This week’s challenge, taken from a blog comment, is about whether or not there can be real meaning in life if God doesn’t exist:
I personally don't understand why a relatively "local" sense of purpose (limited to the scope of what humanity can grasp) is deemed insufficient by theists. I don't understand why it has to be "all or nothing," why our precarious sense of "meaning" – infinitesimal against the magnitude of physical reality – must encompass the whole universe, or else we lack all meaning. That seems incoherent to me.
Can anything be called “meaningful” in a world without God? If not, why not? How would you answer this blog commenter? Give us your thoughts in the comments below, then Brett will post a video with his answer on Thursday.
Then I asked him, "Have you ever committed any moral crimes?"
"Yes," he said.
"So have I," I responded. "So now we have this difficult situation. We both believe those who commit moral crimes should be punished, and we both believe we've committed moral crimes. Do you know what I call that? Bad news."
I continued, "This is where Jesus comes in. We both know we're guilty, worthy of punishment. God offers a pardon on His terms: Jesus, because He has personally paid the penalty on our behalf. You can either take the pardon and go free, or leave it and pay for your own crimes yourself."
This approach gives an accurate sense of why the cross is important and why Jesus is actually necessary, showing God as merciful, not petty. The biblical message is not if you don't believe in Jesus you go to Hell. Rather the message is, "If you don't receive a pardon for your crimes, you'll be punished as you should be." The former approach confuses the doctor with the disease. If you refuse the doctor's medicine for your disease, the blame belongs to the disease, not the doctor. The obituary doesn't read, "Cause of Death: He didn't go to the doctor."
It's the disease—sin—that kills, not the lack of a doctor. Jesus is the only way because He is the only one that provides the cure for what ails us.
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If you like reading Kindle books, you should bookmark his deal page and check back from time to time, or follow his @Kindle4Christ Twitter account. (You don’t need a Kindle! Get a free reading app for your computer, tablet, or smart phone.)
Tim Challies has also collected 80 Kindle deals on a Word document. He has some great finds in there, as well (it isn’t focused on apologetics, although there are a few in there). I don’t know if he plans to keep adding to it, but for now they seem to be up to date.
I want to sketch out Thomas Aquinas’ theory of natural law by distinguishing between the four kinds of law he outlines in the Summa Theologiae and then discussing his conception of the Good. Afterward, we’ll ask if Aquinas’ view is compatible with a biblical view.
Thomas Aquinas synthesizes philosophy and theology to arrive at his theory of natural law. In the Summa, he begins his treatise on the essence of law by stating the definition of law in general as “a dictate of practical reason in the prince who governs some perfect community.” Thus, law has an essential relation to reason. By distinguishing between four kinds of law, Aquinas demonstrates that ultimately, all law is subject to Divine Reason, or eternal law.
#1 – Eternal Law: This first law represents the timeless principles found in the physical and moral world by which “the whole community of the universe is governed.” Since “all laws proceed from the eternal law,” ontologically, the eternal law is the measure of all other laws, and thus they find their derivation from the eternal law.
#2 – Natural Law: Aquinas begins his discussion of the second kind of law, natural law, by making a distinction. Not only is a law in the reason of a ruler, but it “can be in something…as in the ruled and measured.” More precisely, natural law is that law which is imprinted upon our human nature and directs us toward our natural good or end. In reference to Aquinas’ view of natural law, J. Budziszewski terms this kind of law “as moral principles that we cannot not know” (from Written on the Heart, p. 61). As such, natural law is a reflection of the eternal law found within the structure of human reason.
#3 – Divine Law: The third law, divine law, is defined as that law which is revealed in the Christian Scriptures. In contrast to the teleology of natural law, divine law pertains to our “supernatural ultimate end”: our reconciliation with God Himself. According to Aquinas, there are two kinds of divine law. There is the old law, found in the Old Testament, and the new law, found in the New Testament. Divine law is necessary because unaided human reason cannot apprehend the whole of eternal law. Thus, divine law is also a reflection of the eternal law in the form of special revelation.
#4 – Human Law: Lastly, Aquinas sets out a fourth law, human law. Human law is simply the derivation of civil law (or the laws of a nation) from the principles of natural law. In this kind of law we observe that “human reason must proceed to dispose of more particular matters. Thus, human law in the United States would include traffic laws, tax laws, specific criminal laws, etc.
With a description of Aquinas’ four kinds of law, the necessary framework is in place to understand his conception of the Good and its relation to his natural law theory. Following Aristotle, Aquinas held that to understand the essential nature, or essence, of a thing (and thus, the Good of that thing), one must know its telos (from the Greek meaning purpose or end). For Aquinas, the end of man is human flourishing. However, in contrast to Aristotle, Aquinas’ theological underpinnings provide a more robust view of human flourishing, one that is in accordance with the Design Plan or eternal law of God. Therefore, the Good of man is the perfecting of a human nature that reflects the eternal law, which is accomplished through the perfecting of human flourishing in accordance with the eternal law.
Aquinas clarifies his view of human nature by outlining the four basic human goods we discover by observing our natural inclinations. Those goods are life, procreation, knowledge and sociability. The realization of these basic ends constitutes the perfection of human nature (the Good). With this Good in mind, it follows that the rules for right conduct would be conducive to human flourishing if they are derivative from laws that are natural to us. Therefore, Aquinas’ theory of natural law enables us to share in God’s eternal law by providing basic moral principles grounded in human nature and “that we cannot not know,” from which we derive human laws (or rules of right conduct) that are completed by the revelation of divine law found in the Christian Scriptures.
So is Aquinas' account compatible with biblical Christianity? Well clearly God’s eternal law and His divine law and human law, as Aquinas defines them, are seen and referenced in the biblical record. But what about natural law? I think so and here's why.
Romans 1:19-20 indicates that God provides general revelation to all, such that man can see and understand His “eternal power and divine nature” in the created order. How is this so? According to Genesis 1:26-27, man is made in the image of God, and thus we are created with the rational and moral capacities that enable us to see the truth of God in general revelation. Furthermore, Romans 2:14-15 states that men “instinctively know what the law requires” because “what the law requires is written on their hearts.” Thus, as creatures with rational faculties we are able to discern God’s natural law through His creation and our own human nature.
At this point, one might object: If the preceding account is true, doesn’t it follow that all men should know right and wrong? However, all men do not know right and wrong, and even when they are able to differentiate, they do not always choose what is right.
A further examination of the biblical record not only states this reality (Romans 7), but it gives us an adequate explanation for the state we find man in. According to Romans 1:18, men “by their wickedness suppress the truth.” In other words, man is sinful and this condition leads to his denial of the truth of natural law. As Budziszewski argues, “we pretend to ourselves that we do not know what we really do know” (from Written on the Heart, p. 182). In addition, as Romans 6:23 states, the penalty of our sin and suppression of the truth is death.
Fortunately, in His unspeakable grace and mercy, God has not only revealed Himself in the created order but He has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, so that He might remedy our hopeless condition and provide a way in which man might fulfill his ultimate end: reconciliation to God Himself. As Romans 5:11 promises, “through our Lord Jesus Christ…we have now received reconciliation.” Amen.
This coming Monday night (January 19), in select theaters across the country, there will be a one-time showing of a documentary exploring the evidence for the Exodus. Joe Carter reviewed Patterns of Evidence for the Gospel Coalition, saying:
The film won’t convince any Biblical minimalists, and even many Bible believers will remain skeptical. But the documentary itself is quite an achievement and worthy of consideration.
Mahoney’s “pattern of evidence” suggests the events of Exodus likely did not occur in the Egypt’s New Kingdom under Pharaoh Ramesses II. Instead, Mahoney makes the case that the modern view of the chronology of Egyptian history is off by about 200 years. Once that gap is corrected, the evidence (scarce though it may be) lines up more closely with the Biblical account….
[D]espite being made for a niche audience, Patterns is one of the most well-crafted documentaries released in years. Audiences have become so accustomed to seeing low production values in “Christian” films that it’s rather shocking to see a work of such high quality. Mahoney is a filmmaker of such considerable skill that it’s almost worth watching his film simply to admire the craftsmanship.
Mahoney also shows how to present a particular point of view—even a contrarian one—in a way that is fair-minded and compelling. He allows skeptics almost equal time to explain why they disagree, and though he is convinced of his findings, he never oversells the evidence. He trusts the audience enough to let us judge for ourselves what to make of the “patterns.”
Read the rest of his review here. It sounds like the documentary argues for the earlier 1446 BC date for the Exodus (the position I hold). I heard some of the evidence for that date while I was in the apologetics program at Biola, and it was definitely intriguing.
You can search for theaters and order tickets here. The pre-show starts at 6:30, the documentary at 7:00, then they’ll show a half hour panel discussion (with Eric Metaxas, Dennis Prager, and others) afterward.
If you’re in Southern California, you should know about the AMP Conference coming up on February 20-21 in Anaheim. From their website:
AMP aims to amplify the voices of Christians sharing their faith with the world. Too often those voices remain silent out of uncertainty and doubt. By bringing together leaders in Christian apologetics, AMP hopes to cultivate in all believers an awareness of issues key to today’s outreach efforts. This year’s theme, Equip to Evangelize, is designed to prepare Christians to use apologetics tools in their evangelism and to become confident witnesses to a skeptical world. AMP 2015 is a two-day apologetics conference, hosted by Eastside Christian Church. The conference will feature 10 speakers, all leaders in their respective fields as well as committed evangelical Christians, ready to share their wisdom and experiences in spreading the Good News.
It looks like they'll have an interesting range of topics, including “The Resurrection Meets Skepticism” (Gary Habermas), “Why I Believe God Exists: Evidences from a Biochemist” (Fuz Rana), “Beauty, Love, and Human Longing” (Kenneth Samples), “How to Engage in Science-Faith Conversation” (Jeff Zweerink), and “A Son from a Stone: A Muslim’s Journey to Christ” (Abdu Murray). You can see the full list of speakers here and the schedule with their topics here.
Register here (use promo code "STR" to get $10 off), and if you come, be sure to find me and say hi!
For those in Southern California, particularly in the Orange County area, I will be teaching a six-week introductory apologetics class for students in 5th through 9th grade. Class begins on January 27th and will be held on Tuesday afternoons (3-4:30 pm), so it's accessible to homeschoolers AND public and private school students. We will meet at Grace Fellowship Church in Costa Mesa. For more information and registration instructions, see the attached course syllabus.
In an effort to shock the reader, Eichenwald appeals to two significant textual variations in the NT, namely the long ending of Mark (16:9-20) and the pericope of the adulterous woman (John 7:53-8:11). These are the same ones that Ehrman highlights in his book Misquoting Jesus—which is evidently a big influence on Eichenwald.
But, Eichenwald only tells part of the story. First, he doesn’t tell the reader that these are the only two significant variations in the entire New Testament. He presents them like they are typical when they are not. Second, he doesn’t explain how text-critical methodologies allow scholars to identify these changes as later additions. And if they can be identified as later additions, then they do not threaten our ability to know the original text [emphasis added].
Even more, Eichenwald continues to make factual errors about these changes. He states:
Unfortunately, John didn’t write it. Scribes made it up sometime in the Middle Ages. It does not appear in any of the three other Gospels or in any of the early Greek versions of John. Even if the Gospel of John is an infallible telling of the history of Jesus’s ministry, the event simply never happened.
This statement is riddled with errors. For one, scribes probably didn’t make the story of the adulterous woman up—it probably circulated as oral tradition. Second, it was not added in the “Middle Ages” as he claims, but probably sometime between the second and fourth century. Third, we don’t know that “the event simply never happened.” On the contrary, scholars have argued it may be an authentic event that circulated in the early church for generations.
Kruger’s two-part response to the Newsweek article (Part 1, Part 2) is worth reading in full. I appreciate his conclusion:
By way of conclusion, it is hard to know what to say about an article like Eichenwald’s. In many ways, it embodies all the misrepresentations, caricatures, and misunderstandings of the average non-Christian in the world today. It is short on the facts, it has little understanding of interpretive principles, it assumes that it knows more about theology than it really does, and it pours out scorn and contempt on the average believer.
Nevertheless, in a paradoxical fashion, I am thankful for it. I am thankful because articles like this provide evangelicals with an opportunity to explain what Christians really believe, and what historical credentials the Bible really has. Eichenwald’s article is evidence that most people in the world understand neither of these things. With all the evangelical responses to this article, hopefully that is changing.
You can learn more about how textual criticism works in this brief interview with Dan Wallace or by watching his more detailed iTunes U course.
In his response to the now infamous Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald attacking the Bible, Dan Wallace succinctly explained why the transmission of the Bible was not like a game of Telephone (bullet point formatting added by me for ease of reading):
The title of Eichenwald’s section that deals with manuscript transmission is “Playing Telephone with the Word of God.” The implication is that the transmission of the Bible is very much like the telephone game—a parlor game every American knows. It involves a brief narrative that someone whispers to the next person in line who then whispers this to the next person, and so on for several people. Then, the last person recites out loud what he or she heard and everyone has a good laugh for how garbled the story got. But the transmission of scripture is not at all like the telephone game.
First, the goal of the telephone game is to see how badly the story can get misrepresented, while the goal of New Testament copying was by and large to produce very careful, accurate copies of the original.
Second, in the telephone game there is only one line of transmission, while with the New Testament there are multiple lines of transmission.
Third, one is oral, recited once in another’s ear, while the other is written, copied by a faithful scribe who then would check his or her work or have someone else do it.
Fourth, in the telephone game only the wording of the last person in the line can be checked, while for the New Testament textual critics have access to many of the earlier texts, some going back very close to the time of the autographs.
Fifth, even the ancient scribes had access to earlier texts, and would often check their work against a manuscript that was many generations older than their immediate ancestor. The average papyrus manuscript would last for a century or more. Thus, even a late second-century scribe could have potentially examined the original document he or she was copying.
If telephone were played the way New Testament transmission occurred, it would make for a ridiculously boring parlor game!
Wallace’s piece responds to many other errors in the Newsweek article, as well. You can read the whole thing here.