitchens uses, I would obviously argue, that Hitchens is the one getting it wrong, and that he is in fact not a Christian.

In one sense Hitchens is qualified to judge and in another sense he is not. He is just as capable as anyone of understanding Christianity as an ideology. And if someone doesn't believe the tenets of Christianity, Hitchens can say that such a person is, by definition, not a Christian. This is not a moral value judgment. Hitchens would undoubtedly argue that Christians are no more moral than others, and maybe even less.

However, there is one sense in which only God can judge. Matthew 7:21-23 tells us that professing Jesus as Lord is not sufficient to save us, and that many will be turned away on the day of judgment because they failed to do God's will. Of course neither you, I, nor Hitchens can judge correctly who is truly saved in this sense, but we can have a general idea because we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16).

Anette Acker said...

You come across as one of the nicer people on AC, but that doesn't mean you're a Christian because you don't believe in God. Christianity and atheism are fundamentally incompatible. You can, of course, say that you follow some of the teachings of Jesus, but that is not the same as being a Christian.

But if you read the gospels and pay attention to the teachings of Jesus, that is probably having an impact on you anyway, because he has "the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). Mohandas Gandhi was very much drawn to Jesus, and one of the few items in his possession when he died was a copy of the gospel of John. He was undoubtedly influenced by Jesus. But, at least to public knowledge, he never accepted that Jesus was the Son of God.

So in one sense the words of Jesus are consistent with both atheism, Hinduism, and many other isms. His message resonates with our moral compass as humans. We may disagree with a lot on AC, but I’ve never seen anyone disagreeing that the highest virtue is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Still, this is central to Christian theology: Christ is alive and can save us by his Spirit. We are powerless to save ourselves. Jesus makes that very clear in John 15.

I hope this captures our mutual interest in logic. If logic is applicable to the Bible interpretation we have a neutral judge.

Logic is applicable to the Bible. If it wasn't it would be difficult to make the argument that it is true. Truth cannot be fundamentally inconsistent with logic. Having said that, our own logic can mislead us because we may draw a perfect circle but make it too small. The key is to appeal to logic without watering down the word of God. Charles Spurgeon said: "We want men who will try to think straight, and yet think deep, because they think God's thoughts." If God is the creator of this world, he is also the author of logic, and to think straight is to be logical.

However, as we discussed on AC, we can neither prove nor disprove the Bible for the simple reason that we don’t have enough information. This is also why we cannot prove a scientific theory. Logic with respect to the Bible means the opposite of fallacious reasoning. It also means that the Bible self-authenticates and interprets itself. That is, the entire Bible is a theologically consistent, cohesive whole.

These types of illustrating metaphors don't do anything. In logic terms: We can just cut them or cross them out, since they do not necessarily influence the meaning.

Those illustrating metaphors are actually very important, because some of the concepts in the Bible are too difficult for us to grasp otherwise. Our language is too limited. For example, what does it mean to have faith in Christ? If we just use the word “believe” by itself it is easy to think that it simply means intellectual acquiescence. But a metaphor like a branch abiding on the vine makes it clear that faith is dependence on Christ. In the same way that the branch receives nourishment by staying attached to the vine, and that’s how it bears fruit, we bear spiritual fruit by abiding in Christ.
Other times the Bible talks about “putting on Christ,” or “putting on a robe of righteousness,” which illustrates that any goodness in us is derivative.

My question is: How do you distinguish between metaphors and non metaphors?

This is an excellent question and one I want to spend more time on, so since Ryk asked the same one in a more specific way I’m going to answer it in a separate comment.

I’m going to be busy most of the day, so if I don’t finish it this morning I’ll try to post it tomorrow.

Anette Acker said...

Hi Ryk,

Thanks for your answers to my questions on your blog. I agree with what you said about the mathematical proof. I appreciate you clearing that up.

Your point could become a simple dodge, if it were used to simply call everything that contradicts evidence to be symbolic. The obvious extension of that is to simply say it is all simply symbolic and then there is no cause to expect it is true.

This is an excellent point, and I'm glad you raised it. Sometimes liberal Christians will use it as a dodge, which is why conservative Christians make a point of interpreting everything literally unless it's clear that it's symbolic (like the "bread out of heaven" example). Although I am a conservative evangelical Christian, I think we err too far in the direction of a literal interpretation, as a reaction to the liberal approach. The zeitgeist favors an ultra-literal reading of the Bible, but that can also mean superficiality, which misses the true meaning of a text.

The best way to tell whether something is symbolic or literal is to look at the literary style and to analyze it in the context of the whole Bible.

The Bible contains many difficulties, and a number of them are based on statements by Jesus, so we’re hard pressed to explain them away. Most Christians agree that the gospels are based on eyewitness accounts and therefore describe factual events.

For example, John 15:7 says: "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." That seems counter-intuitive because most of us have experienced unanswered prayer.

But the only way to explain that away is to say that Jesus didn’t say it or that it was recorded wrong, which would deny the infallibility of the Scriptures as well as its theological accuracy. That statement was theological in nature, and it was made by Christ in the gospel of John which clearly purports to record actual events.

So the question then is whether it is consistent with the rest of the Bible and inherently logical, and the answer to those questions is yes. The verse clearly gives a condition: “If you abide in Me,” and illustrates that with the example of the vine and the branches. The sap is analogous to the Holy Spirit, which alone can produce good fruit in our lives, and the fruit of love, joy, peace, etc. will in turn make us want and therefore pray for the right things. And the power of God will work through our prayers to further his kingdom in this world.

I realize that I didn’t develop that very thoroughly (it’s a complex subject that would take us off on a tangent), but suffice it to say that the verse is very consistent with Christian theology and it is not inherently illogical. We can accept the words of Jesus at face value. Other theological questions are similarly complex but fundamentally logical and consistent with the rest of the Bible.

Anette Acker said...

As far as the beginning of Genesis is concerned, I agree with your Christian friend almost straight down the line. I can identify with his belief in the infallibility of the Scriptures, his unwillingness to be dishonest about science, his opinion that OEC is an irrational compromise because it would be both unbiblical and unscientific, his faith that the Bible is consistent even if we don’t understand it, and his uncertainty of whether the beginning of Genesis is symbolic or literal. But I’m more willing than he is to speculate on the latter issue, because it comes up so often in discussions with atheists.

Genesis 1-3 has a very different literary style than the gospels, and whether or not it is historical, it is richly symbolic. (I discussed some of the symbolism in my comment to Raoul Rheits in the previous post.)

But the question is whether it is entirely symbolic, and in order to make that determination we have to look at it in the context of the whole Bible. Here are some reasons why, quite apart from the scientific evidence, it might be symbolic:

• Genesis 1 is written in a semi-poetic style, by repeating phrases like “And it was good.”

• There are strong parallels between Genesis 1-3 and the book of Revelation, which is highly symbolic. For example, Satan is a serpent in Genesis and a dragon in Revelation. Each time he interacts with a woman, who represents the church.

• Revelation 2:7 says that those who overcome will eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God. There is also a tree of life in the Garden of Eden. Will the redeemed eat from a literal tree of life throughout all eternity? How will that work logistically if there is only one tree? This seems more likely to represent a deep spiritual truth. And if it is symbolic in Revelation, why would it be literal in Genesis?

• The Bible uses the imagery of gardens, trees, and fruit symbolically throughout. “Fruit” has a very specific theological meaning.

• As I mentioned in my comment to Raoul, “Adam” means “mankind” and “Eve” means “living” in the Hebrew. The KJV says: “Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created” (Genesis 5:2). They were both called “Adam” or "Man" in other translations.

• Genesis 1-4 breaks down in several places as a narrative. There are two creation accounts, and it never explains whom Cain worried would kill him and whom he married.

• Although miracles are central to the Christian faith, the miracles at the beginning of Genesis are very different from the miracles of Jesus. Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, turned water into wine, and stilled the sea, etc. These kinds of miracles demonstrated his dominion over nature and his ability to perfect it. In other words, they were redemptive miracles, and therefore consistent with his ministry. The “miracles” in Genesis, on the other hand, were a woman born out of a rib, a talking snake, etc. These would have been a complete violation of nature, and they have a more symbolic feel to them.

• The Bible never describes biological processes, so why would God creating Adam out of dust and Eve out of his rib be a literal account of how he created them?

Anette Acker said...

So quite apart from science, there are biblical reasons for interpreting it symbolically.

I would be interested to know where the dividing line between real and symbolic is. The bread example is clear enough but what of the flood, the creation myth, the angels. Are they literal or figurative and if figurative to what degree. These are much harder to divine how they were intended.

Each of these has to be looked at separately. Not too many Christians would dispute that angels and demons are real and I discussed the flood in a prior post on my blog.

The bottom line is that the Bible interprets itself, so we have to look at everything in context. 1 Corinthians 15:17 says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” So unless the resurrection actually happened the Christian faith is a myth. That part is the cornerstone, which is why Hitchens told his interviewer that she was not a Christian when she didn’t believe it.

I have found the Bible to be as reliable as the natural world. I just mentioned the difficult example of unanswered prayer, but what I have seen and experienced is completely consistent with what Jesus says in John 15. I just got some amazing news from a friend who is adopting from Ethiopia—she has more faith than just about anyone I know, and the details of what she reported simply could not have been coincidence. That’s just one event; I’m aware of many more.

On the other hand, the idea that God created the world to look old to test our faith is the most convoluted logic I can think of, and it betrays a fundamental unfamiliarity with the nature of God and the Bible. It blows my mind when I hear that argument.

So quite apart from the scientific evidence, there are reasons to interpret the beginning of Genesis symbolically. I would go so far as to say that reasons for interpreting it symbolically far outweigh the arguments for why it is literal. And if we have to be dishonest about science to maintain a literal interpretation, it seems like a pretty easy decision. Revelation 21:8 says: “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Italics added).

So your Christian friend is certainly correct that it is far better to admit that we don't understand than to lie. But I also think that the Bible is consistent with itself and with reality on this point.

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

It is very interesting that you raise the topic of liars, but later more to that.

Ryk and I asked: How to distinguish real from symbolic, or how to identify the metaphorical parts.

And your answer was more geared towards how to interpret symbols or metaphors, by arguing that first there is an inherent consistence between all the statements in the Bible, and also that everything becomes explainable/understandable within the context of the Bible. I guess this means for you, that the symbols or metaphors are sort of "no big deal" since they are easy explainable. And you interpret them based on zeitgeist (more or less).
I am not trying to put words in you mouth, and I am sorry if that comes across that way. I repeat what you wrote in my words, to make sure I understand them.

I would totally agree: The science God used to make humans was Evolution, the order of events in Genesis kinda describes the dynamics happening during that period, starting with big bang theory and so forth. The Garden of Eden was nothing more as the birthplace of humankind somewhere in Africa, a couple of million years ago, and human consciousness and the gain of intelligence made us become guilty and responsible for our actions. We can not live naively in paradise, our self awareness and our awareness for the suffering of others (including animals) means we have to take responsibility for our actions, we become moral beings and thus there is good and evil.

But here apparently we disagree (I guess), you consider the events in Genesis miracles, where I would say they are figures of speech, that might have a scientific underpinning. I just interpreted the symbols and metaphors in a different way, that is also entirely consistent with my context (science), but apparently comes to vastly different conclusions (sorry I assume that, without actually knowing your point of view about these issues correctly). And coming back to lies: Science and the scientific method (and Logic) is all about not lying, and honestly my lives mission as a scientist is not to lie - ever (as difficult as it is) . I try to find the truth. So if I take the 8th (lutheran) commandment about saying the truth literally, and I must say: Evolution is the origin of the species, the universe is 13 billion years old, Jesus love commandment is the only thing in the Bible that makes sense to me, and fundamentalism is the worst thing in the world including christian fundamentalism. I can not bring myself to lying about these things. The threat of Hell can not change that.

I think one could argue that we use the same "Logic" but we have different axioms. We basically define our variables to start with in a different way. Unfortunately logic should tell us who is right or wrong. And in addition logic, must be independent of zeitgeist (I like that word - I am German).

From my point of view: Logic will not tell us if we have outgrown Christianity, maybe not because it does not apply, but because of the way the Bible uses symbols and metaphors.

At the same time our moral standards can not just go with the Zeitgeist, that would make them entirely ambivalent.

Above I made assumptions about your opinion, and to clarify them: I assumed that for you the Bible is in conflict with Science. The book genesis (how ever symbolic) actually reflects how it happened. Basically: How old is the universe? Is evolution the explanation for the origin of Species? Those kind of questions...

Your answer to the two questions above help a lot to understand your position much better. Because frankly I can not tell if we actually agree or disagree on the points I raised. Just having an assumption is not very polite of me, sorry.

Cheers Arend

Anette Acker said...

I guess this means for you, that the symbols or metaphors are sort of "no big deal" since they are easy explainable. And you interpret them based on zeitgeist (more or less).

Actually, I don't see the symbols as "no big deal." The "types," "shadows," and "mysteries" in the OT are very different from the kind of symbolism we find in human literature. It is inspired by God and therefore has a very specific meaning. The prophet Daniel had the gift of interpreting dreams and "mysteries," and they each had a very definite meaning. These same kinds of mysteries, or deep truths, are found throughout the OT. The Bible is not a matter of subjective interpretation (2 Peter 1:20), whether something is literal or symbolic.

My point about the zeitgeist was that I try to avoid letting it influence my interpretation of the Bible. Most likely we as modern Christian have cultural blind spots, so I try to read the Bible without preconceptions. I use only the Bible itself, logic, and reality to interpret the Bible, and I listen critically to what other Christians have to say. Although I definitely learn from others, I swallow nothing wholesale.

I would totally agree: The science God used to make humans was Evolution, the order of events in Genesis kinda describes the dynamics happening during that period, starting with big bang theory and so forth. The Garden of Eden was nothing more as the birthplace of humankind somewhere in Africa, a couple of million years ago, and human consciousness and the gain of intelligence made us become guilty and responsible for our actions. We can not live naively in paradise, our self awareness and our awareness for the suffering of others (including animals) means we have to take responsibility for our actions, we become moral beings and thus there is good and evil.

This would be consistent with a partially symbolic interpretation. "Mankind" ate the "fruit" of the knowledge of good and evil, and they realized that they were naked. In other words, once they evolved to the point where they were no longer innocent like children or animals, they began to feel shame. At that point they had become like God in knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:22). Also, Genesis 4:26 says: "Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord." They began to worship for the first time.

The Bible is consistent with evolution, or the development of mankind, because Galatians 4 compares the bronze age Israelites to children, implying that they were primitive, and Paul says in Galatians 4:4: "But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son." In other words, Jesus came at just the right time in history.

But here apparently we disagree (I guess), you consider the events in Genesis miracles, where I would say they are figures of speech, that might have a scientific underpinning.

Not necessarily. They seem more like symbols. As I said before, the miracles of Jesus were redemptive miracles that demonstrated his dominion over nature. Genesis 1:28 gave Man dominion over the earth, and Jesus, the Son of Man (the "last Adam") truly had dominion over it, because in him was the perfect union of God and man.

I think one could argue that we use the same "Logic" but we have different axioms.

How do we have different axioms? If we both approach this subject with open, critical minds, we should be able to communicate. I certainly don't assume that you think of the Bible as the word of God, but I assume that you are open to the possibility. That may be a false assumption though. Some atheists have said that they are not open to the possibility, but they appear to be in the minority.

Do you consider yourself an atheist, by the way? You said you were Lutheran, but I thought you had called yourself an atheist before.

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

I consider myself an atheist Christian, which means that I don't believe in God, or any other supernatural entity for that matter. Still I was raises Lutheran, my family is, and my children are baptized lutheran. I have no problem visiting the church, and one of my best councilors and friends is a retired pastor. This is all in Germany. I personally take (try to take) only Jesus love commandment as my moral guide, and even though I think it is obvious to act on that on reason alone. I support the efforts to speed this word. And most Christian factions do that, so in general I have no issues on religious matters.
I fully support human rights, and one of them is religious (and also scientific) freedom. I do not oppose religion, quite in contrast for me religion is an expression of freedom, and must be supported.
But: Being here in the US I encounter what is widely known as "Evangelicalism". And I have major problems to support their religious world view, mostly because "they" actively oppose human rights, freedom of thought, and my work as a scientist. I know that this is a bold claim, but let me explain:
-Someone arguing that his moral is authorized by God, and that there is a fundamental truth that can be known and experienced by humans is a threat to my own believes and my freedom of thought. If someone has the authority to decide what opinion/interpretation/world view is right, freedom ends.
-freedom of thought, and academic freedom, and religious freedom are human rights; proselytization opposes this freedom, and Evangelicalism is very active on that end.
-I work on evolution, and the political influences of fundamentalist Christians in the Government is intolerable. Bush as an example fighting a "Christian" war, being born again, and winning the election because "Evangelicals" voted for him, is the end of separation of Church and State, and we can not have that!
-The opposition of Evolution is only the tip of the iceberg, I would call the "Evangelical" agenda anti science in general... I can not allow that.

When I said Lutheran, I was referring to the Lutheran annotation of the 10 commandments.

Sorry for that long explanation, but I thought that this helps to understand my position a little better.

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

From what you say, I would think that your position very much overlaps with the catholic world view. Instead of opposing scientific opinion, the church turned genesis into a more symbolic story, basically agreeing with evolution. I guess they understand that evolution as well as science in general can not disprove God, and science per se is anyway not a very good moral guide. First it is very brain intense, but moral decision must be made fast and intuitively. So religion can fill this gap very well. And secondly, moral decision are never objective, while science would tend to objectify, and that is in most situations impossible, and also inadequate.
You see the connection above: I want academic freedom, so I must necessarily also want religious freedom. I can not have freedom on the cost of other peoples freedom. I am not going to claim absolute authority, because it would be unscientific. And I can not allow others to claim this authority (scientific or religious) because that is not tolerating freedom.
---
I guess this also means that we do not have axioms that are that different, we roughly come to the same conclusion about many things the Bible says. I would still argue, that other people have very different axioms, and thus they come to very different conclusions.

I guess we can pursue two different paths in our discussion, we either talk more about the effects of symbolism on logic, or we talk more about logical consequences from the Bible, and how that influences the future of Christianity, or how much Christianity can be outgrown.

We would probably agree on the meaning of most metaphors and symbols, as long as they are not to extreme, or we would be able to agree on a middle ground. So lets us pursue the later topic.

I argued that the only thing I take from the Bible is Jesus love commandment because it is totally logically consistent within itself (at least for me), it makes sense to me without the context of the Bible, and you might add that it absolutely makes sense for you within the context of the Bible (obviously).

That actually means for me, that something in order to make sense, must make sense without the context of the Bible. We had this Harry Potter example (very bad one, I know), but if these books have a "take home message" that it is not "You can fly on a broom", but you have to stand up for you ideals (or whatever).

Can you explain to me in general what your criterions are for a message to make sense outside of the Biblical context? I don't necessarily mean moral statements, but others not mentioned in the Bible?

Cheers Arend

Anette Acker said...

Arend,

Thank you for explaining your position. That helps me better understand where you're coming from.

Since I was born in Norway, I also have a Lutheran background. However, I consider myself evangelical now because I believe in the necessity of a spiritual rebirth and I have a high view of the infallibility of the Scriptures. In some ways, however, I have an ecumenical background. I went to a Lutheran college, came to Christ while visiting a charismatic church, started attending an evangelical church regularly, and then enrolled at a Catholic law school. And most of the theology I read is of the classical variety. So although I'm strict in my adherence to the Bible and try to back up everything I say biblically, I don't believe that modern evangelicals have a monopoly on truth, and I try to listen to other ideas with an open, critical mind.

That actually means for me, that something in order to make sense, must make sense without the context of the Bible. We had this Harry Potter example (very bad one, I know), but if these books have a "take home message" that it is not "You can fly on a broom", but you have to stand up for you ideals (or whatever).

Actually, the Harry Potter example is a good one, not because it is analogous to the Bible, but because it is very different from the Bible. I think your original point about HP (which we never discussed) was that it is internally consistent but not consistent with reality. So you asked how the internal logic and consistency of the Bible indicates that it is the word of God.

First, the Bible was written by about forty authors from very different walks of life over a long period of time. HP, on the other hand, was written by one author over a relatively short period of time. Of course she could create an internally consistent world.

Second, every book of the OT foreshadows Christ in very theologically accurate ways (i.e., consistent with the NT), even though the coming of God in the flesh was a "mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints" (Colossians 1:26). In other words, even the prophets and the other authors didn't fully understand their own prophecies. But now the symbolism is very clear. Rowling, on the other hand, was completely omniscient in the world she created.

Third, Christian theology is extremely complex, because it deals with issues that are very hard for the human mind to grasp. For example, the question of election and predestination can only be analyzed in light of eternity, otherwise it looks like circular logic and contradictory statements. But if we remember that God exists outside of time, the "circularity" is not fallacious. And the apparent contradictions are simply paradoxes.

In spite of the complexity, Christian theology is completely consistent down to the most nuanced detail. Everything fits together like the pieces of a puzzle, and the Bible itself is a cohesive whole from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation.

But an equally important question is whether it is consistent with reality. We have already discussed the beginning of Genesis and Galatians 4 and seen how that is consistent with science, even though the message is primarily theological. Another point about the creation story is that God created Adam ("Mankind") out of dust, and modern science has determined that we are made out of stardust. Although Genesis 2:7 only talks about Adam being formed out of dust, Psalm 104 says that all creatures "return" to dust. So the Bible is consistent with science in saying that we were all made of the same stuff.

Anette Acker said...

But there's another issue that you raised where the Bible is also consistent with reality, and that is in terms of the importance of freedom. I fully agree with you that you should have freedom in your scientific search for truth.

Freedom is a central tenet of Christian theology. Galatians 5:1 says: "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." And 2 Corinthians 3:17 says: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." But John 16:13 says that this same Spirit which is freedom is also the "Spirit of truth." So truth and freedom go together.

When you do your scientific research, you obviously don't consider the truth an intellectual straitjacket; you object to that which inhibits you from pursuing the truth. The right to pursue the truth would liberate you. If you can imagine for a moment that the Bible really is the word of God, it would also be the truth, and therefore strict adherence to it would never be a straitjacket. It would be like the freedom to pursue all truth, particularly if the “Spirit of truth” leads us.

However, the dogmatic interpretations of other people could be like a “yoke of slavery,” because they could be inconsistent with truth. And this is what drew me originally to the evangelical church—it focuses on freedom. There is no pope to tell us what to think and we aren’t forced into one state church. But now there’s a lot of legalism and bondage in some (not all) parts of the evangelical church, and much of it has to do with the interpretation of the beginning of Genesis. In addition to the Bible, which is liberating, there is the straitjacket imposed by other people, and the implicit sanction of those who don’t toe the party line. This is called "legalism," and the whole New Testament condemns it; particularly the book of Galatians.

So I have always found the Bible to be consistent with truth of every kind, even when I face it head-on. The consistency may not be immediately apparent, but sometimes we just have to look at the issue from another angle. Facing the truth makes me more—not less—faithful to the text of the Bible.

Anette Acker said...

I should add that in all the years that I have attended evangelical churches, the subject of creationism has never once come up in a sermon. I have no idea what position our pastors take on the subject (but one of our pastors is a former physicist, so maybe I should ask him). I know that it is a central topic on AC, but before I started commenting there I hardly ever gave it any thought. I can see how it might be an issue for you as a scientist, however.

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

Here is a quick question:

When you say the Bible is the truth (coming from God), can you take these "instructions" as a helper to make absolute decision about right and wrong, and with you I mean you as a human.

Or
Are they more inspirational in nature, so that you know there is an absolute truth, but you as a person can not make those decisions with 100% certainty. Which ultimately means, that even though we have a book we still retain the humanity of being subjective (maybe just emotional) beings?

I ask that, because I hear the argument that "it is written in the Bible so it must be true" so often, particularly in theological questions (not in science), where I think "what if you got it wrong?".

I want to answer on you other post with more though, but this question popped up right away?

Cheers Arend

Anette Acker said...

That's an excellent question, Arend, and the answer is that of course I don't know for sure that my interpretation is the correct one. Since Christians disagree in their interpretation of the Bible, but most of us believe that there is an objectively correct interpretation, it follows that some of us are wrong. That's why we have to approach the Bible with humility.

Do you, as a scientist, fully understand the natural world? Of course you don't, but you trust that it operates according to predictable laws. You are seeking the truth and you're willing to be corrected. That's how I view the Bible. I believe that it is consistent and it will withstand my honest scrutiny, and I have found that to be true. And if it is the word of God, there should be parallels between it and the natural world. God would be the author and creator of both.

But of course we don't need to understand all the nuances of theology to be saved. If we reduce all theology to its simplest form we get Galatians 5:6: "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." Faith in God is the means, because his Spirit has to work through us, but love is the end. This is why 1 Corinthians 13 says that regardless of our gifts, without love we are nothing.

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

What I want to describe now is a little difficult to explain, and maybe I don't get it right the first time, anyway:

In science we try to understand more about reality and find the inner workings of our world (nature or physics), we know as a fact, that we are unable to describe this world exactly as it is, we end up with theories explaining all observations, and they can at best be unfalsified, but never actually true. In this process scientist publish papers, give talks, and most importantly we argue with each other, so that the wrong ideas are sorted out, or the better explanations are kept. You can easily imagine a very hot headed discussion in front of a black board where scientist argue back and forth about what is right or wrong. But at the end of the day, all the arguments are meaningless, since there are two options: either we can make an experiment that shows what is wrong, and which prediction/hypothesis is right. Or we figure that we can not make an experiment, and then the object of this discussion becomes meaningless, since it wasn't about something observable, and thus outside of reality. The later case doesn't happen very often. Anyway we make some sort of progress along this way, and we use math/logic eliminating any form of interpretation, and thus we are very sure about the validity of the work. Still keeping in mind that we all could have been wrong, and that there is the smart guy in the other lab, doing a new experiment showing we all were wrong, and there is a better explanation out there. And also this doesn't happen very often, in fact physics is almost devoid of that when it comes to major topics, because they can very well define what they don't know, so there is less of a turnover (like in medicine) but more a constant growth.

Anyway, even though we have schools of thought and so forth, at the end of the day we all agree on something. Not because we want to, but because it was shown. So in that sense, there is no freedom. My opinion us meaningless, nature is what it is.

You say the Bible is consistent and also applies to reality, and you use symbols and metaphors to achieve that matching. I take a single line, and ignore the rest. Ray Comfort takes the whole thing literally and says reality has to bend around his interpretation of the Bible. And I can go on for ever. Basically everyone who thinks for him/her self will come up with his or her version of the Bible. There is a reason why Christianity has so many denominations. I understand that you and I don't want to be told by the Pope what is right or wrong. But if there are so many valid interpretations how can they contradict each other? Logic should be able to resolve these differences. But apparently it fails. Look at the debate who is a Christian and who isn't.

You said that the Bible is consistent with reality. And you base that on your observations, and how you interpret the Bible. But I say that this consistency is subjective. It makes a good book, apparently everyone can have his own take home message, but that is not what I expect from a universal moral guideline. Hence my reduction to Jesus love commandment.

Sorry, for exaggerating how divers and contradictive Christian denominations are, but you get the idea, at the end of the day there are people not agreeing on something.

Cheers Arend

Y = X said...

Hi Annette.

Sorry I never got back to you. Had a lot going on and haven't been good about getting back to people. Thank you for the time you take to answer questions.

Anette Acker said...

Great to hear from you again, Y=X!

Not a problem with not replying to my comment. I just figured that you found it so persuasive that you're now a Christian. That's true, right? :)

Anette Acker said...

Arend,

You described very clearly the process by which scientists reach their conclusions. However, you are taking for granted that scientists study an objective reality (which I concede, of course), but theologians do not. How do you know this? You seem to base it on the fact that Christians disagree on interpretations, but you have dismissed my explanation that some of us are wrong. I would go so far as to say that all of us are wrong, just like all scientists are wrong. Unless you are omniscient about the natural world and physics, you are wrong about something. How then can any one Christian fully understand God, even as he reveals himself in the Bible?

The main difference between scientists and theologians is that scientists know that they are studying an objective reality. Theologians and other Christians don’t always believe that about the Bible. Faith is a matter of degree—not an absolute matter. So when Christians act dishonestly about their beliefs it’s often because they don’t want their faith challenged in case it cannot withstand scrutiny. They may be scrupulously honest in other areas of their lives. But if Christians don’t have enough faith to face the questions honestly, they may arrive at the wrong conclusions, because without honesty we will not arrive at the truth. This is every bit as true in Bible study as in science. However, scientists never doubt that this world exists and operates according to predictable laws, while Christians sometimes doubt the existence of God.

Anyway, even though we have schools of thought and so forth, at the end of the day we all agree on something. Not because we want to, but because it was shown. So in that sense, there is no freedom. My opinion us meaningless, nature is what it is.

That was exactly my point: nature is what it is and the Bible is what it is. (Whether or not you believe in God, you have to believe that the Bible is a book that says some things and doesn’t say other things.) Your freedom consists of being about to follow the scientific method and understand the world correctly, and you oppose any interference in this, right? You do not consider the truth an intellectual straitjacket even though it imposes a constraint on your freedom. If the Bible is the word of God, it is the truth, and therefore it is no more restrictive in a negative sense than science is, because it would be consistent with all truth.

You say the Bible is consistent and also applies to reality, and you use symbols and metaphors to achieve that matching. I take a single line, and ignore the rest. Ray Comfort takes the whole thing literally and says reality has to bend around his interpretation of the Bible.

So how do we determine who’s right? We substantiate our beliefs with logic and with the Bible, which defines Christianity. Can Christianity be defined solely by the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves? No, because it calls us first to love God (Matthew 22:37-40), which is closely tied to faith, and Galatians 5:6 says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” So faith is inseparable from the love commandment.

Anette Acker said...

Is it accurate to interpret the entire Bible literally and to bend reality around it? Well, the second part of the question should tell us the answer. But the Bible never even tells us to interpret everything literally. Fundamentalists came up with that on their own, and they’ve only been around for about a hundred years. As I said before, the Bible tells us that the OT foreshadows Christ—this was not just an idea that I happened to like. “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). I have already given you examples of that, but there are many more, and they are consistent with the theology of the New Testament.

This is what R.C. Sproul said:

"In contrast to modern day Fundamentalism, John Calvin insisted that the Bible's teachings can not be properly understood unless seen within the framework of Scripture's overarching themes. Interpretation of individual doctrines and passages of scripture must not be taught in isolation from the coherent substance of the whole Bible. Calvin did not invent a system of theology to which he forced the scriptures to conform, as his detractors suggest, but attempted to recognize the paradigm provided by the Bible, itself."

Although I’m not a Calvinist, I agree with that approach. The question is whether a completely literal interpretation of the Bible is accurate. And if reality has to bend around a literal interpretation, it is self-evidently not. This is like your original complaint against theology that "A" cannot equal "not A." So I think your complaint is against fundamentalism, not the Bible.

But if there are so many valid interpretations how can they contradict each other? Logic should be able to resolve these differences. But apparently it fails. Look at the debate who is a Christian and who isn't.

Actually, there is very little debate about who is a Christian and who is not. Most of us agree that it’s generally defined by core beliefs, but that God will ultimately sort the “wheat” from the “chaff.” Based on the Bible, we agree that we can’t accurately distinguish the true Christians from the false. This is because we don’t know what is in someone’s heart. It is lack of sufficient information. However, we do know whether or not a certain belief system is Christian.

Whether or not interpretations contradict each other is irrelevant, because logically there are many reasons why people reach the wrong conclusions. What matters is whether the Bible contradicts itself.

When I comment on AC, I back up everything I say with the Bible, in context, because that is how I substantiate my interpretation. And I invite people to challenge me if I’m wrong. That’s one way I test my faith and refine my understanding of the Bible. And if my faith were based on something false, surely the atheists would have been able to help me see the error of my ways by now. I don’t shy away from their hard questions.

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

A lot of questions on AC are in deed aimed to show that there are undeniable contradictions within the Bible, which is a hopeless undertaking, not because I think they don't exist, but because the Bible is covering a huge timespan and at different times, different rules applied, and also symbolism and metaphorical interpretation allow to extend the Biblical view to match reality quite well.

Let me try to summarize the rest:

Ultimately the word of God manifested in the Bible is a guide for moral choices and salvation. It contains the absolute truth, and one should understand more and more of it, which requires logic and reason, but also emotions, since love is sort of the core of it. It is not entirely clear if this truth is actually understandable during our lives. We agree that there are shades of gray, and positions we (or Christians in general) don't necessarily agree 100% , but that doesn't really matter since in the "end" Heaven awaits the righteous. Sorry for this crude simplification, but in essence it (hopefully) is also makes a statement about "the future of Christianity": We might be able to understand more and more about the Bible, and you say we should use logic as a tool to do so.

I guess we also agree that in general our definitions of logic are a little different. I use logic more as math like formal tool, that must be entirely consistent a priory, whereas you use the word logic more in the sense of "reason" or "correct interpretation". And your approach allows ambiguities and a wider range of inference, whereas my approach does not (for formal reasons). I just repeated this for others to understand more of our earlier discussion, and I am fine with using your definition, since it reflects human nature much better. We are not "Vulcans" and pure logic (as I would use in pure science) appears to be not much of help here.

The question that we are left to answer is: Will this reason/logic that we use to interpret the Bible tell us in the end that God's existence and Moral is an inseparable consequence of each other. Or are we able to "outgrow" the spiritual mysticism of the Bible/God and become atheistic moral beings?

I am going to argue that we can be moral beings just by reason, without moral being defined by God, or its obedience enforced by an authority like God. But we should first define what the "goal" or essence is we take out of the Bible, or what we hope to get from the Bible.

It is actually a very simple question: Besides the spiritual change that made you believe in God, how did the Bible change your actions or interactions with people, or in what way are your actions different because you are a Christian?

Keep in mind, my next question will be if you needed the believe in God to act differently (if you acted differently)?

Cheers Arend

Anette Acker said...

We are not "Vulcans" and pure logic (as I would use in pure science) appears to be not much of help here.

I think we would all do well to think more logically than we do, but not at the expense of intuition. Intuition and logic are not mutually exclusive; they are two different ways that we arrive at truth. The problem with Vulcans is not that they are too logical, but that they lack intuition, including social intuition.

Most people are theists of some persuasion because they intuitively believe that the world was created. Einstein was a deist for this reason.

Intuition generally reaches further than reason, because good logic takes practice, and there are some things that we cannot translate into the language of reason. But both logic and intuition can lead us astray, so it's good to rely on both for balance.

The question that we are left to answer is: Will this reason/logic that we use to interpret the Bible tell us in the end that God's existence and Moral is an inseparable consequence of each other. Or are we able to "outgrow" the spiritual mysticism of the Bible/God and become atheistic moral beings?

I would of course argue that it's the former. God's existence and morality are inseparable. I believe that the intuitive moral compass comes from God, regardless of whether we are Christians, atheists, or something else.

And not only can we not "outgrow" spiritual mysticism; according to the Bible the final stage of the development of humanity will be a consummation of this God/human relationship. That is, God will create "a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13).

So this is the progression according to the Bible: the dawn of humanity was marked by the knowledge of good and evil and the ability to choose one or the other. Then God revealed himself as the one true God and imparted his law. Then at the "fullness of time" he sent his Son, the God/Man, to take the penalty for our sins, or our misuse of our free will. And he gave his Holy Spirit to give us victory over our sins and grant us the gift of eternal life. The final stage is that the redeemed will be like Christ, being filled with his Spirit, and yet wholly themselves and fully free. This is how it will be eternally on his new earth. So Christian doctrine cannot outgrow "spiritual mysticism," because that is its very essence.

It is actually a very simple question: Besides the spiritual change that made you believe in God, how did the Bible change your actions or interactions with people, or in what way are your actions different because you are a Christian?

My actions are very different now because I am a Christian. The difference is not so much my values--I could believe that I should love my neighbor as myself without faith in the Bible. But it's the increasing ability to carry out that command. In other words, it is the lack of discrepancy between my heart and my behavior. The work of Christ in my life has resulted in me increasingly loving other people in ways that I could not do before. So it is a gift of God's grace, which is what he promises.

Romans 7 says that the law tells us how to act but gives us no power to actually do it. Romans 8 gives the solution: we are to be led by the Holy Spirit, who fulfills the law (to love our neighbor as ourselves) within us.

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

Sorry, but you confused me here, I want to make sure I understand the following statement correctly:

My actions are very different now because I am a Christian. The difference is not so much my values--I could believe that I should love my neighbor as myself without faith in the Bible. But it's the increasing ability to carry out that command. In other words, it is the lack of discrepancy between my heart and my behavior. The work of Christ in my life has resulted in me increasingly loving other people in ways that I could not do before. So it is a gift of God's grace, which is what he promises.

You are saying you already loved other people as you love yourself, but you couldn't act accordingly, but becoming a Christian now enables you to truly love them, and thus you can now act upon Jesus love commandment without hesitations?

So what actually happened is that you emotionally changed and thus you can act out your intuitions, you weren't just confident enough? But these intuitions were put there by God in the first place.

This is quite the opposite to the "normal Evangelical" reasoning for accepting Jesus as the savior. Which goes more like: You are a sinner, you will burn in Hell, repent and accept Jesus so that you can live in Heaven. The basic assumption about humans is quite different. Not that this is excluding each other, we can be inherently sinful because of our wisdom, and at the same time have "divine intuition", and are just not following it.

Does this capture what you said?

Cheers Arend

Anette Acker said...

So what actually happened is that you emotionally changed and thus you can act out your intuitions, you weren't just confident enough? But these intuitions were put there by God in the first place.

No, what I meant is the we all have a God-given moral compass. I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Most people approve of what is good, at least in theory.

But the problem is that we don't always act or feel the way we should. For example, I may fully believe that losing my temper is not a good idea and still do it. What is in us eventually comes out.

Romans 7:19 recognizes this problem by saying, "For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me." None of us have the power to be everything we know we should be, or to live according to our ideals.

But Romans 7:24-25 gives the problem and the solution: "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" And Romans 8 goes on to say that it is through the Spirit of God that we have victory over ourselves.

So when we are led by the Spirit, Christ changes us from the inside out so that loving our neighbor as ourselves becomes natural. In other words, we will want what God wants. Since we all have this God-given moral compass, this means that we will no longer be in conflict with ourselves. We're not saying one thing and meaning another. We'll have peace with God, ourselves and other people.

Of course this is a process for all Christians. The more we surrender to God's grace, the more his Spirit takes shape within us. But it's a long and often painful journey. Hebrews 12:11 says, "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

Great! I honestly think that this is possibly the best effect Christianity can have. You not only give love, but what you apparently receive from God is love, which strengthens you, and enables you to do good.

And from love you receive your moral compass, which in my opinion is the best possible way to act morally. And I wish everybody would see that. In fact I think that being an atheist requires you to have a moral compass (of your own), and you have to think very hard, and it is somewhat unintuitive what to do. So in my opinion religion can be an easier "short cut" to moral behavior. And also the promise of eternal life is a very comforting thought, and I some what envy people having this concept of afterlife, since for me there is nothing.

Anyway, I would like to add two observations to this: The love you receive and the love you give, are very profound and strong feelings. And if I would have to give a prediction about how heaven might be, I would describe it as an environment made from pure love. We all (hopefully) know how powerful love is, so amplify that and you would get God's love. I know that this sounds very poetic, but so be it. Here is what I can not imagine: People ending in Hell. Not even the worst or most evil people. I personally think Heaven will have say Hitler in it. And even though I am not able to think that I could love him in any way possible at all ever. I think heaven will enable us to all sit next to each other, so that it doesn't matter. I think God's love will forgive us all. As far as I can tell this is a contradiction to Evangelical Christianity?

And the second thing I would like to add is about the concept of sin. I already wrote that I think the NT invalidates or say updates the OT, so Jesus love commandment is the only important commandment, and if we stick to that, we automatically obey all the other commandments. And since I think we end all in Heaven anyway, the whole concept of sin, Hell, and "repent", becomes sort of meaningless. In the context of love, sinning means not loving yourself, and not doing that is punishment enough, we all know how bad it feels (or could feel) if we do not self love. No body wants not to be loves, that is motivator enough to do good, I don't need the thread of Hell. This whole concept of "repent" is very central in Evangelicalism as well.

At last, I wanted to add a question: These new Heavens the Bible was talking about, is there the possibility that they are a place on earth, or that the earth of the living becomes that place? At least that is how I understand the whole thing. If we love each other as we love ourselves, heaven becomes earth. I would like all of us to think that way, since it would make a much stronger case, a very specific (atheistic) goal to work for!

Cheers Arend

Anette Acker said...

Anyway, I would like to add two observations to this: The love you receive and the love you give, are very profound and strong feelings. And if I would have to give a prediction about how heaven might be, I would describe it as an environment made from pure love.

You're absolutely right about this because God is love, so when he fills every person who is in heaven, we will all love like he does. Furthermore, the new earth will be unfallen in that there will be no destructive forces of nature. It will be everything that we feel this world should be but is not--a world perfectly suited for God's redeemed people.

And since I think we end all in Heaven anyway, the whole concept of sin, Hell, and "repent", becomes sort of meaningless.

Here I have to disagree with you, because what you're saying doesn't make sense either biblically or logically. Biblically, it is clear that we have to repent, or let God save us from our sins, because if he allowed sin into the new earth, it would be just like this one. So repentance is absolutely essential.

And the logical problem with saying that everyone will be saved is that it makes free will irrelevant, and free will is the reason we have sin in the first place. In my discussion with Celtic Chimp on this blog he asked me why God didn't just create the new earth right away. Because he gave each of us a will, and with it, the right to exercise it.

Revelation 3:20 says: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me." Opening the door symbolizes surrendering the will to Christ. The Bible often uses the imagery of marriage. It is a voluntary relinquishment of freedom, but just as a happy marriage doesn't feel restrictive, neither will our relationship with Christ. In fact, it will lead to greater freedom.

Many do not want this kind of relationship with Christ, and if they don't, he won't force them. C. S. Lewis says: "I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully 'All will be saved.' But my reason retorts, 'Without their will, or with it?' If I say, 'Without their will' I at once perceive a contradiction; how can the supreme voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary? If I say "With their will,' my reason replies 'How if they will not give in?'"

Here is what I can not imagine: People ending in Hell. Not even the worst or most evil people. I personally think Heaven will have say Hitler in it. And even though I am not able to think that I could love him in any way possible at all ever. I think heaven will enable us to all sit next to each other, so that it doesn't matter. I think God's love will forgive us all. As far as I can tell this is a contradiction to Evangelical Christianity?

Yes, and it also contradicts the Bible. The doctrine of hell is very difficult but nobody talks about it more than Jesus. You mentioned Hitler, and a lot of people on AC are very appalled at the idea of Hitler escaping punishment for everything he did. So the notion of justice is ingrained in us, and it's not just because we're vengeful. Our moral compass tells us that there should be some kind of final judgment where the victims are vindicated and the perpetrators are punished. The Bible talks of such a judgment, and it would mean nothing if it wasn't followed by punishment. It leaves some unanswered questions about how exactly God will judge, but it does say that we have to be born of the Spirit and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit if we are to withstand judgment. That means we belong to Christ, and he has, by his death, paid the penalty for our sins on our behalf. This offer is available to anyone, because he died for the world. But we have the right to reject it.

Anette Acker said...

At last, I wanted to add a question: These new Heavens the Bible was talking about, is there the possibility that they are a place on earth, or that the earth of the living becomes that place? At least that is how I understand the whole thing. If we love each other as we love ourselves, heaven becomes earth. I would like all of us to think that way, since it would make a much stronger case, a very specific (atheistic) goal to work for!

No, it is not talking about this earth. The Bible describes something similar to a "big crunch," where the whole universe will be destroyed. Revelation 6:12-14 says, "I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places." Of course this is partially poetic language, but it describes the universe coming to an end.

And afterwards God will create "new heavens and a new earth," where he will live in perfect union with his redeemed. This is why the Bible talks about the wedding feast of Christ and his bride the church. That is the best human analogy we have for describing this state of perfect unity that doesn’t diminish individuality and freedom, but rather enhances them. Since atheism removes God from the picture, of course it is incompatible with this goal.

But in one sense you’re right, even though it’s still not an atheistic goal. Luke 17:21 says that the kingdom of God is in our midst, and that means that just like the OT is a shadow of Christ, this world is a shadow of the next. In other words, the OT was the history and story of the Israelites, but more importantly it contained profound symbolism pointing toward Christ. As I mentioned, Luke 24:27 says, “Then beginning with Moses and the prophets, He explained to them all the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”

In the same way, the kingdom of God is but a shadow in this life, and to walk by faith is to live according to its principles. We are not to conform to the values of this world, because all of that—prideful ambition, materialism, and selfish indulgence—will pass away (1 John 2:17). Instead, if we live according to the values of the kingdom of God—love, joy, peace, etc.—we will expand its realm of influence even in this life.

So that is certainly the goal we are to aspire to, but we can’t do it without God. We can only further his kingdom by exhibiting the fruit of his Spirit within us.

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

That makes me wonder what it is that we disagree on.

We both understand love as the core principle in the God Human relation, love allows you to actually love everybody as you love yourself. My only connection to Christianity is through love - if I wouldn't understand this feeling, Christianity wouldn't appeal to me in any which way.

But when it comes to comprehend what God's love means for atheists, or sinners, we disagree. And the strange thing about it, is that you as the one who claims to experience this divine love thinks it can not surpass certain statements written in a book, while I claiming to not experience divine love, claims that if it would exist in would supersede any worldly differences. Shouldn't it be the other way round?

You say the Bible opposes my interpretation and understanding of God's love, okay, but at the same time we both agree that the possible truth of this book might be hidden from both of us. I would argue that God's love increased (if that is possible) over the cause of the biblical story. Creation, paradise, extrusion from paradise, the flood, enslavement of the promised people, Moses and the 10 commandments, Jesus, and Jesus sacrifice with human salvation, to building what you call the new heavens, to ...It becomes better and better for the people, and the relation between God becomes more closer. The Bible might be right, but who says it is about everything that will ever be? And even if it is written, maybe we just don't understand this. Somebody who sacrifices his own son to a horrible death and torture for my salvation uses a very powerful symbol, and this tells me so much more about the character of God than any line possibly written in a book, even when the words are from himself.

For me there is a discrepancy between what you (in my opinion) feel or should feel, and how you interpret what you read. Isn't there the slightest uncomfortable feeling in you saying: We the people who repent will stay in Heaven (the better place) while you others will be suffering in eternal damnation, oh and the one making the rules is infinitely loving, and his love makes me do all the things I can.

Imagine you have a sister and you father loves both of you. You do good you sister does bad. At the end of the day you father might have had a hard time with your sister, but the family love bond will make it easy for him to overcome all that and what will be left is the love between you all. Now this father is a human, capable of forgiveness, but we are talking about God and his love and his ability to forgive. And this father wrote: No bad Sister I will not know you anymore when you did bad! Even though we all know that this was "just a big scare"?

Or another example, imagine that the apocalypse actually happens, and I see the what you just described, and I see the fires of Hell. What will happen? I will probably change my mind about God's existence rather quickly. And I will regret that I doubted his existence. Besides that I will not regret my actions, since I already try to base them on his concepts. But what will happen? Will this infinitely loving God say: "No! Now it is too late!" I wrote this story in the Bible about the lost son, but who cares, and the whole idea of me being loving is just a hoax, I am capable of throwing you into eternal damnation, because my compassion ends here!"

I highly doubt that, not because I don't believe in God, but because I experience love in a different way, and I interpret love in a different way, than the Bible suggests according to you. I personally think that I interpret the Bible and Gods love quite correctly - If God exists. And if not, I live according to a very good moral concept.

Cheers Arend

Anette Acker said...

But when it comes to comprehend what God's love means for atheists, or sinners, we disagree. And the strange thing about it, is that you as the one who claims to experience this divine love thinks it can not surpass certain statements written in a book, while I claiming to not experience divine love, claims that if it would exist in would supersede any worldly differences. Shouldn't it be the other way round?

Think of it this way: The evil and suffering in this world is because of sin. God will create a world in which sin, evil, and suffering are absent while perfecting our freedom by the power of the Holy Spirit. He wants all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) but some choose not to be, and God will not force them.

I watched the YouTube video of Christopher Hitchens and Todd Friel that was mentioned on Atheist Central. Friel asked Hitchens if hypothetically there was a God would he have a claim to his life since he created him, and Hitchens said "no." Actually, I agree with Hitchens (that's twice in this conversation!). God will not force Hitchens to spend eternity with him against his will. He will not force us to worship and love him.

And you may say that hell is coercion, ("Worship me or else!") but it's separation from God, which means destruction because God is life. He is everything good.

For me there is a discrepancy between what you (in my opinion) feel or should feel, and how you interpret what you read. Isn't there the slightest uncomfortable feeling in you saying: We the people who repent will stay in Heaven (the better place) while you others will be suffering in eternal damnation, oh and the one making the rules is infinitely loving, and his love makes me do all the things I can.

Yes, the idea of hell is horrendous to me, and I wish I could remove the doctrine from the Bible. I also hate the fact that there is evil and senseless suffering in this world. But love doesn't mean denying reality, it means doing something about it. And God did something about sin, suffering, and death. "For God so loved the world, the He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Somebody who sacrifices his own son to a horrible death and torture for my salvation uses a very powerful symbol, and this tells me so much more about the character of God than any line possibly written in a book, even when the words are from himself.

You are absolutely right about this—in addition to the theological significance, it is a powerful message of God doing everything he could for us. And it is consistent with the statement "God is love," and the love commandment being the greatest and most central.

However, this is the problem, as C.S. Lewis said: "So much mercy, yet still there is Hell." God defeated death on our behalf, but he didn’t override our free will, nor will he ever. It is the one thing that is truly our own, and we have to surrender it willingly or not at all. He stands at the door and knocks; he doesn’t kick it down. And it opens from the inside.

Having said that, it is not clear in the Bible that hell is eternal torment, as opposed to annihilation. I’m not sure what “eternal destruction” means outside of space-time anyway. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by “eternal fire,” according to Jude 1:7, but in that context the word “eternal” referred to the type of destruction rather than its duration (the fire didn’t keep burning after they were annihilated). The bottom line is that I don’t know exactly how God will judge the world. The Bible is very detailed about the way to salvation, like a light shining on a path, but it’s harder to make out the details where the light fades into darkness. So I know exactly what I’m supposed to do, but what exactly happens if I don’t is a little less clear.

Anette Acker said...

Or another example, imagine that the apocalypse actually happens, and I see the what you just described, and I see the fires of Hell. What will happen? I will probably change my mind about God's existence rather quickly. And I will regret that I doubted his existence.

I think it comes down to a question of will. According to the gospel accounts, there were people who saw Jesus perform miracles and heard him preach, but still they said he had a demon, lied about him, and crucified him. In other words, they rejected him willfully. And given that fact, they can’t spend eternity with him. They wouldn’t even want to. Christopher Hitchens has admitted that the existence of God doesn’t matter to him; he will not surrender himself to God regardless.

Honest doubt is another thing altogether, and I don’t know how God will judge those people. The father of the epileptic son in Mark 9:14-29 replied to his own lack of faith with, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” So his will was to believe, and he asked for faith. That appeared to have been sufficient, because Jesus healed his son.

So I think the question for you is whether you honestly don’t believe or if you don’t want to surrender your will to God. I do not know the answer to that question, of course, since I can't read your mind. But I do know that nobody is good enough without that surrender. A rich young ruler came to Jesus asking what he had to do to be saved and Jesus first mentioned some of the Ten Commandments. The man said that he had kept them since his youth, and Jesus “felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me’” (Mark 10:21). This was a good man, but he lived for the things of this world, and couldn’t give himself fully to following Christ. This is not to say that we all have to sell everything to follow him, but we have to put him and his kingdom first.

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

I somewhat think this is a draw situation. Since the answer about who is "right" depends on each others definition, or maybe experience of love.

C.S. Lewis said: "So much mercy, yet still there is Hell."

That either tells me there is no God, or that C.S. Lewis, got something wrong from the Bible.

What I am trying to say here is that our interpretation of the Bible is emotional.

Cheers Arend

Anette Acker said...

I have to disagree that our interpretation of the Bible should be emotional. If we let our emotions determine how we should interpret it, we are not looking at it logically.

If you look at the new earth as God's solution to the problem of evil, which originated with our misuse of free will, it makes sense that not all would be saved. Not everybody wants to spend eternity with Christ, and that is the nature of heaven. It is ultimately a question of will.

But if you would like to agree to disagree on this, that is fine. I have very much enjoyed our conversation.

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

Sorry for the delay, I was thinking about the whole issue.

I am fine with having a different opinion, and I am also very happy to see that within Evangelicalism there are different opinion. In particular I am glad to see that you agree that even if the Bible is the literal word of God we all might get it wrong.

I obviously take this quite far, and I also have a different view about what love is and what is meant by it when it is use in the Bible.

Unfortunately this also tells me (not necessarily everyone else) that Logic does not apply to this situation, which is not as much of a problem as our different opinion about love.

Anyway, thank you very much for our conversation, I had fun, and I also take much from it "home", it was a pleasure, and I am very happy for you and you very valuable connection to your God and what you make of it.

Cheers Arend