75 Years Ago Today…


The great Christian writer and thinker G.K. Chesterton passed away. Chesterton is easily one of the most quotable authors of the 20th century, possibly of all time. He was simply a master of the English language, but his quick wit and ability to see through hype also aided him in his writing endeavors.

I find it appropriate that on the 75th anniversary of the passing of Chesterton that I came across something Al Mohler wrote concerning Kirby Godsey. Some have decried Mohler’s post as excessive and mean-spirited. Mohler points out that Godsey has denied Christ’s divine nature, denied that we should worship Christ, and rejected the authority of Scripture. I have yet to read Godsey’s book, so I will withhold all judgment on Godsey’s work.

I will say, however, that if Mohler is telling the truth (and we have no reason to believe he’s lying, seeing as how others have taken the same opinion of Godsey’s work) then Mohler is correct. Mohler is not being bigoted in his response, rather he is drawing a line in the sand, or rather recognizing a line in the sand that has been drawn, and pointing out that crossing the line means that one had deviated from historical Christianity. In fact, pointing out such a line is what Chesterton did for most of his adult life.

The problem that Mohler points out is the same problem that Chesterton dealt with, namely that when we have no foundation then we have nothing. If Christianity is simply a giant collection of people who want to see social change in the world and take care of the poor, but a “Bring Your Own Doctrines” policy, then Christianity will die. We’ve seen this in mainline denominations and we’re seeing it now in many evangelical denominations (even conservative ones). In Christianity, our central truths are found in a Person, so when we deny the Person or attempt to deny the idea of central truths, we lose everything that makes Christianity unique. When we bow to the world and abandon our doctrines and abandon the mystery of Christianity, we cease to follow what was set forth by God. When we bow to the world and offer flashy churches that are meant to fit a certain niche, we cease to follow what was set forth by God.

Today, Chesterton is more relevant than he was 75 years ago or even 100 years ago during the primacy of his writing. We have many Christians who are abandoning the central tenets of Christianity with the claim, “Well it’s okay to ask questions, right?” But they go further than asking questions. It would seem that Godsey has gone further than asking questions and Mohler has called him on the carpet for this. It is okay to ask questions, it is okay to doubt, but it is never okay to deny. Some might declare this as arrogant, but I would ask them why it’s okay to question my creed, but not the creed of others. Or, as Chesterton once wrote, “These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.”

So in remembering the passing of Chesterton 75 years ago, I also applaud Al Mohler for standing on the authority of Scripture and Christian tradition in upholding one of the most central doctrines of Christianity (the Incarnation). We should never abandon orthodoxy, but pursue it and get lost in it.

 

 

Further Reflections on Total Depravity


In my previous post, Why I Don’t Believe in Total Depravity, I addressed some of the primary reasons I refuse to accept the Reformed Doctrine of Total Depravity.  This article generated a lot of interesting discussion, both on The Christian Watershed and on Facebook.  Sadly, due to time constraints, I was unable to interact, deeply, with many of the insightful comments that were made.  Hopefully, this article will make up for my lack of response.

Interestingly, virtually everyone who commented on my previous article focused, almost exclusively, on my first objection, which argued that if man is by nature a sinner, then God wouldn’t love him.  Hardly anyone addressed my second two objections: that Total Depravity is at odds with the Doctrine of the Incarnation, and that, for a totally depraved creature, sin would be a virtue.  Accordingly, I would like to focus on the first objection (for the sake of clarification) and from there build several more arguments against Total Depravity.

Most of the questions or objections to my first argument seemed to flow from a basic misunderstanding of the term “nature.”  In light of this, let me take a moment to define this technical philosophical term.

When we speak of a things nature we are commenting about that which makes it what it is.  In other words, the nature of a thing is the essential quality which makes it what it is.      So, for example, if we said that man (in the universal sense: all “men”, both male and female) is made in the image of God we are making a statement about man’s  nature.  We are saying that being made in the image of God is an essential/universal quality of what it is to be a man.  If being made in the image of God is a part of the nature of man then any creature which is not made in the image of God is not a man.  Hence, we see that by changing the nature of thing we are changing what that thing is.

With this fresh in our minds, allow me to restate one of the basic conclusions of Total Depravity; namely, that due to the fall there was an ontological shift (i.e. a change in man’s nature) in man.  According to this view, sin is now a part of man’s nature; in other words, sin is an essential/universal quality of what it means to be a man (hence, the term totally depraved).  If this is true, then any creature who is without sin is not a man because sin is a necessary part of what it means to be man.

With these definitions in place, let’s revisit my first contention:

(1) If sin is an essential/universal quality of what it means to be man then man is absolutely unlovable.

Put simply, a totally depraved creature would be unlovable because its very nature would be counter to God, who is the only being truly and perfectly lovable in and of Himself.

Several commentators actually accepted this point and argued that God loves what is unlovable; maintaining that this was simply a mystery.  However, to claim that God loves what is by nature unlovable is not “mysterious” . . . it is simply illogical.  Does it really make sense to claim that God loves a creature that we have established to be fundamentally unlovable?  Just think about this for a moment.  Saying that a creature is unlovable is claiming that there is nothing intrinsically lovable about said creature; can we then claim, with any consistency, that God loves something unlovable?

Furthermore, too say that a creature is unlovable is to say that that creature’s very nature is counter to THE GOOD (i.e. God).  But, how could God love what is necessarily counter to Himself?  Sin is not a substance it is a degradation of something good.  If, then, we accept that God is the Good, and that God has nothing to do with darkness, and that only good things come from God, and that God will never do anything which goes against Himself (i.e. the Good), then we cannot believe, coherently, that God could love a creature which is totally depraved.

Now that I’ve clarified this argument (I hope) allow me to address several other problems with total depravity which stem from this one.  In so doing, I also hope to address several other objections brought up by commentators.

(2) If sin is an essential/universal quality of what it means to be man then the image of God in man has been totally erased.  

Some commentators insisted, as most Reformed thinkers do, that man still maintains the image of God in spite of the fact that he is totally depraved.  However, like those who argue that God can love something which is by nature unlovable, this assertion is illogical.  It is simply incoherent to maintain that a creature is by nature a sinner and, hence, not good, while also maintaining that he is made in the image and likeness of Goodness Himself.  This is tantamount to claiming that you are by nature good and by nature not good which, of course, violates the law of noncontradiction.

To claim that a creature is made in the image of God is to claim that he is made in the image of Goodness.  There is no getting around the fact that such a creature, itself, would be good.  So understood, it is a matter of  necessity that any creature made in the image of God must lose this aspect of his nature in order to become totally depraved.  In other words, in order to accept the premise that man is by nature a sinner and unlovable  we must also accept that he is no longer made in the image and likeness of God.

However, as I clarified earlier, to alter the nature of a thing is to change the thing itself.  Thus, a man who was no longer made in the image of God would be no man at all.  If the image of God has been erased in a creature then so has that creatures humanity.

So, in order to be logically consistent with their beliefs, those who embrace total depravity must also admit that man no longer bears the image and likeness of God.  If this is true, however, we are no longer men but some freakish, unlovable, being which does not deserve its existence and, in fact, is by nature counter to Existence Himself.

(3) If sin was an essential/universal quality of what it means to be man then man could not exist.  

This assertion ties in directly to the previous one.  It stands to reason that our existence, as creatures, stems directly from God who has revealed Himself to us as The Existent One (Exodus 3:14).  It is God alone whose existence is necessary and who exists in and of Himself; everything else, all of creation, is contingent; that is to say, its existence is dependent upon God.  To say that a creature is totally depraved is to say that it is, by nature, counter to the Good (i.e. God); which is also to say that it is by nature counter to Existence Himself.

For it is God who gives all things existence.  How, therefore, can we consistently maintain that a creature whose nature is totally corrupted, evil, and counter to God, maintain its existence without also accepting that God creates and sustains pure substantiated evil.  Christians, however, have never accepted the premise that God creates and sustains evil; for this would put God in league with evil and make him the source and direct cause of all evil.  Most Christians have also, in line with the early church Fathers and especially St. Augustine, rejected the notion that sin is a substance at all.

The problem is, if we believe that God is the source of all existence and accept total depravity then we are accepting that sin is substantiated, that sin is a substance–being a part of the fundamental nature of man–and that God creates and sustains the existence of pure evil.  Clearly, this is at odds with everything we know about God from the scriptures!  A good and loving God who is light and who has no darkness in Him at all could not give existence to pure substantiated evil.  Hence, if sin was an essential/universal quality of what it is to be man then man could not exist; for God would not bring such a being into existence.

Actually, it stands to reason that God could not bring into existence something which is counter to Himself–sense He is the source of all existence.  Therefore, something which is by nature counter to Him could not exist.

Click here for the next article of this series.

Why I Don’t Believe in Total Depravity


To begin with, I believe human beings are horrendously depraved and prone to all manner of evil.  I agree with these words from St. Paul with every fiber of my being:

“all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written:  ‘None is righteous , no not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.’  ‘Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive.’  The venom of asps is under their lips.’  ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’  ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood, in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they do not know.’  ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes’ . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:9-18, 23)

I believe all of creation is in bondage to sin, and is experiencing corruption, decay and death, as a result of the Fall.  (Gen. 3, Rom. 8:19-23)  It is my contention that, from conception, man is born into sin (Psalm 51:5); he is deeply influenced by the sins of his parents, by a world system opposed to God’s will, and manipulated by evil spirits; he is subjected to spiritual corruption and decay, and suffers from various biological and physical effects of sin as well; he is born in the image of fallen Adam (Gen. 5:3) and is estranged from God (essentially, suffering the consequences of being expelled from Eden).

Having said all of this, you are probably wondering how it is that I reject the Reformed Doctrine of Total Depravity.  After all, the bleak picture of human existence I just painted sounds . . . well, totally depraved.  Allow me to explain this apparent contradiction.

The Doctrine of Total Depravity teaches that there was an ontological shift in the nature of humanity as a result of the Fall.  According to this view, man is now, by nature, a sinner.  In other words, sin is an essential part of what it means to be a human being.  Naturally, the idea that man has a sin nature is notoriously difficult to reconcile with the Bible’s teaching that man is made in the image and likeness of God.  While traditional Reformed theology has never denied the image of God in man (in an abstract theological way), there is a strong tendency among Reformed thinkers to downplay the image of God or even disregarded it.

A prime example of this is when Martin Luther compared humanity to a pile of dung.  According to him, the Fall had so corrupted and distorted man that he was no better than a heap of steaming animal droppings.  When I was in Seminary I had several Reformed friends who held this belief.  In my ethics class I remember one of them making the bold assertion that human beings were utterly worthless and were no better than a heap of garbage.  To this I replied:  “So, you’re arguing that the Father loves worthless piles of garbage?  He sent His Son to become a worthless pile of garbage, and to die for worthless piles of garbage?”

As these examples demonstrate, the doctrine of total depravity, which depicts man as a worthless pile of dung or a trash heap, construes a picture of reality in which the image of God in man seems entirely snuffed out; which logically leads to the conclusion that there is no intrinsic value or worth to man because of his sin nature.  If this view is correct, if man is totally depraved, if man is utterly worthless and valueless, and incapable of doing anything good, it is hard to understand why God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.  What exactly does God love about the world?

This brings me to my first problem with the doctrine of total depravity:

(1) If man is by nature a sinner, then God wouldn’t love him?

A creature who is totally depraved, who is a sinner by nature, who can’t help but sin, who always chooses sin, who has no intrinsic value or worth, who is essentially a piece of worthless garbage is not lovable.  The Psalmist declares:  “For thou art not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with thee.” (Psalm 5:4)  St. John affirms that, “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5).  Over and over the Scriptures attest that God is Holy and Righteous; that God detests evil and darkness; that God is pure and has nothing to do with wickedness; that God abhors injustice and the shedding of innocent blood.  How, then, could God love a creature whose very nature was wickedness, darkness, and evil.  How could a Holy God truly love a creature that was totally depraved?

The answer, of course, is that He couldn’t.  Therefore, if we are to take the numerous passages of Scripture seriously, which teach us that God loves the world, and that He especially loves man, we must reject the notion that man is totally depraved.  There is something lovable about human beings.  After Moses’ first account of the creation of man he says this: “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”  Human beings are good because they are made in the image of God–no matter how twisted and warped they become because of sin.  Even the most depraved man reflects, however poorly, the image of his creator.

The other two problems I have with total depravity are as follows:

(2) If man is by nature a sinner then Jesus, who was without sin, was not really a man.  

This problem is rather significant.  Orthodox Christianity teaches that Christ is one person with two natures; that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.  This point was vigorously defended by both the Apostles and the Early Church Father’s and its truth is of primary importance.  Who we understand Christ to be has a drastic impact on everything we believe and do.  My aim, however, is not to explain the importance of the incarnation or to lay out the ramifications of denying the full humanity of Christ (I have written on this elsewhere if you are interested).  The point is, if you are an orthodox Christian, no matter what tradition you are coming from, the full humanity of Christ is of crucial importance.

With this in mind, it is terribly disturbing that total depravity is at odds with the Doctrine of the Incarnation.  According to the Scriptures, the eternal Word of God took on the full nature of man and lived and dwelled among us.  The Bible also teaches that Jesus never sinned and that he never gave into temptation.  But, if sin is a part of what it means to be human, if we are by nature sinners, if sin is an essential part of our being, as the Doctrine of Total Depravity teaches, then we are forced to draw one of two conclusions: (1) Jesus did not take on the full nature of man (i.e. he was not fully human), or (2) Jesus was not sinless.  Both of these conclusions are unacceptable.  Hence, it cannot be true that sin is a part of the nature of man.

(3) If man is by nature a sinner, then sin is a virtue and to sin is to align oneself with the Good.

This problem is significant as well.  The Good of something is directly tied to its nature and purpose; its telos.  For example, the purpose of a butter knife is to slice and spread butter.  It is not intended for or designed for cutting metal or cleaning your ears.  One could attempt to use a butter knife for these tasks, but would find it extremely difficult and inadequate.  The Good of a butter knife is to slice and spread butter; hence, a butter knife is only functioning properly, i.e. acting in accordance with its nature, when it is being used for this specific task.

The same is true for people.  If we believe that human beings are made in the Image of God; then we believe that man’s nature and purpose is to be like God; and that the Good of man is to conform himself to God’s image; to be in good fellowship with the One who created all things.  If, however, the image of God has been entirely snuffed out, if man is totally depraved and sin is an essential part of his nature, then we have major problems.  Suddenly, to sin is simply to act in accordance with one’s nature.  In other words, sin is the Good.  A totally depraved human being who sins is simply acting in accordance with his nature and is, therefore, functioning properly and achieving his purpose.  Strangely, sin, for the totally depraved human being, becomes a virtue!

If this were true, how could God ask His creatures to do anything but sin?  And why would God be upset with His creatures for acting in accordance with their nature—for functioning properly?

From this standpoint, the idea that human beings are totally depraved is terribly disturbing and, obviously, at odds with Scripture, which teaches that man is made in God’s image and likeness, that man is to be Holy as God is Holy, and that man is to conform himself to God’s will.

While I accept that we live in a desperately fallen world, that man is estranged from God, that men have a strong propensity to sin, and that all men do, in fact, choose to sin, I do not accept the doctrine of total depravity. I do not believe man has a sin nature; rather, I believe sin is completely at odds with man’s nature being made in the image of God; and that when man sins he misses the mark.  Sin is a corruption of and degradation of man; it is a lack of Good; it twists the image of God into something ugly and dysfunctional; it leads to death or non-Being.  Sin goes against God’s intentions and purposes.  It comes about when man, by his own free will, turns from the Good (God) and fails to live in accordance with his own nature.  For this reason sin is abhorrent, destructive, and leads to death.

Click here for the next article: Further Reflections on Total Depravity.

Damascene Cosmology – Conclusion


We now come to the end St. John’s cosmological argument. We see that all things must either be created or uncreated. There simply is no in-between for them. Something cannot be not created and not uncreated; it must be created or uncreated.

We also know that if something is mutable it is created and if something is immutable then it is uncreated. If it is mutable, it requires a creator because we know that an infinite regress is impossible. The immutable creator, however, is not subject to an infinite regress because he would not be compose of parts or changes and therefore could not be measured by time.

Everything that falls within our experience and all possible objects that could exist that we have yet to experience all require a creator. Such a creator would be, by necessity, God.

But this argument does not leave Christianity void and empty. We know that the Christian God does not change and in being Trinitarian he is the only possible God in existence if God is loving. We know that God did not change in the Incarnation, but rather he changed us.

To the Christians who have read this, I hope that it has strengthened your faith beyond measure. I hope mostly that rather than giving you ammunition to use in some apologetic debate, it has forced you to sit and contemplate on God and grow in him. To those who have sat on the fence, unsure of whether or not God exists, I hope that this removed your intellectual doubts. I hope that it has opened up the path for you to discover Jesus as he is, free from the skepticism of whether or not he existed. I hope you can now embrace that he exists and from there you can discover the beauty that is Christ. To those who remain unconvinced, I hope you at least see that Christianity is reasonable and logically solid. Even if you disagree with my premises, I would hope you see that the argument is sound and would abandon your cries that Christianity is illogical. I hope you have gained a new-found respect for the intellectual capability of Christianity, that we do not accept everything by blind faith, but test all things. To those who are skeptical, hold hostile feelings towards Christianity, and still find Christianity to be stupid, I pray that you will embrace civility and reason. To all, I pray that these arguments either make your current relationship with God deeper or would open you up to have a relationship with him, for intellectual acknowledgement is not enough; we must love him as he has loved us. Continue reading

Damascene Cosmology – On the Trinity



Before we can understand the Incarnation and how God did not change in the Incarnation, we must first understand the Trinity. This is certainly no easy task for quite a few reasons. First, I am writing in a limited space, so even if we could comprehend God, I would not accomplish this in so few pages.

Secondly, we cannot comprehend God, so I cannot really explain the Trinity. What I can explain is what has been revealed, but I cannot explain the Trinity and how the three persons function. Rationalists need not apply in attempting to understand the Trinity or looking at the Trinity; the Trinity is a mystery and therefore cannot be comprehended.

The third reason this is not an easy task is that while what we can know of the Trinity is substantial, space and time are limited. St. Hilary of Poitiers spent the modern equivalent of 300 pages writing about the Trinity. St. Augustine spent the equivalent of nearly 500 pages writing about the Trinity. Yet both men felt that their works were inadequate. I am using only a fraction of space to write about the Trinity as these two great thinkers did, so I am positive that my explanation will be inadequate.

Regardless of the inadequacies, I will attempt to explain the Trinity to the best of my knowledge. It is my hope that in understanding the Trinity we can gain a better understanding of the Incarnation and in so doing we can understand how Christian theology does not contradict the Damascene Cosmological argument. Continue reading

A further reply to a Muslim


Paasurrey was kind enough to respond to my last post at his own website. In his reply, he states:

Hi fried Joel

Please quote from Jesus; not from what the sinful and unfaithful scribes, who deserted ‎Jesus when he most needed them.Later they sided with Paul who was an enemy of Jesus ‎and his friends. ‎

Jesus never could utter such words that he was a god. You say the Pharisees noticed it; I ‎don’t agree with you. The Pharisees were Jews; had they noticed it, it should have been ‎written also in the book of the Jews? Please quote from Jewish source that the Pharisees ‎noticed it.‎

Jesus denies of this claim as rightly quoted by Quran from Jesus:‎

My reply:

As I pointed out in my initial response to you, simply saying, “Oh, Paul was sinful and the Jews were sinful, therefore you can’t trust anything written about Jesus” is nothing more than a cop out. In fact, the passages I chose I did so specifically – these are passages that even the most anti-Christian scholars accept as actually occurring. That is, they believe these to be the actual sayings and happenings of Jesus. They may deny most of the New Testament, but they believe these specific passages I pointed out to be historically accurate. It is up to you to demonstrate how they were corrupted. Quoting the Qur’an, an interesting but ultimately fallible book, is not sufficient. You must provide actual evidence (changes in the manuscripts, older manuscripts compared to newer manuscripts, changes in language and vernacular within the same text, etc) before laying down such a big claim.

The reason for this is you simply can’t sweep aside what I quote by just declaring it fallible. You need to actually present some evidence as to why these specific passages are fallible and corrupt.

Likewise, as I pointed out in my initial reply, by claiming they are corrupt, you make God look utterly inept:

Now, there are far more proofs, but I wanted to use the most obvious ones that cannot be questioned historically. We cannot say these proofs are corrupted because almost all true historians – even those who are agnostic or believe that Jesus was merely a good man – accept these are historical truths. To say, “The Christians added to the text” might be convenient in order to throw out the argument, but it lacks the historical validation necessary to be an adequate argument.

Likewise, Muslims run into quite a few problems when they use that excuse. We hear that the Jews corrupted the Old Testament, thus God gave us the New Testament, but the Christians turned around and corrupted it as well. Thus, we end up with the Qur’an. But this poses a problem – how do we know that the early Arabs or even the Persians didn’t corrupt the Qur’an? We can say, “God protected it,” but if He protects the Qur’an, why was He so inept at protecting the Old and New Testaments?

Thus, the Muslim apologist is thrown into a quandary – if God had Gabriel recite the Qur’an to the Prophet due to the corruption of the Old and New Testaments, what promise do we have that the Qur’an is not likewise corrupted? Alternatively, if God has preserved the Qur’an, why wouldn’t He preserve the Old and New Testaments? Finally, if He did preserve the Old and New Testaments (an argument I’m not sure you would make as both the Qur’an and Hadith claim the Testaments are corrupted), why the need for the Qur’an? So before you use the argument of corruption, I think you would need to deal with these issues.

So I must ask the question; which is it? Is your god weak? Does he not see the future? Could he not prevent the corruption of the words of Christ? Why worship such a weak and inept god? I’d much rather worship the God who preserved His Word through the ages, who was in perfect Trinitarian fellowship prior to creation, who created out of love, who sent His only Son to die on our account, and who had the power to raise His Son from the dead. That is a God who is worthy of worship. A god that can’t get it right the first two times, a god that relies on the “third time is a charm” rule, isn’t a god worthy of worship.