Posted in evolution

You’re a White Supremacist If You Don’t Believe in Evolution – The American Vision

The Political Left is all about redefinition. For example, Critical Race Theory (CRT) is said to be (and is) “an academic theory mostly taught at the grad-student level.” But CRT has evolved into something like Frankenstein’s monster that was pieced together from the dead.
The latest example of CRT thinking is the claim that the “Denial of Evolution Is a Form of White Supremacy.” The author of the Scientific American opinion article, Allison Hopper, begins with the following assertion:
— Read on americanvision.org/posts/you-re-a-white-supremacist-if-you-don-t-believe-in-evolution/

Posted in philosophy

Philosophical Authority: An Inquiry into Paul’s Discussion on Colossians 2:8

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2.8; italics mine).

Is philosophical meandering wrong? At first glance it might appear that the apostle Paul is warning Christians to steer clear of philosophy in general.  But on closer inspection I think you’ll see he’s saying something else.

A Reflective Tale…

A few years back I read a book entitled, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality by David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls. This was for a graduate level course on Christian Ethics. Besides having a huge axe to grind against the Calvinistic theological system, the two authors seemingly mocked the idea that philosophy as a whole needed to be governed by something outside itself. Instead they appear to treat biblical revelation and philosophical consideration as two separate but nearly equal, spheres of authority:

“Here we draw an important distinction. Whereas biblical authority trumps in the realm of theological norms, there are more basic philosophical processes at play that hold logical priority in the realm of basic epistemology.”[i]

In laymen’s terms. The authors seemingly believe the Bible holds the trump card when it comes to “spiritual matters” concerning God, etc., but philosophical processes play the necessary first step in determining knowledge related criteria in the real world. To show that I am not over exaggerating their intention, allow me to offer an example of their thought where they show that philosophy must serve as the necessary first step:

“The Bible is to be taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human being privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy.”

“When someone suggests that we ‘don’t need philosophy,’ either in this debate [over Calvinism vs. Arminianism] or more generally [i.e., on all other matters], their words reflect at best a huge misunderstanding…wrongly assum[ing] that we are even able to understand the Bible, let alone discern that it is ultimate revelation from God, without the capacity to think. Philosophy is, to put it most succinctly, clear thought.”[ii]

Thus, while we must give the Bible some nod of authority on our part, it is only to be done after we have—philosophically speaking—determined that this is in fact the actual case (again just to be clear this is the position of the authors, not my own). Which does what exactly? It gives the ultimate crown of authority not to the Word of God, but the word of man. For, according to such thinking, it is only after philosophical authority has recognized biblical authority that we dare attribute authority to Holy Scripture. And, who then logically has authority in this instance? God or man?

Referring to the passage (Col 2.8) quoted above (as well as a few others both biblical and non) these authors note:

“The Bible itself is sometimes thought to teach…skepticism about the value of philosophy… Any hint of even bringing philosophical analysis into the conversation is thought to be anathema, abandoning the authority of scripture [sic] to provide reliable revelation.”[iii]

I don’t think it is any stretch of the imagination to say that the authors so far quoted do not agree. It seems fairly clear that Scripture (Holy Bible) should stand on one tier and philosophy on the other, and where the two shall meet is determined by the philosophizer.  But the ground of authority starts where? This is the question that Paul is answering in his letter to the Christians in Colossae.

Colossians 1

In the opening of the letter, Paul is joyful for the believers that have faith in Christ Jesus (Col 1.4). He and those with him (e.g., Timothy; Col 1.1) “give thanks to God” (Col 1.3) unceasingly. The apostles desire is for these believers to “…be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord [Jesus Christ], to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1.9b-10).

Paul acknowledges that what has taken place in their life is due to the Sovereign activity of God (His elective work):

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins…And although you were formerly aliens and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Col 1.13-14, 21-22).

You see, in Paul’s mind Jesus is the Creator of “all things” (Col 1.16). Therefore, Christ has preeminence over all creation, which is the meaning of being firstborn (Col 1.15b), not in being created but in having supremacy over creation; including His Church (Col 1.18). For in Christ Jesus “…all things hold together” (Col 1.17), as “He is the image of the invisible God…” where the fullness of the Father indwells (Col 1.19). And it is His life alone that brought/bought reconciliation through the shedding of His blood (Col 1.20; cf. Heb 9.22).

Colossians 2

Now when we reach the apostle’s discussion on philosophy, we should not find it difficult to follow his flow-of-thought. Having shared those truths in the first chapter of his epistle, we find him begin to build on them further. Paul is deeply concerned about their welfare as believers. He is earnest on their behalf

“…for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2.1b-3).

Three areas of concern…

Notice his topics of concern: 1) encouraged and knit together in love, 2) full assurance of understanding based on true knowledge, 3) found in Christ Jesus, the treasure trove of all wisdom and knowledge.

Speaking on the first, true believers are unified in Love, for this fulfills the entirety of the Law-Word of God. Not love as the world defines it, but love as that which is first found in God loving us, and then reciprocated (an outpouring of something God has put in us) to our neighbors. Love starts with God. Love is defined by God. And love cannot be true love unless this love has been instilled in the heart of the believer by God (a sovereign act; cf. 1Jn 4.10, 19).

Speaking on the second, Paul uses a concept that is somewhat foreign to much of the Evangelical world today—full assurance, which means certainty. A believer’s faith is founded upon the full assurance (i.e., certainty) of what God has done for them. True faith is one that knows God is real and is drawn to Him. You cannot draw to God as a volition of the will if you do not believe He is, and that He gives what He promises (Heb 11.6). Though we do not see Him, we are certain of who He is, and that He is ours and we are His and we have been created by Him (Heb 11.1, 3).

Speaking on the third, Paul teaches that such knowledge is hidden in and revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the seat of all knowledge and wisdom. This statement alludes to various wisdom passages in the Old Testament:

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright…” (Prov 2.6-7a; 1.7; 9.10)

And the lynch pin is this. Paul is teaching these things to these Christians for one unifying reason:

“I say this so that no one will delude you with a persuasive argument” (Col 2.4; emphasis added).

He says what? That in Christ comes the full assurance of faith, the bounds of all love, the grounds of true knowledge and understanding for all wisdom is seated in Him. All wisdom? All wisdom. What’s the love of wisdom called? Philosophy.

Should a Christian love wisdom? Depends upon the source doesn’t it? Obviously, Paul wants these Christians in Colossae to love wisdom if all knowledge and wisdom is seated in Christ. But Paul’s concern is also cautious. He wants these Christians to come to know all knowledge and wisdom, but at the same time he wants them to avoid falling into the trap of delusion (or deception) that comes by the way of persuasive arguments.

All persuasive arguments? Is the apostle telling Christians to avoid all persuasive arguments? No, for we find that he in the book of Acts uses persuasive arguments to explain and prove Christ Jesus (e.g., Acts 17.1-4). So, what is his concern?

He wants these Christians to walk in Christ just as they received Him (Col 2.7). And he warns them to not

“…be taken captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2.8; italics mine).

What he’s saying about Philosophy…

Philosophy is not bad, but the source from which it springs forth determines its worth. The Christian is to be governed by a philosophy that is according to Christ, not according to what men think. If we were to look at all the issues that spring forth within the Christian communities in these 1st century writings, what we would notice is that error always seeped in when man’s philosophy superseded or supplanted God’s.  

In the letter to the Colossians Paul identifies a few problem areas that are driven from false philosophy. For example, “worshiping angels” (Col 2.18); “circumcision” (Col 2.11); “food and drink,” “festivals” or “Sabbaths” (Col 2.16). To these they were strongly warned not to submit to things that have the appearance of wisdom but are really of no value (Col 2.20-23). Christians are to “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…[to] do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3.16, 17).

However, we mustn’t assume that these offer stringent limits on what can or cannot be done by the believer. The question over what sort of philosophy we adhere to, submit to, and reason from is a question of its origin. If it originates in the heart of man, regardless of how well it is articulated, how well it is received, or how appealing it may be to our carnal minds, we need to reject it. We need not live by it. We need not allow it to govern our thoughts or actions. We are made in God’s image to reflect Him, and so any philosophy that does not find itself drawn from Jesus Christ is nothing more than “empty deception” driven by man’s wishful thinking.

Sadly, much of Christian thought nowadays suffers from philosophizing outside the bounds of Christ, apart from His Word. This is not new. Obviously, as the text before us reveals it was something that the apostles had to wrestle with in the early Church.

Back to my earlier reflections…

As for the authors that I cited earlier. I did this for a couple of reasons. The first is related to their failure to note that what Scripture and other divines of the past warned against they arrogantly trudged forth. The second is found in their reason for doing so, they are ultimately governed by a manmade philosophy that they find personally appealing, and this is evidenced by something they noted in the fourth chapter of their work.

In an effort to show the handicap that Calvinism supposedly has when confronted with Arminianism argument for God’s morality in light of a consideration regarding the doctrine of unconditional election, they make the following statement:

“In this chapter we intend to offer a philosophical case against the Calvinistic conception of God’s unconditional election…our primary aim is to show that Calvinistic construal is philosophically weak…If our argument is successful, we will thereby provide Calvinists excellent prima facie reason to go back to the Bible….”[iv]

Sounds as if they are going to put it to the Calvinists, demonstrating their philosophical prowess at the same time devastating the Reformed doctrines ineptitude. In short, they are going to drive us back to the Bible with our tails evidently between our legs. Here’s how they plan on doing it:

“We think of our argument as unapologetically appealing to general revelation, which means that we reject the claim that philosophy can or should be ignored in the process of figuring out the answer to such questions.”

And so, Baggett and Walls true to form, in an effort to teach us nasty Calvinists to think better, do so with only one direct appeal to a single verse taken out of context (cf. 1Cor 10.13, p. 69) failing to understand our own teaching—derived from the Bible—regarding man’s enslavement to sin and inability to will towards that which would please God. Now you can have your own thoughts on the Calvinist vs. Arminian (or even traditionalist debate). That is not the point I am making. My point is that in an effort to refute a biblical teaching that we hold, they appeal to a philosophy governed not from Scriptural precepts, but personal whims.

The End of the Matter…

Our philosophy will either be according to one of two standards in terms of authority: Man’s word or God’s. the Bible plainly warns against the former, while encouraging the latter. I will leave it to the reader to think on which philosophy truly governs all aspects of their life.


ENDNOTES:

[i]  David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011),67, Kindle Edition.

[ii] Ibid., 68.

[iii] Ibid., 67.

[iv] Ibid., 66.

All Scripture unless otherwise noted is of the New American Standard Update (NASB).

Posted in Beliefs, Law, love, morality, philosophy, relationship, Theology

Looking at God’s Law in terms of Relationship and Morality: Interacting with a Popular Belief held by Some Christian Philosophers

NOTE TO READER

  • For this post I am going to do something different. Due to the nature of the article, I am going to give you my conclusion before you read the rest. This writing is a bit more…I don’t know…technical than normal. I am tempted to use the word scholarly, but I’m not fond of thinking of myself in that light so I want to refrain from using that label. In short, the work is heavily cited as its focus is on three works dealing with to some degree morality, the use of law, and the relationship those share with the Christian faith. If you find the conclusion interesting, read on. If you don’t, then I won’t force you (can’t anyway, lol!), but I am hoping that some may benefit from the read. Enjoy…or don’t…up to you….

Closing Remarks…

God is a covenantal God. And, as such He is a Law-giving God. He not only orders the workings of the universe, but the living of His creatures. Some find this distasteful and either reject it or water down the implications, but we find this truth perpetrated from Genesis to Revelation.

First God established His covenant with Adam and when Adam rebelled; his progeny fell with him. That was the inheritance he purchased for his children. God via grace reveals Himself to His people and rejoins them in a new covenantal status. This was done in the past in Israel and in the future (past to us) in Christ Jesus. One cannot pit the laws of God against His goodness, for they are a reflection of His holy heart. The only way to know the good and the evil and to be equipped to do them is to sit at His feet and draw from His Word (cf. Deut 8.3; Matt 4.4). Nor can one pit the laws of God over or under in significance to the relationship we might share with Him as His creatures. The Law of God defines the parameters of the covenantal relationship we share with Him. If we show little regard for the boundary markers He has given us for our good, then we have demonstrated our lack of love for Him. The point being that it is impossible to be in relationship with God without rules and it is an ignorant move to try and elevate one over the other—i.e. rules vs. relationship. This false distinction (relationship over rules) is believed by many professed Christians today, but it has no basis whatsoever in orthodox Christianity.

INTRODUCTION

Relationship, Law or Both: Interacting Some Written Works that Touch on the Subject

Years back I wrote a paper entitled “Reflecting the Image of God: Relationship, Law or Both?” for a class in biblical apologetics. In the paper I critiqued the views written in a couple of books assigned at the time of the course: “Is God a Moral Monster?” by Paul Copan and “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes” by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Overall, I would have to say that the books provided some helpful insight, but the authors viewpoints on God’s Law was suspect as they continually attempted to push the concept of relationship over rules.

For example, Richards and O’Brien write, “The Western commitment to rules and laws make it difficult for us to imagine a valid rule to which there may be valid exceptions. When we begin to think of the world in terms of relationships instead of rules, however, we must acknowledge that things are never so neat and orderly and that rules are not as dependable as we once imagined. When relationships are the norming factor in the cosmos, we should expect exceptions.”1

They continue, “In the ancient world, rules were not expected to apply 100 percent of the time…The covenant [with Israel]…was broken only when it became clear that the relationship was over (e.g., Hos 1.9). The end came when the relationship, not the rules, was broken.”2 In the end these two authors draw the conclusion that “…we have to learn to identify when the Bible is prioritizing relationship instead of rules or laws…[for] it often seems as if God is sovereign over everything except his rules.”3

Clearly, the emphasis that Richards and O’Brien stress is that of relationship over law. Laws are fine, but they are not universally binding to all people. That was never God’s concern and it shouldn’t be ours. That is their ultimate thrust, for to argue contrary to this position is to misread Scripture with Western eyes as their title suggests. Paul Copan as we shall see does not differ from this approach.

Copan asserts the following: “Keep in mind this statement that is worthy of full acceptance: the law of Moses is not eternal and unchanging.”4 My question at the time I was reading this was “worthy of full acceptance” on whose authority? God’s? Is that really how God desires us to look at His Law-Word as somehow limited in time and function? Jesus surely doesn’t seem to agree. For He stated, that “not one jot or tittle” (Matt 5.18) was to be done away with, and any who taught otherwise would be considered “least” (Matt 5.19) in the Kingdom. In fact, the scribes and Pharisees were notorious for doing that very things (supplanting God’s Law with their own), and he said that our righteousness needed to be greater than theirs (Matt 5.20).

This rationality is repeated again by Copan when he writes, “the Mosaic law is not permanent, universal, and the standard for all nations.”5 He goes so far as to say God’s laws given during the Exodus period were not perfect and therefore are not to be seen as universal ones for all people. They were an improvement from the rest of the nations, but apparently only slightly.6 Let me get this straight, God’s Law-Word is only a slight improvement over the rules, statutes and commands of unbelievers? Hmmm, interesting!

Like the previous authors (Richards and O’Brien), Copan seems convinced that relationship holds some sway over rules: “For one thing, God desired that Israel love him and cling to him (Deut 6:5; 10:20), which isn’t exactly reducible to keeping laws!”7 “For what law ever roused one to love another?”8 quips the skeptic of the underlying purpose and scope of God’s revealed law. My critical review of these presuppositions by the authors was met by resistance. The professor at the time labeled the work as straw-manning the authors, but would not provide me with where I had erred.

Similar Drum Beats From Some Other Philosophers

Later on I read another work by a couple different authors who were dancing to the beat of the same drum, bending over backwards to get as far away from God’s precepts as possible.

In their book “Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality,” David Saggett and Jerry L. Walls believe when it comes to what is morally right and wrong, “atheists make a good point when they stress that the fact that some moral truths may have been learned from Christian teachings doesn’t go to show that religion must necessarily be the ultimate cause or ground for those truths.”9 Besides the immediate problem with equating Christianity on par with all other religions, you may be wondering why the authors believe that truth does not necessarily start with the Triune God of Scripture? The solution they offer to their readers is this:

  • “The source from which we gain knowledge is one matter; what made the subject matter true and knowable is quite another. The former is an epistemological issue; the latter is a metaphysical or ontological issue.”10

Epistemological what? Metaphysical what? Ontological what? I know those words are a mouth full and if you are not familiar with such terminology don’t sweat it, most people aren’t. This is philosophical talk; the egghead’s casual manner of speaking to another person. Now to be fair I am to some extent one of those eggheads, what my wife calls the “Technically speaking” crowd. You have to say that phrase within the quotes with an English accent (a.k.a. to us country bumpkins as ‘British’). Let’s face it when “Brits” talk they do have an advantage of sounding much more polished than their “American” counterparts.

Anyway, those words above point to the study of knowledge (epistemology), the study/nature of reality (metaphysics), and the study of being (ontology). What Saggett and Walls are saying in the quote above is merely this, “These are all separate categories, and they do not necessarily have their sources in the same thing.” In fact, they argue that the knowledge of right and wrong (moral values acquired from ethical standards) in this world “springs [from] different sources entirely.”11 Essentially, what they seem convinced that morality can come from a variety of streams (specifically natural law) and does not have to come from our Creator.

Earlier in their work they propose the following Q & A: “How do we know what is right? If God is the Good and his commands constitute moral obligations, at some point we must ask how it is that we come to know his will.”12 One suggestion they offer is conscience13, the other that I have hinted to is nature (i.e. Natural Law Theory). An immediate problem arises, however, when one considers the noetic effects of the Fall and the unreliability of the conscience. Our minds have been darkened by sin (cf. Rom 1.21; Eph 4.18), and our consciences as a result are either seared or perverted (compare 1Tim 4.2 and Rom 12.2). Even Christians are said to have struggles in this area for they sometimes go to teachers that itch their ears rather than confront their hearts with the truth (2Tim 4.1-3). To be fair the authors allude to these truths disclosed in Scripture,13 but still believe in spite of this natural limitation placed on mankind, the individual in question will still be able to deduce what is morally right through a variety of sources not limited to God’s divine commands.14

One of the reasons Saggett and Walls suggest is that they “think there are compelling theological reasons to make room in our ethical theory for divine prerogatives when it comes to [God’s] commands…there’s excellent reason to think that some of his commands are optional or could have been different.”15 On this particular strain of thought it is suggested that the Scripture text that reads, “who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin” (James 4.17), is better understood in this way, “A more sensible reading, both exegetically and philosophically, is that he who is genuinely led to do a particular good deed sins if he refrains from doing it.”16 This is offered in an effort to keep the personal and relational aspect of divine truth expressed in love and not merely command more palatable. But this sort of thinking ought to raise questions in the believer’s mind.

Looking at the Rationale of the Position Being Argued by the Authors

On what ground can I argue as a creature that the Creator could have commanded something differently, making the statute at the very least optional at times? Moreover, by what authority does the creature have in twisting the Word of God to better fit their sensibilities and feelings on an issue? Just because it doesn’t sit well with the creature that his/her Creator would dare determine something that is necessary and obligatory to all of His creation? If I see my enemy in need (his ox has fell in the ditch; Exod 23.4-5), then is my reaction towards this individual’s predicament dependent upon how I feel genuinely led? Is this command and general precept of living only applicable to the believer but has no bearing whatsoever on the behavior of the unbeliever?

Only when we reason that our conception “of goodness [comes] from the bottom up”17 do we find such faulty thinking good. Only when we believe that “nature’s laws” tells us something about moral reality can we come to such conclusions. Only when we believe that our conscience is, along with our personal state of being, essentially good can we be convinced that we need not be limited to God’s special revelation to know what type of person we should be.

What is the fear that drives such thinking? What is the objection that drives such reasoning to attack the concept of God willing and commanding what He knows to be right; what ought to be done? What makes a person, a professed believer, desiring to distance them away from the fact that when God speaks human beings must listen. Not should listen, not may wish to listen, not may want to consider listening, but ought to do exactly as the Creator has ordered us to do without giving us an answer to satisfy our ever drifting sense of right and wrong?

Although Saggett and Walls have many good things to say in their work the crux of the matter is here: “In general, what God can’t do is anything in diametric opposition, irremediable tension, or patent conflict with our most nonnegotiable moral commitments.”18 Notice the concern is weighted by creaturely insight. Logically this leads to the following scenario: “When a particular interpretation stands too much at odds with nonnegotiable moral intuitions, the interpretation has to go, or a high view of biblical authority has to go, or we must deny God’s goodness.”19 Refusing to deny God’s goodness that dismissal is laid at the feet of the interpretation or a high view of biblical authority. Not surprising, as much of liberal theology tends to go in this direction, when the human reasoner cannot accept the plain teachings of Scripture.

Let’s be honest sometimes the Bible hits us in the teeth. But, what should our response be? To dismiss it, look for an escape hatch, or submit to its tenets when our limitations are clearly seen? Obviously, it should be the latter. The problem we constantly run into is that we want to be god (cf. Gen 3.4-5). Rather than admit this Saggett and Walls, along with Copan are often found commenting that the laws of God (i.e. His action through or in response to others) in the OT is viewed as harsh20 and awful.21 Why? Because, to look at some of those commands of God in any other way infringes upon their view of Him as unconditionally loving all creatures the same, with the chief good being unwilling to violate His creature’s free will:

  • “A loving God would plausibly do more to offer his grace and salvation to the Canaanites, even if posthumously… A loving God would do no less than all in his power to bring about their eternal salvation, short of violating their free will…God, we contend, would give even those Canaanites a full and free opportunity to repent of their sins and be saved through Christ.”22

It is interesting how we will bend the Scriptures until it fits the mold that we find acceptable. We are already told in the Bible why the Canaanites had to die, they were justly punished for their sin (Gen 15.16). They were not peaceful, loving or kind people—they murdered their own children as an act of worship to their false gods (Lev 18.1-25, 27-28; 20.1-23)! Moreover, they had no desire whatsoever to know their Creator, for they rejected Him turning to created things (1Kgs 21.26)!

NOTE:
You may want to reread my closing now. More will follow in the future regarding some of the things discussed in areas of theology and politics. Thanks for reading.

___________________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 166. Italics in original.

2 Ibid, 166. A similar line of thought is expressed on page 169 when the authors again state, “Likewise, in the ancient world of the Bible (and in many non-Western cultures), rules did not necessarily apply to 100 percent of the people.” In order to justify their position they point to Rahab and her family as sharing in the inheritance of Israel, something the Canaanites were not supposed to do, when the land was conquered. What they seem to miss is the fact that Rahab and her family were grafted into Israel via their faith in God. She is identified in two NT books as having faith as a member of God’s people (cf. Heb 11.31; Jas 2.25).

3 Ibid, 174.

4 Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 71. Italics added.

5 Ibid, 89.

6 Ibid, 136.

7 Ibid, 72.

8 Richards and O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, 173. The authors compare the desire of “many evangelicals [who] describe our standing before God in terms of forensic justification” as not inherently wrong, but severely missing the mark by pointing to analogy of a husband who promises to abide by a set of rules, as if that satisfies the relationship with his wife. They write, “Such a vow does not arouse love. Rules never do. While a loving husband may perform all those actions, they are the results of the relationship, not the rules that establish it.”

What the authors fail to see is that a husband that breaks his vows destroys the relationship. The marital covenant is established upon the binding arrangement of the vow-markers. Without the boundaries defining the terms of the covenant, not relationship is able to exist. Love is not defined by emotion, but is demonstrated through commitment. An uncommitted spouse will show little regard for the covenantal boundaries established on the day of their matrimony, and will be found destroying the relationship from the foundation up. The two (law/relationship) work together cohesively in a healthy union. Favoring one side over the other is disproportionate and will in time lead to disastrous results.

9 David Saggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: the Theistic Foundations of Morality (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), 160, Kindle Edition.

10 Ibid, 160.

11 Ibid, 160.

12 Ibid, 159.

13 Ibid, 159.

13 Ibid, 165.

14 Ibid, 1

15 Ibid, 120. As their example they suggest God could have required an 11% tithe, rather than a 10% tithe. Such hypothetical conjecture is actually unwarranted and cannot be justified from a creaturely standpoint. How can one claim to know that God could have commanded something different, without providing a warrant for the claim? This amounts to mere opinion and is an utter waste of ink.

16 Ibid, 129.

17 Ibid, 129.

18 Ibid, 135. Italics added.

19 Ibid, 137.

20 Copan, Is God a Moral Monster, 90. He calls it “harsh” when he looks at the sons of Aaron offering strange fire (Lev 10), the men of Israel fornicating with Midianite women (Numb 25), and Uzzah attempting to steady the oxcart when it teetered (2Sam 6.17). It is possible that Copan would say that he is merely being tongue-in-cheek, and in some cases I would agree that this is the case. However, there is no mistake that he has some disdain for these laws, and the actions that followed when they were ignored/broken. If one attempted to reinstate their usefulness he would no doubt cry against it, claiming cultural irregularities—i.e. that was a different culture and time; a subtle form of relativism. Of course, to institute such laws today would require a reworked political system and a heart that truly reflected a love for God.

21 Saggett and Walls, Good God, 138. This comment was offered regarding the Israelite conquest narratives of Canaan.

22 Ibid, 139, 140.

Posted in Biblical Questions, Communication, critique, Depravity, Freewill, philosophy, Theology

Back in the Saddle with Original Sin: A Review of “Why Romans 5:12-21 Does NOT say We Are Born Guilty”

Do you like cake? Do you enjoy eating it? So do I, and I think I shall have a slice.1

Recently, I had responded to a fellow blogger (Haden Clark) in light of his denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. Wherever you may fall on this particular issue, this is an important biblical doctrine. We are told in Scripture that God made man upright, but in response to how God made us we have sought out many sinful schemes (Eccl 7.29). If I accurately understand Clark (and I believe I do, but he is free to correct me if I am wrong), he would merely respond to this verse that yes God made man without sin (upright), but using his freedom to will whatsoever he desires man chose to rebel. What Adam did in the garden we all do. Not by necessity. Not because Adam’s trespass is somehow consequentially afforded to us perverting who we are as human beings. Such things as these (that our sin is tied to a twisted fallen nature) Clark seemingly denies.

  • He writes: “Human nature entails imperfection (we are not God) and freewill (we are free to make our own choices). This equation (imperfection + freewill + temptation) is all I see to be the necessary for the conclusion that we will all inevitably sin of our own choosing. It is by this freewill decision to rebel against our Creator that lands us all justifiably under God’s wrath. But no, not for a second do I believe that we are born guilty, or guilty by our nature, and I have shown why I don’t believe this in the article already cited” (opening par).

I don’t want to be redundant, so I will attempt to refrain from stating what I have already said in response to the article which Clark refers. However, I do want to add that the syllogism that he offers while valid in form (modus ponens; affirming the antecedent) has a faulty premise in line 2. Namely that he seemingly equates Jesus the Son of God on equal footing with the race of Adam, denying that the “virgin birth brought on by the Holy Spirit” does anything to differentiate us (humanly speaking) from our Lord.

Clark in his new article entitled, “Why Romans 5:12-21 Does NOT say We Are Born Guilty” (https://helpmebelieveblog.com/why-romans-512-21-does-not-say-we-are-born-guilty/) hones in on three key verses (Rom 5.12, 18-19) in order to deny a doctrine that he does not want to “be stuck with” because of “the ugly conclusions” this doctrine naturally brings (par 11). I think that it is fair to say that the one possible conclusion that Clark desires to deny and thus goes to great lengths attempting to avoid is what the doctrine of Original Sin draws out…we are not FREE.

If the doctrine is true, and if this is what Paul is saying here in Romans 5, then our natures are corrupted by sin. Which opens up the logical conclusion that we are not truly free in an autonomous sense. That is to say, free to will good or evil without any internal mechanism that pushes in a direction that we do not want to go. Clark has already denied this conclusion “wholesale” (par 1) before looking at these verses in Romans.

To be fair Clark does seem to suggest that “we are prone to sin,” but he is speaking externally since there is no necessary internal pressure being applied to the individual in question who does sin. If the choice of good or bad is presented before us, we can deem what we desire—good or bad. In effect, according to Clark’s worldview we are neutral towards righteousness or unrighteousness, since our “human nature” is essentially free. Not even Erasmus would dare step into those murky waters.

Philosophically and experientially I can see why Clark would draw such conclusions. I can honestly sympathize, as there was a time in my past when I believed such things, but let’s be honest here the Bible does not paint humanity in such flowery overtones. (But…I get ahead of myself.)

What I want to do is look at Romans 5:12 and then vv. 18-19 as Clark has done in an “honest exegetical way” (par 4). What we want to avoid when studying biblical texts is doing “snapshot exegesis.” That is taking a few verses and treating them as if they stand alone, without bearing in mind the overall context/flow-of-thought. Just for clarity, I am not accusing Clark of necessarily doing this, but I want to be clear it is something I want to avoid.

Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”2

What is this verse saying? Clark says, “The verse is clear that the curse of Adam was death. Death entered the world through Adam” (par 4). A little later he says the same thing, “Whereas, in verse 12 “death” entered through Adam and spread to all…” (par 5).

Please reread Rom 5:12 and notice that Paul says that it is “sin” that entered through Adam. To be sure “death” does find its entrance in the garden, but “death” is the consequence of sin; sin on the other hand is the antecedent (the cause). Whatever v. 12 says, it most assuredly says Adam ushered in sin, and as Paul points out just a couple verses later “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Rom 5.19).

Now I agree with Clark when he writes, “…I think Adam’s sin clearly had an effect on not only us, but all of creation” (final par). I would imagine that Clark draws this conclusion from what God decreed in Gen 3:14-19 and Rom 8:19-23, and if so I congratulate him but there are others places in Scripture that likewise reveal the fallen condition creation in a whole has been left in since Adam’s rebellion. I fail to see the logical consistency in this, how he can accept the one and deny the other, but I will leave him to muddle over such issues.

One of the things that I teach my students in studying their Bible’s is to pay attention to the grammar of the text. You do not have to know Greek (although it is admittedly better if you do) in order to notice transitional words or phrases, emphasis placed here or there.

Verse 12 starts with “Therefore”3 and so the reader is immediately keyed off to the fact that this looks back to what was written earlier. The “therefore” is there “because of” something else. Well, what is it?

What conclusion is Paul driving at from what he has said before?

Verses 1-3 speak of our rejoicing “in the hope of the glory of God” (v.2), “since we have been justified by faith” (v. 1a) and we have by this act of justification gained “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1b). Which, in turns enables us to “rejoice in our sufferings” (v. 3a) that come in this life as a disciple of Jesus. Furthermore, Paul explains that as Christians our “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5.5).

When did this transaction take place? What is the root cause of our rejoicing and hope, and what was our condition beforehand? Paul tells us that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5.6; italics added). In fact, Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8; italics added). And, not just sinners but when “we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5.10a; italics added).

So, let’s get this straight. Paul says we were weak and ungodly, sinners and enemies of God before being justified in Christ receiving the Holy Spirit. For this reason, “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom 5.11). That is to say, we were estranged from God—far from Him—before being justified by faith in Jesus Christ.

And you say, “So what, what’s the point?” That starting in verse 12 Paul begins to do a compare and contrast between the work of Christ (a work of God), and the work of Adam (a work of man). In identifying this work, he says the one is not like the other (vv. 15, 16, 17). The consequences are markedly different, although the similarities are found in two representative heads: Adam or Jesus. Up until the 5th chapter of Romans Paul has been making a careful category distinction between two different people groups (and no I’m not speaking about Jew and Gentile) those who are in Christ and those who are in Adam.

Starting in chapter 1 Paul thanks God and praises the Romans for their faith, desiring to share blessing with them if only he could get to them. He rests secured in and offers praise for the gospel of Jesus Christ which he identifies as the power of God (Rom 1.16). And then, for the remainder of chapter 1 all the way through the majority of chapter 3 he offers scathing remarks against those who are in Adam. It makes no difference if they are Jew or Gentile, if they have the Law-Word of God or not, the conclusion is the same: “None [are] righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3.10-12). Like I said earlier no flowery overtones.

The only difference, the only hope is found in “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3.22). Man, in his natural state possess nothing to boast about or in. The fourth chapter keeps up this necessary distinction between to people groups—the justified and unjustified—where Abraham is separated as markedly different than fallen man for he took God at His word, when all he was receiving were promises that had not yet been answered (cf. Rom 4.18-22).

Paul explains that “the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for [Abraham’s] sake alone, but for our also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4.24-25). Not everyone is a true child of Abraham, but only those who have the faith of Abraham (Rom 4.16).

What Paul has been arguing for is a category of two different types of people. This is the key to understanding the discussion to Romans 5:12-21, for Paul is comparing and contrasting two different categories of people under to different representative heads: Adam or Christ. As you will see in a moment this is important to finding your way through the weeds that Clark is unfortunately lost in.

Romans 5:18-19 “Therefore, as one trespass led to the condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

In looking at these verses (Rom 5.18-19) Clark readily admits that “on the surface these verses seem to buttress” the claim that we are “by nature guilty” (par 8). Now he denies this conclusion, and we shall see why here in a moment, but I do want the reader to understand the phrase “the many” does mean all. So “all men” were rightly condemned by Adam’s sin, just as “all men” are rightly justified by Jesus obedience; “all men” were made sinners because of Adam, just as “all men” are made righteous because of Jesus.

I think what Clark states regarding these verses is actually very helpful. He writes, “The important thing to note (and this really is the main point!) is that the relationship between part a and part b of both verses are univocal, symmetric…what’s true of part a must be true of part b in both verses” (par 12; italics in original). He is right. However, his conclusion is wrong because he fails to follow Paul’s line of thought throughout the Roman document separating the two distinct categories of people.

Adam represents all of mankind. We are all in Adam, we are all descended from him. I think on this Bible-believing Christians can agree.

Paul says that Adam “was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5.14). That is to say Adam resembled (Gr. tupos) the one who came after him. We know that this individual is the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3.15) promised in the beginning, and the “seed of Abraham” (Gen 12.7; 13.15-16; 15.5, etc.; cf. Gal 3.16). In light of the “type to come” who Paul calls in another place “the last Adam” (1Cor 15.45), his “free gift is not like the trespass” (Rom 5.15a; emphasis added) “and the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin” (Rom 5.16; emphasis added).

In other words, what Adam’s action brought in, Jesus’ action brought with it something else entirely. Because of Adam’s sin “death reigned through that one man” (Rom 5.17a); but, “through the one man Jesus Christ…the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life” (Rom 18b; reordered for clarity).

Knowing these things to be true, how then should we read vv.18-19?

Through or “in Adam” all men receive condemnation, but through or “in Jesus Christ” all men receive justification (v. 18). In Adam “the many were made sinners” (Rom 5.19a), but in Christ “the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5.19b). Clark assumes that the only way to understand this is to believe in universal justification for all people, which he says “the Gospels, and New Testament in total” (par 12) deny. I agree, and would only add that the entire teaching of Scripture (Old and New) flatly deny any form of universal justification, but that is not what Paul is arguing for. He is effectively arguing and the remainder of his Roman epistle continues this line of thought there is a category distinction between the two types of people: those in Adam and those in Christ. All those in Adam are rightly condemned (v.18) as sinners, just as all of those in Christ are rightly justified.

Clark writes, “Trying to say that Jesus’ atoning death is not universal, but Adam’s guilt is, is a fallacy” (par 12). Again, depends on whether or not you are properly defining your categories making distinctions where necessary. Words have various semantic ranges, and their meaning is definable by context only.

On the one hand Jesus’ atoning death is not universal in that all people are not saved, but on the other hand Jesus’ atoning death is universal in application to those who believe in Him. All of those individuals (universal in application, not content of the entire human race) who come to Jesus, he promises to never drive away (John 6.37). We are all born in Adam, but we are not all born in Jesus. In order to be born in the first we come by way of the flesh, but in order to be born in the second we come by way of the Spirit (John 3).

This is important. Both works of Adam and Jesus were completed in the natural world, but both men’s actions had spiritual ramifications (results) tied directly to them. We should note that Paul has no problems tying the natural implication of Adam’s sin (i.e. we all die) with the spiritual fruition garnered by it (i.e. we are all sinners). In Adam, we receive condemnation, but in Christ we receive justification—both are spiritual judgments by God.

Closing Remarks:

Clark you write, “I’m committed to letting my theology be informed by the text and not the other way around” (par 13), and yet you are adamant that “we possess a human nature which is imperfect and free to chose as we wish” (final par). You also seem to deny the concept of being “spiritually dead” (you use the phrase “spiritual death”), because you do not see it “described in the Fall narrative whatsoever…nor does any other Old Testament prophet describe the curse of the Fall as a spiritual death” (par 5).

May I suggest to you that the reason you fail to see anything to the contrary of your position is because you are so entrenched in the idea that we must be “free to choose” whatsoever we wish? To be fair the term “freewill” is nowhere plainly laid out in Scripture either, but you most assuredly believe it. Now I figure you are smart enough to realize that this does not actually prove anything, since it is an argument of silence, and such reasoning could be used against any number of orthodox Christian teachings.

My point, however, is that your theological/philosophical commitments do have a direct bearing on what you see or do not see in Scripture. The Bible does not paint us in the optimistic light that you seem to assume.

Paul is quite clear that before we are redeemed by Christ we are enslaved to sin (cf. Rom 6.6). Slaves are by nature not free, are they? David, who was a prophet of God did say that he “was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa 51.5; cf. Job 14.4; 15.14-16). Obviously, Paul agreed for he says that we are “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1) because we “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2.3). Jeremiah, another prophet states categorically that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jer 17.9), no doubt this is what the Lord alluded to when he said that from our hearts comes “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person…” (Matt 5.19-20a).

Why are all men sinners? Why does the Bible speak with such pejoratives describing the human condition, if what you say is true that we are essentially good? You admit that Adam’s ushering in sin did something, but when the language is before you describing what that something is, you categorically deny it? Could you please turn me to where you learned from Scripture that man is this angelic like creature (able to will the good or the bad) that you presuppose so that I might learn these things for myself?

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ENDNOTES:

1 By the way Clark, I loved the sarcasm in your statement regarding having your cake and eating it to. I had a few good-natured laughs in light of it. Of course, it was that biting mockery that led me to want to respond yet again.

2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

3 Various English versions translate the phrase (dia houtos) “So then” (NET), “Because of this” (LEB), “Wherefore” (Webster), “Just as” (ISV) with the idea of comparing what came before. It should be noted that much of what Paul discusses in Romans 5:12-21 also has a direct bearing on what follows after in the subsequent chapters of the letter. In particular a compare and contrast between being a slave to sin or to righteousness (the one by natural means, the other spiritual); as well as, the internal struggle with a dual nature dueling within the heart of the redeemed (cf. Rom 7), etc.