Ecclesiastes Told a Different Way

There once was a young lad on a boat. He wondered why he had be placed into the boat. He saw the things in the boat, possessions, pleasures, labor, people etc., and he wondered

“Why am I here? If I have no purpose then neither do these things.”

And he wondered. He wondered why indulging in these things just seemed to work like drops of water on the tongue; lovely but unsatisfactory. He was sooo hungry!

He was a bright lad and during his time in the boat, he worked out that God must exist; he had no better reason for why anything at all existed. He also worked out that God must have a personality. And if God had a personality, he must have had some end in mind when he stuck the lad in the boat. The lad realized that anything for which he had an appetite was meaningless because, in the end, they just seemed to be distractions. He didn’t know from what they were distracting him until, one day, it fell into his mind like a thunderclap.

“If I had never existed I would never have known this. If I had never been placed on this boat, then I would not have learned that enjoyment comes in moderation or that through words souls become united.”

He pondered again for a time.

“If it is the case that worldly things seem to be only distractions, then clearly I was made for something abstract and extraterrestrial. Then it seems that the only end that I can discern for myself, is that God, in his mercy, has created me to be enlightened and not to be comfortable, for what is comfort to me? If I had all the women, the wine, and the leisure in the world it would not equal an iota of the joy that comes from knowing.”

The lad was then able to die happy for he knew that everything is vanity, that God is merciful and just, and that where evil abounds, there grace abounds all the more.

Smite Mine Enemies: Applying Violent Psalms

The Bible is loaded with violence. I mean, seriously, if the entire Bible were made into movies, quite a number of them would be rated R for violence alone. Now, most of the violence is Scripture isn’t something that we must concern ourselves with, as it is simply a historical description of stuff that happened. Some is more difficult and scary, but I’ll leave the most significant concerns for another piece. For now, I want to consider the violent psalms (also known as “imprecatory psalms”). We love the book of Psalms. They’re great poetry, inspiring and comforting, touching every part of the human experience. But then we have psalms like this one (I’m quoting it in full to make the point):

Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
Do you judge people with equity?
No, in your heart you devise injustice,
and your hands mete out violence on the earth.

Even from birth the wicked go astray;
from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.
Their venom is like the venom of a snake,
like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears,
that will not heed the tune of the charmer,
however skillful the enchanter may be.

Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;
Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions!
Let them vanish like water that flows away;
when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short.
May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along,
like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.

Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns—
whether they be green or dry—the wicked will be swept away.
The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,
when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked.
Then people will say,
“Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

Psalm 58

Whoa. Pretty harsh. The righteous will be glad when we dip our feet in the blood of the wicked? Okay…

I could write all day on why these violent psalms are written, and why they are Scripture, and how they are compatible with God’s love and the command to love our enemies, but I have no need to, because many others have already done so better than I could ever do. I would simply sum this part up with a quote from C. S. Lewis (though despite my appreciation for this statement I disagree with most of what he said from the context in which he wrote this): “The ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that it…is hateful to God.”

What I’d rather address is how we can actually make use of these violent psalms today. If we understand them, can we pray them as well? Should we ask God to smite our those who do wrong to us, those who treat us badly and hurt us? No, we have a direct command from Jesus to love our enemies and pray for them (that doesn’t mean for their destruction, by the way). So what do we do with these psalms? Well, three things come to mind.

  1. Pray for the triumph of righteousness and justice. These psalms were directed against enemies who fought against Israel and God, nations who would interrupt the world’s redemption. The psalmists wanted to see God vindicated and the evildoers stopped. Likewise, we ought to pray that God will stop those who do evil today, and that instead justice and mercy will fill our world.
  2. Heed the implicit warnings. If you read these psalms, you should conclude one thing: God hates sin and will do terrible destruction to sinners. So if you don’t want to be judged like that, if you don’t want people to be happy if your babies are dashed against the rocks (Ps. 137:9), live rightly and obey God’s commands.
  3. Pray for the destruction of our true enemies. Paul tells us that we aren’t struggling against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers and demonic forces. They assault God’s people every day and try to thwart the Kingdom of God, just like Israel’s enemies back in the day. The world, the flesh, and the devil are constantly assailing us, and God hates them for it. We ought to, as well, so let us pray for God’s conquest and victory to be ushered in speedily against these foes.

How Should We Believe Scripture Alone?

I, along with most of you, am a Protestant. One of the cries, probably the second most important cry, of the Protestant Reformation was sola Scriptura, or “Scripture alone.” In combating the corruption they saw in the Catholic Church, the Reformers came to a unanimous conviction: our ultimate authority as believers must be Scripture itself, not any magisterium, pope, or other mere man. Only Scripture can speak to us infallibly on matters of Christian faith and practice.

Unfortunately, like many doctrines, sola Scriptura has been subject to much misrepresentation and misunderstanding, even by its adherents. See, sola Scriptura also has a common straw man version sometimes called solo Scriptura or nuda Scriptura. They also mean “Scripture alone,” but in a very wrong way. What makes solo Scriptura so dangerous, besides simply being wrong, is that not only do many of sola Scriptura‘s opponents equate the two, but so do many people who profess to believe it! For this reason, I want to lay out the basics of what sola Scriptura does and does not actually say.

What Sola Scriptura Does Say

  • That Scripture is the only infallible source for Christian belief. Sola Scriptura rejects the belief that the Church can infallibly teach Scripture, and the belief that there is an infallible unwritten tradition. Only in Scripture can we find guaranteed perfect truth. The Church can sometimes teach falsehood, and Christian traditions can be mistaken, but Scripture is fully true.
  • That Scripture is the final authority for the believer. Sola Scriptura also rejects the belief that there is any higher authority than Scripture, or that there is even an equal authority to Scripture. Catholicism teaches that Sacred Tradition and certain declarations of their Magisterium or Pope have authority on par with Scripture, and somewhere in the world there are people who would say their priests, teachers, or other positions have an authority greater than Scripture. Sola Scriptura denies either of those possibilities, instead holding that all other authorities must yield to Scripture.
  • That Scripture is sufficient for salvation and sanctification. We also contend with sola Scriptura that Scripture contains enough information to enable us to find salvation in Christ, and to grow in our knowledge and pursuit of Him. Even if we have no other source of information on Christianity except for Scripture, we can come to be conformed to the image of the Son of God.

What Sola Scriptura Does Not Say

  • That Scripture is the only source for Christian belief. Sola Scriptura does not deny that other sources of truth, even spiritual truth, exist for the Christian. Natural revelation tells of things of God, reason can expand what we know by deduction from revealed truth, tradition shows us how God’s people have known Him through the ages, and Spirit-led teachers can give us insights that are not obvious from Scripture alone. Creeds and confessions can articulate doctrines taught by Scripture but not clearly explained in Scripture. All of these are legitimate sources for Christian belief, but sola Scriptura holds that none of these are infallible but can instead make mistakes, and only Scripture is entirely trustworthy.
  • That Scripture is the only authority for the believer. Sola Scriptura also accepts that other authorities exist for living the Christian life. Pastors are a kind of authority, as well as the ancient traditions of  the Church at large. Creeds like the Nicene Creed, Apostles’ Creed, and Athanasian Creed also serve as authorities for the boundaries of the Christian faith. All sorts of authorities exist for us, but none of them are final or infallible except for Scripture. Any authority which contradicts Scripture must be set aside, at least at the point of contradiction.
  • That no outside sources are useful or necessary to understand Scripture rightly. Scripture is not written in magic language. God did not inspire every sentence in Scripture so that everyone who ever lived could interpret it rightly with common sense. Sola Scripture understands that Scripture was written in a certain historical, cultural, and linguistic context, and that the content of Scripture is heavily shaped by such context. This means that we need some outside information to understand it rightly, especially given that we live in a radically different historical, cultural, and linguistic context. We need to put ourselves in the place of the original audience to get much of it properly, and that’s not completely possible all the time. So we need traditions, commentaries, creeds, and historical scholarship if we wanted to understand Scripture faithfully. Now, this also does not mean that Scripture is of no use on its own. On the contrary, simply by translating Scripture into contemporary English we can understand a great deal of it rightly. John’s Gospel claims to be alone sufficient to find salvation, and the Gospels are quite easy to understand for the most part. The story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection speaks powerfully in every context. Again, even without these outside aids, Scripture is clear enough that one can reasonably find salvation and the power to grow in the Spirit without any help.

Further Reading

For more understanding of what sola Scriptura is and why we should believe it, I suggest an excellent 10 part series by the awesome Michael Patton. Here are all the links. By the end of reading it, you too can be assured that we can trust Scripture alone.

  1. In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part One – Authority Across the Spectrum
  2. In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Two – Martin Luther
  3. In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Three – An Argument for the Dual-Source Theory
  4. In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Four – What Did John Believe?
  5. In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Five – What is Tradition?
  6. In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Six – Apostolic Succession?
  7. In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Seven – What about the Canon?
  8. In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Eight – What about All the Divisions?
  9. In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Eight(b) – What about All the Divisions?
  10. In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Nine – A Biblical Defense
  11. In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Ten – A Historical Defense

Alternatively, you can download the whole series as a single PDF file: In Defense of Sola Scriptura – By C. Michael Patton.

Questions on Anarchism – Part I

Note from Caleb: This is Clark’s first post. If you missed his intro, check here. Enjoy!

Dear sirs, I am.

G. K. Chesterton upon being asked what was wrong with the world.

The argument for anarchism must deal with what, to Christian anarchism, is probably the biggest challenge to the system. That challenge is a moral one, and centers around the claim that anarchism must purposely do nothing in regards to immoral practices to avoid placing an obligation on the individual which would defeat the supposed intent of anarchism. But, clearly, where evil is being done to the defenseless, good men cannot remain idle. So, then, how is the anarchist to engage this issue?

Firstly, we would hope that man would quickly learn from his mistakes. Essentially, if it is to be granted, as I think it must, that what is evil is also generally unbeneficial, then man will eventually realize the futility of evil and cease from it. But this may entail a great deal of suffering among those who cannot defend themselves. We will return to this issue.

Secondly, anarchism has nothing against voluntary associations made to protect the weak and so cannot be said to “do nothing”. Here another challenge may arise from the first, anarchism is said to achieve universal peace, yet, if these voluntary groups confront one another, what peace would there be? The anarchist must honestly admit that he has no full answer to this challenge. These groups will not be forced to maintain the peace, for that would, truly, defeat the intent of anarchism, which being the removal of manufactured or societal obligations and restrictions.

However, lying in the intent of anarchism, is the answer to the original challenge. The intent of anarchism is that every person be fully responsible for his own conduct. Why should this be the case? The fact is that, without responsibility, no man will grow to change his actions; he will not encounter the consequences of his actions if someone takes responsibility for them. This same principle may be pursued further, if man learns in proportion to his responsibility, then we may expect that if everything is left in the lap of the individual, then he will be learning as quickly as possible.

The moral things that are, in today’s society, left to organizations and the government, should be burning in the heart of every individual. Christ was adamant that the downtrodden be taken care of; that is the intent of anarchism; to return to the Samaritan the care of his neighbor. So what is the answer to the original challenge? It is that, in anarchism, evil only goes on because the individual has not countered it. The rule of reason must prevail, were someone does evil then we must reason with him. If he refuses to cease, then we may prevent him. But no government must ever take away the responsibility and, therein, the grace available to the individual. The argument that Paul makes, that where sin abounds, there grace abounds all the more[1], is central to anarchism. The idea being that grace is taken from man by a government who stops man from sinning. The objection may arise, again, what about those who will be caught defenseless? Is the death of the defenseless so little in the balance? In Ecclesiastes it is said that the sleep of the laboring man is sweet, whilst the sleep of the fat man is fitful[2]. This refers to the ultimate end of man; each will be judged justly and, so, that objection, which relies on the inherent injustice of death, is not cogent. A new objection may arise, why then do we defend life at all? Simply put, because of the potential joy present in that life; that is why we defend the unborn and all human life. This wondrous good, Joy is not truly available in the finite, earthly life but potential enjoyment of life may be had and so we defend the defenseless. But it could not be said that the potential enjoyment of the individual is more important than the potential enlightenment of the individual.

So, anarchism has no foolproof answer to the difficulties that the freedom of our fellow man will bring. But it is untrue that anarchism does nothing, and it would accomplish less than nothing to take away the responsibility from the individual and, so, divulge him of the grace available to him and his opportunity to learn from his mistakes. Anarchism’s intent is really a very long-distance one. No matter what happens, no matter who dies, there is the dream that an enlightened humanity will arise out of the rubble and achieve a society conducive to the query after truth.

 

[1] Romans 5:20

[2] Ecclesiastes 5:12

Cool Stuff A’ Comin’

Hello all! I’m here with a couple exciting things to share. My blog is about to receive two new features which hopefully will be frequent (though probably not at all regular). So here’s the scoop.

First: Introducing my friend Clark Ingram. He’s a pretty cool guy, smart like nobody’s business. So I’ll be stealing some of his time for him to contribute to my blog. He’s actually going to start us off with a series on anarchism, because he’s an anarchist because that’s cool, yo’. Here’s his personal bio for you:

Clark is a 19 year-old post-evangelical Christian, who works primarily within Analytic philosophy. His interests include epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, political theory, martial philosophy, the psychology of parenting, art, rhetoric, music, and poetry. He has been a Christian for three years and his favorite Bible verse is the entire book of Ecclesiastes. #context

Next on the agenda is (drumroll, please) my upcoming web show, Nerdless Theology. I plan to make videos for you guys (hopefully weekly) explaining theology stuff in ways that actually sound like English to people who actually have lives and so don’t have time to spend hours researching theology and philosophy online. I think this should be a useful counterpart to my slightly-more-technical posts which often find their way onto my regular blog. If you have any topics you’d like me to cover, be sure to comment! Oh, and make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss an episode.

Well, that’s the scoop for now. I hope you’ll enjoy all this. Farewell!

5 Arguments Christians Should Never Use

You know, sometimes people say things that require a facepalm. This can be annoying when you’re debating someone and the other person does this, but few things are worse than when someone on your own side says something absurd.
Because of this, and for the sake of Christian credibility, I offer these 5 arguments that Christians should never use in debate, primarily with atheists.

    1. You can’t prove that God doesn’t exist.
      The obvious answer to this is “So what?” You also can’t prove that invisible, intangible unicorns don’t exist. But you assume they don’t because you lack any reasons to believe that they do. Likewise, we should not expect atheists to believe until we give particular reasons.
    2. The Bible was proved when [insert uncanny and convenient science myth here].
      Like others, we Christians sometimes buy into urban legends, and we are especially prone to believing and propagating ones which support Christianity. I’ve heard people say that astronomers found a discrepancy in astronomical data which matched perfectly with the time that the sun stopped for Joshua and went back for Hezekiah. This is false. Same goes for many similar stories. Don’t repeat these things without verifying that they are true.
    3. You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart! (Or: My God’s not dead! He’s surely alive, and He’s living on the inside roaring like a lion!)
      Nothing against these songs, but it’s a terrible argument. People of all religions feel stuff in their heart which convinces them of things. The fact is that purely subjective experience doesn’t prove anything. It is true as some Christians say that “they can’t deny your experience,” but they can certainly interpret it in a number of ways besides that you’ve experienced God.
    4. Evolution [insert anything here].
      Never sidetrack a debate on Christianity with evolution. Disproving evolution would not prove Christianity, nor would proving evolution disprove Christianity, and all these debates do, unless you’re well-trained in biology, is give the other person a chance to derail you on something insignificant.
    5. You just don’t want to face up to the future of judgment for your sin.
      Scripture calls those who deny God “fools” and says that they suppress the truth by unrighteousness. But sin is deceitful. It works behind the scenes most of the time. Someone’s conscious motivation for not accepting Christianity is rarely related to their sin, and usually is caused by sin throwing out other deceitful excuses to captivate them, which they consciously believe and consider the only reasons for their disbelief. Even when they are trying to avoid judgment, they rarely realize it. So this argument comes off as accusatory and puts them on the defensive unnecessarily.

So don’t use these arguments. Sound good? Awesome.