I was reading the last chapter of Romans this morning and it brought to mind a point I heard Alistair Begg make about the kind of literature the New Testament epistles are. Romans, as a number of other epistles, ends with greetings and personal messages from Paul to specific people where he's writing to. These are letters, and this is a point of authenticity to that genre as opposed to mythology, as some contend. This isn't a major point, and it isn't an argument for their historicity (though I obviously believe their historical nature), but it is an indication of their genre. This is what we do in letters, not in mythology.
Just an interesting point of observation from the text.
A scientist claims he's undermined the fine-tuning argument for God's existence. The fine-tuning argument says that there are a number of conditions in the universe for life to exist, and since these conditions must be met within a very small threshold, it's reasonable to conclude that they have been set that way by an intelligent being to make life possible. These laws of physics are fine-tuned to such a degree that the odds of being met by chance are extremely great, beyond the realm of probability. So since life exists, God must exist.
Don Page, a theoretical physicist at the University of Alberta in Canada, claims these conditions for life prove no such thing. He argues that there is a small range of the value of these conditions that could sustain life, and that a slightly negative value from what it is now would have maximized the development of life. So since the actual constant is not set to maximize life as an omnipotent being would have wanted, then an omnipotent being could not have fine-tuned the constant we have.
But there is a fourth line of thought which Page says is easier to attack. This is the idea that the constants have been fine-tuned by some unseen omnipotent being who has set them up in a way that maximises the amount of life that form. So instead of directly creating life, God simply sets the conditions to maximise the chances of it forming.
Here's the big assumption in that argument: an omnipotent being would want to maximize the greatest potential for life. But Page offers no argument for this critical premise. So his argument fails logically.
The argument presumes that an omnipotent being would prefer more life to less life, but there's no objective principle to appeal to that requires that. There is no obligation for an omnipotent being to create at all, much less maximize the amount of life He creates.
Sure, this is successful in showing that God didn't set up the universe in a way that maximizes the amount of life, but so what? This says nothing whatsoever about the existence of God, or about fine tuning for other purposes. Since there's no reason to think God would want to "maximize life" this tells us nothing about the existence of God.
This actually made me laugh out loud: "And since life is some small fraction of the amount of matter in galaxies, then this is the value that an omnipotent being would choose."
Why?! There's no reason given to believe this in the entire article. What they've done is set up the argument at the beginning against the very specific idea that God set up the universe to maximize the possibility of life (something I've never actually heard anyone argue for), but then by the end, they're slipping into applying this to an omnipotent God fine-tuning the universe--an argument they never made. It's bait and switch!
Several denominations are dealing with controversy over changing mores about homosexuality and what the Bible teaches about it. Some congregations are wrestling over whether to leave their denominations. What it usually comes down to is whether or not they can agree on the view of the authority of the Bible. It happens over other issues, too (sometimes not such important issues, though).
These are difficult things to deal with. Emotions run high. There are many factors to consider. Sometimes doing the right things is done in the wrong way that is devisive and devastating. God not only wants us to do the right thing, but be the right people. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that even if we speak correctly and eloquently, if we do it without love, we're not better than noisy, irritating noise. Zeal for the truth isn't an excuse for being jerks.
So I very much liked what I read in a friend's Facebook Note about his pastor's leadership and exhortation in thier own congregations process of deciding what they'll do about the ELCA's decision to ordain practicing homosexuals as pastors. I thought it was not only a cogent explanation of a congregatin's process over a difficult quesiton, but good counsel in how to conduct ourselves as a group and individually. All of our congregations deal with difficult decisions from time to time, not all leading to such break-ups as this one. But they can be equally divisive if not handled well. I appreciate this pastor's wise counsel.
Here is my friend's note he posted. (BTW, all of the information in this note is already public.)
Before getting underway with writing the main body of this note, I should state that my rendering of recent and pending events at my church is my specific interpretation only, and reflects e-mails, sermons, and CDs as they "caught my ear." My remarks do not necessarily speak for anyone else at my congregation.
I had been somewhat out of the loop at my home congregation, Grace Lutheran (E.L.C.A.--Evangelical Lutheran Church In America...) of Huntington Beach, for three weeks due to the Christmas weekend in San Jose with my small extended family, too many house chores on Jan. 2nd, and playing in our church handbell choir at a Lutheran church in the Seal Beach Leisure World on Jan. 9th, thus I was caught slightly off guard when I got our weekly online newsletter announcing that we would be moving upon our church council's recommendation to sever our ties with the E.L.C.A. on Jan. 23rd, after a third and final open forum for member concerns after church this past Sunday (which I attended).
Based on discussions this past summer about which I wrote a full formal note on Facebook, I had thought that Grace would continue in the E.L.C.A. even after the denomination voted to allow gay clergy at its' annual convention in August 2009 subject to the discretion of each congregation. Although as a conservative individual congregation we disagreed with the decision of the national body, I gained the impression we would continue in the E.L.C.A. provided they did not attempt to impose gay clergy upon us.
This past fall we distributed a broad membership survey, which I somehow failed to infer would include questions about the gay clergy decision and how this would influence our relationship with the national body. Evidently a majority of our membership was disappointed that the national body DID NOT (my emphasis) take a stand on this issue. Approximately 75% of the responses opposed the gay clergy decision whereas less than 25% were in favor or saw it as no big deal. Additionally, a smaller majority of 52% wanted to leave the E.L.C.A. either right away or if it failed to retract its' decision within some months, which it hasn't. Although we had a predominant majority we were not unanimous, with a minority of 16% being in favor of staying in the E.L.C.A. despite the gay clergy decision or even going further and saying they would leave our congregation if we departed the national body (a tiny handful of persons each stated they would leave if we did not depart or leave if we DID depart).
Despite all the above, the Council's decision to recommend our departure was not based solely upon this issue but rather an accumulation of liberal decisions by the national body over the course of nearly 20 years, which caused a widening distance in our relationship with them as a conservative congregation. Thus the gay clergy decision was the tipping point after adding up many factors and a long term trend.
I attended the final open forum on our proposed withdrawal and also obtained a CD copy of our pastor's sermon on Jan. 9th centering upon the council's recommendation to leave the E.L.C.A. The single observation by a church member which left the most impression with me was somebody who spoke of his being a delegate to the E.L.C.A. national conventions in recent years. He stated that our delegates often felt like conservative fish out of water in a denomination becoming increasingly liberal. He also argued that withdrawal would probably be in the best interests of both Grace and the E.L.C.A. for our respective missions according to how we discern God's will. If we move forward with a conservative theology, we shouldn't be burdened by affiliation with a denomination which is liberal; and in turn if the E.L.C.A. is striking out in a more liberal direction, it shouldn't be burdened by the presence of very many conservative, dissenting congregations.
Our pastor's sermon mentioned that Grace's position on homosexuality had been established long prior to the August 2009 E.L.C.A. convention--that the only appropriate relationship entailing sexual intimacy is between one man and one woman in a marriage; and that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle…. Our pastor also argued against the idea of continuing in the E.L.C.A. yet just striking out independently, that we need a denomination which is supportive of our basically traditional theology. It's poor "advertising" to tell newcomers that we're part of a liberal denomination which we generally ignore because of varied disagreements….
He spoke against a couple of other ideas as well; and argued that the process of how we deal with this issue is as important as the actual decision itself. He related that a few of our members wanted to stay in the E.L.C.A. to "Battle for the Bible" against a more liberal majority, but he argued that engaging in a battle/fight for the sheer adrenaline of combat is sinful. Once the vote is taken (which has to be reaffirmed by a second vote 90 days later), he urged that the part of the congregation which prevails not boast and taunt of their decision carrying the day. On the other hand, those who cannot stomach the decision should leave the congregation in a dignified manner, as opposed to figuratively storming out the door and slamming it shut behind them. He also wasn't terribly happy that surveys were filled out overwhelmingly by members age 45 and older; and that the younger members just didn't care that much about the issue one way or the other. He stated this passage we're going through is inevitably something of an unhappy "Lose-Lose" proposition, as once again the Christian Church as a worldwide institution is dividing. This will probably last until the Second Coming; and has been going on at least since Paul and Barnabas split up over whether or not to let John Mark come with them on the Second Missionary Journey (John Mark evidently had "chickened out" on the First Missionary Journey as soon as landfall was made in Asia Minor (now Turkey)).
…I asked our pastor what the other Lutheran churches in Orange County were doing on this issue; and he stated that the great majority of the ones with large memberships have already left the E.L.C.A….A total of 686 congregations have left the E.L.C.A. (out of app. 10,500 total) over the gay clergy decision thus far, accounting for about 250,000 members….
The final major issue is where will we go as a congregation? We're looking at two possibilities which would affirm a broadly conservative theology. These are two breakaway bodies from the E.L.C.A. called the North American Lutheran Church (NALC)/Lutheran Core and Lutheran Congregations In Mission for Christ (LCMC). The latter appears to be the larger of the two. LCMC actually emerged long before the gay clergy decision, namely in the wake of the 1999 E.L.C.A. convention where a document named "Called To Common Mission" was endorsed. Some of the congregations felt this document went directly against a central pillar of Lutheran belief--the Lutheran Confessions. Thus they elected to form a breakaway body as soon as this was feasible; and two years later they were able to found the LCMC. Indeed LCMC's website states they are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year….A statement of principles I noticed on the NALC/Lutheran Core website included a statement that Biblical truths are applicable for all time, they are not invalidated by being out of fashion or going against popular trends in larger modern society.
Someone contacted me this week, shaken by the possible implications for Christianity if there are extraterrestrials. I suggested he watch a video series done by Reasons To Believe about the evidence for UFOs. It's very interesting and instructive the way Dr. Ross sorts the evidence into different categories, and then shows how to think about it.
For some people, this is an issue that challenges their confidence in Christianity; for others it's an interesting case study on examining claims.
Yesterday Tim Challies posted an article with criticism of the recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Scholars of Bonhoeffer say the book was undermined by Metaxas' anachronistic habit of interpreting Bonhoeffer as a contemporary evangelical. I also enjoyed the book and admired the portrait of the man it captured. So I read this critique with interest. (I reviewed the book here on the blog.)
I guess my attitude is like Challies'. I'm not an expert on Bonhoeffer so I can't say for sure who's right.
I do think Metaxas had a tendency to interpret some of Bonhoeffer's comments in terms of modern evangelicalism, which was a distortion. That's my evaluation from reading things Metaxas quoted in the book. I commented on that when I originally reviewed the book on the blog. It seemed to be only an occasional thing you could conclude from the quotations. But I can't say if Metaxas did that with the body of Bonhoeffer's works in context. I'm not a Bonhoeffer scholar.
Some of the specific quotes about theology - and liberal theology, in particular - seem pretty unequivocal, and distance Bonhoeffer from mainstream liberal theology. It's hard to imagine how those quotes (multiple paragraphs of context) could be understood as anything else. So I don't see how he could be a classic theological liberal, but I don't take him to be an evangelical either.
Metaxas has said that the bulk of scholarship on Bonhoeffer has been tainted by liberalism. So I'm not inclined to take these same scholar's objections to Metaxas at face value since they would obviously disagree with a different interpretation of Bonhoeffer's work. Their response could be a reaction to variance from the standard interpretation. Still, on deeper examination of the evidence, they could be right.
I know one reason (but not the only reason) Bonhoeffer is taken as a liberal is because he was a follower of Barth's school of theology. However, according to Metaxas, Bonhoeffer didn't follow Barth's later liberal developments. So there is a difference in their theology and following Barth in some things isn't enough to classify Bonhoeffer as a liberal.
My guess is that Metaxas did overemphasize the evangelical interpretation to some extent, but that Bonhoeffer isn't the theological liberal he's been depicted to be by scholars, either. I just don't see how that's possible give some of the quotations about liberalism in the book. As I mentioned in the original blog post on the book, there are good theological issues to think about that Bonhoeffer raised, regardless of the theological camp he was in.
The thing I admire him for - his opposition to Nazism, for which he lost his life - was unequivocally motivated by his Christianity. That's undisputed.
We just switched STR's cruise next year to the Caribbean, March 17-24, 2012.
Too many people seemed concerned about traveling in Mexico. We'll be traveling on Holland Americas's msEurodam, setting sail from Fort Lauderdale, and visiting Grand Turk, Turks and Caico; San Juan, Peurto Rico; St. Thomas; Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. Don't book on the Holland American site. Greg and Dr. William Lane Craig are the speakers. Booking info to come soon from Inspiration Cruises.