Posted in Communication

Metaphobia

Recently, I have been reading and watching video lectures and debates over the concept of eternal punishment. I am still waiting on a few books that I’ve ordered to come in to read on the subject of Conditionalism/Annihilationism, so I will refrain from specifically dealing with that topic in detail until a future date. That being said, I am fairly confident that there are a few peripheral issues that I can delve into until that time.

I should add that this topic will be something that I will return to at various points in the future. What I mean is that this process will probably months in the making. There are other things that I have an interest in besides this topic, but I do think this subject is important enough to wrestle through from a possible research standpoint.

Coming to See the Communication Barrier

As I have mentioned in the past one of the common focal points in arguments and debates is in regards to language. There is a communication barrier that exists when people do not share the same foundation. We see this specifically in the use of words or phrases.

Dr. James R. White has called this “baggage”[1] that we lug around with us that infers our understanding on how key terms are to be interpreted. Walter Martin, the author of the gold standard volume on various religions entitled, the Kingdom of the Cults, wrote that the Christian

“…must be prepared to scale the language barrier of terminology. First, he must recognize that it does exist, and second, he must acknowledge the very real fact that unless terms are defined when one is either speaking or reading…the semantic jungle that…[has been] created will envelope him, making it difficult, if not impossible, [to offer] a contrast between the teachings…” of the two opposing sides.[2]

When Unaware…

This can be extremely frustrating to people in dialogue. The use of the same words, but opposing definitions, leads to gross misunderstandings. This causes people who may speak the same language (say English) to talk right past another.

Knowing the Cause…

The reasons for this can be many. For example, “words change their meaning over time.”[3] Or it could be our traditional understanding that hinders us from seeing what is truly being said.[4] What needs to be remembered is that words in and of themselves are merely symbols, linguistically speaking, used to convey meaning to concepts in our world.[5]

Language is Symbolic…

That final point is an important one. Think of language as a whole. What are letters? In the English alphabet there are 26 (A-Z).[6] Have you ever considered that letters, which make up our words, are symbolic representations of abstract concepts applied to the world in which we live?

Take for example the word “day.” What is a day? Ah, here is where the semantical range of a word is helpful. There are varying ways in which the term “day” can be described (defined). To illustrate this, I’ll borrow a sentence that I’ve heard from Ken Ham on various occasions.

“In my grandfather’s day, it took three days to travel to that city during the day.”

Understanding Semantic Range…

The word day is used three different ways in that sentence. That is an example of its semantic range. First, “In my grandfather’s day…,” the term day means an age of time (i.e., a generation). Second, “…it took three days to travel to that city…,” day means an approximate 24-hour period of time. Third, “…during the day” we see that day is being used in the sense of a period of daylight (approx. 12 hrs). But the word “day” made up of the letters “d,” “a,” and “y” is a symbolic representation of what we experience in reality. We assign meaning to the symbols, and the manner in which they are used together (a word), and the context in which that word is spoken. Boring I know, but nonetheless important.

By the way this is why it is incumbent upon us to carefully define our words when speaking to other individuals. Even if we share the same language, and embrace a similar worldview, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we have the same intention with similar words or phrases. We need to be aware of potential communication barriers in conversation.

Why Meta-phobia?

I say all of that to caution those who like to use the argument against metaphoric language. There is no question that the Bible is full of imagery. Its pages are littered with various symbolic representations. There are two key responses that I have witnessed to this truth.

Two Sides of the Same Coin…

There will be those who fear the use of metaphors (now you know why I called this section meta-phobia) in the sense that they will be taken seriously. The argument presented will be something akin to “those are just symbols, not be taken literally.” What I’ll call now the belittling fallacy. Trying to make light of what is written by saying “it’s just symbolic.”

Now this makes those on the other side, who take a “literal understanding” of the text, reactively kick back. A fear that the teachings of the Bible will not be taken seriously or accurately (a converse of the meta-phobia above) begins to ensue when this kind of talk is used. Banners are raised and a call to arms is sounded!

Often you can identify this concern when you hear the phrase about “spiritualizing the text.” Which in and of itself I find a bit amusing since we are told in Scripture that it is “God-Breathed” (2Tim 3.16) and men wrote as they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2Pet 1.21). The whole text is spiritual, since it claims to come from God who is Spirit (John 4.24), and yet its language pertains to all of life.

The real issue…

The issue is not whether or not we spiritualize the text, but whether or not we draw from it the correct meaning. Which means what? That we derive the author’s original intention at the time of its writing. Deconstructionists claims that this is impossible, since from their point of view there is no way to derive an author’s original intention from the words written on a page. Which, if that were true, then you should automatically dismiss the conviction(s) of the Deconstructionist since we can’t really know what their intention is.

Literal Should Mean Exegetical…

Confusion over what “literal” means is the problem. The best and easiest way to understand the meaning of “literal” is according to the literature. Which harkens back to reading the author in context (historically, culturally, linguistically) and then pulling out the meaning intended at the time of its writing (a.k.a., process of exegesis). Only then will you be able to properly interpret and apply the text in your current context.

Sounds easy enough, but commitments to the contrary hinder this process. For example, in regards to eternal punishment I have noticed a trend by advocates from one side attempt to dissuade a likely conclusion being drawn from the text by stating that the language is symbolic or metaphoric. To some, I suppose this is impressive. However, I disagree. Actually, I think it is a bit disingenuous. Perhaps, it is just blatant ignorance on their part, but I’m not so sure.

The Use of Parables

Take the literary teaching method Jesus employs quite often in the gospels. Time and time again we see him speaking in terms of parable. He uses illustrations from every day life to discuss deeper, even hidden, spiritual truths. Are we to look at those stories and walk away saying, well His language was metaphoric, it was laden with symbols, therefore, I can’t take him literally?

An Example Given…

Let’s briefly look at one to help what I’m saying sink in.

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (Matt 13.33).

What is being taught in this parable? In short, that the kingdom of heaven starts out small, almost imperceptibly so, but grows until it is quite large. Of course, “kingdom of heaven” is a symbolic reference to the rule and/or dominion of God, specifically Christ who is King. “Leaven” and “flour” are symbolic references to the Spirit’s work being sown in men’s hearts. Obviously, though spoken in terms of symbolic imagery (metaphoric), the language has a literal meaning.

Farce-fully Stated

To somehow argue that symbols are to be taken lightly because they are not to be taken literally is an absolute farce. Wooden-ism, which is often meant when a person says something shouldn’t be taken “literally,” would be to say that the kingdom of heaven is leaven, it is something a woman took and hid in flour, and then it grew. Symbols represent literal truths, but they are not literal truths.

But a genuine connoisseur of the biblical text does not dismiss a teaching because its symbolic (use of metaphor), nor do they try to make a wooden chair out of spiritual truths. There is a necessary balance that guides the reader, student, preacher/teacher of the Scripture, and this is drawn from exegeting the text not hem-hawing on either side of the meta-phobia fence.

As Pastor Douglas Wilson explains, “the symbol is always less than reality. What is greater—the nation or the flag that represents that nation? …What is greater—the marriage or the ring on the finger that represents the marriage?”[7] Or to apply what I did earlier in this post: Which is greater—the yeast hidden in the dough that grew, or the kingdom of Christ that the gates of Hades cannot overpower? The answer as to the greatest in all three examples is what? Is it the symbol that is greater or the thing that the symbol represents? Obviously, Wilson is right, it is that which is represented by the symbol that is the greater of the two.

No difficulty here…

There is little difficulty in understanding what is beyond the symbolism of teenagers/adults who draw an eyeball, a heart, and the letter U. When the symbols are understood the concept, they point to are clearly comprehended. The symbols put together mean “I love you.” And in the case of the symbology used, it is the statement behind the symbol’s being made that is far greater in meaning and impact.

We will draw this out further in future posts, but for now I’ll let this little lesson settle in your minds.


ENDNOTES:

[1] James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2012), 25, Kindle, loc 254.

[2] Walter A. Martin, the Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject, Rev. ed., Ravi Zacharias, ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 28.

This teaching by Dr. Martin has been adapted and applied to the current material, as language barriers exist not only when one has two opposing religions meeting head-to-head, but also when one apparently shares much of the same common ground within a similar worldview—i.e., Christian faith.

[3] D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, [1996] 2004), 36.

[4] Ibid., 17.

[5] Ibid., 32. See Eugene A. Nida, Exploring Semantic Structures (Munich: Fink, 1975), 14.

[6] The same thing could be said of numbers. Take for example the number “1” the Arabic symbol we use to identify one is not actually the number, but the symbol that give meaning to our understanding of the concept of “1.”

[7] Douglas Wilson, “Mere Hellfire,” Blog & Mablog: Theology that Bites Back, December 3, 2018, https://dougwils.com/the-church/s16-theology/mere-hellfire%ef%bb%bf.html.  Wilson is a wonderful teacher that is ironically disliked by a great number of his household (i.e., the Christian community). We shall return to some of his teaching on the matter at hand in future posts. Until then, I would recommend you check him out if you’ve never had the pleasure before.

<a href=”http://Image by Garik Barseghyan from Pixabay“>Image by Garik Barseghyan

Posted in Debate and Argumentation

It’s Just Words, Man…Just Words

“You’re just arguing semantics,” was the reply I received. “That’s what he said to you?” an evangelist friend of mine asked. “Yeah, that’s what he said as if this somehow settled the argument,” I said. “That’s stupid, of course you’re arguing over semantics…that’s the whole point,” came my friends irritated response.[1]

What’s the Problem?

Semantics may not be a word that many are familiar with. But familiarity or not everyone uses semantical argumentation. In debates, dialogues, and various other forms of argument one of the things you will notice is that the debate stems from the varying ways in which individuals or groups understand certain key terms or concepts.

This is the game that is often played in cultural issues and or policies (i.e., politics). Barring consideration over the foundational issues inherent in any position held, language or the way we communicate is loaded with baggage.[2]  This baggage provides a filtering lens in the way we use terms or phrases, based on our interpretation of them via our worldview commitments. In short, the way we use certain words or phrases or concepts through various forms of speech (speaking, writing), and the way we hear them (audio, reading) will be governed by what we considered acceptable within a certain range of meaning.

Underlying Issue Elaborated Upon…

The conversation that I roped you in with above was the result of a real meeting I had with a board of elders in the Nazarene Church. This was during my first pastorate, and it was one of many steps as I journeyed on through the ordination process.[3] If I’m not mistaken this conversation would have taken place sometime in the spring of 2010 before the District Assembly’s meeting. The semantical argument that one of the elders referred to was over the word “vision.” The text pointed to was Prov 29.18 in the KJV:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…”

The problem was that they didn’t like my response on a questionnaire I had filled out a few weeks before the meeting. They interpreted my response as hostile, but it was anything but. In fact, one of the elders said that my demeanor in the meeting was not the impression he’d gotten from what I’d written. Meaning I seemed rather blunt, to which he took as, I suppose, some form of aggression on my part. However, they thought I was rather cordial in person.

The source of contention in this meeting was that I told them they had wrongly applied the passage in question. They were using it in a way to inquire what my “vision was” that I had received from the Lord for my work in Chesterhill, OH. What dream or aspirations or visionary net was I casting to lead me in future months as I worked in the ministry at that church? Even without a lexicon if one merely reads the verse you will see that parallel provided in this form of Hebrew poetry limits the use of the word “vision” in this context as instruction received from God’s law (Torah). More recent English translations pick this intention up provided by the writer of this particular proverb:

  • “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (ESV).
  • “When there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps the law, blessed is he!” (NET)
  • “When there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint, but as for he who guards instruction, happiness is his” (LEB).[4]

Even the Greek translation of the Tanakh does not allow for the manner in which they were attempting to use the term:

  • “There shall be no interpreter to a sinful nation; but he that observes the law is blessed” (LXX).

Once, I had proved my case the only possible answer was to dismiss me altogether with the statement: “You’re just arguing semantics.” And then, the meeting moved on as if it never happened.

I have heard similar argumentation when people quote Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” (ESV). God says people are destroyed when they don’t seek for and embrace knowledge. As if this refers to any and all forms of knowledge.

Again, context helps us identify the meaning of the word “knowledge” even if we do not have a Hebrew dictionary. The second half of the verse shows that the knowledge that the people lack, which is the cause of their being destroyed, is they “have forgotten the law of your God” (Hos 4.6b). The reason is because they had teachers (i.e., priests and prophets) who failed to take God at His Word and give faithful instruction to His people. Which led to “cast[ing] off restraint” as the writer of the proverb above illustrated.

Aid or Hinderance…

Language and our use of it may be either a wonderful aid or a great hinderance to those whom we are speaking to. Fights ensue on theological grounds over the use of words and phrases. This war of words is not limited to what some might view as an ecclesiastical sphere, but takes place in our day-to-day life on a variety of issues. Being a political year, if we take the time to listen and weigh the words of those promoting their ideas, you will notice that the battle is one ideologically waged through the use of words.

Example regarding Politics…

Recently, I was listening (and watching) a conversation that Candace Owens had with fellow black leaders at some event (Clip from Revolt Summit; warning explicit language). Her conservative position was in the minority as could be seen with the panel of people she shared the stage with, as well as the response of the crowd. At one point she was asked what does Trump mean by “Make American Great Again,” “what’s he talking about?!? What era of American history is he referring to?!?”

One group heard the phrase “Make America Great Again,” as possibly referring to the days of segregation, or chattel slavery, or when women didn’t have the right to vote, etc. The other group, represented by Mrs. Owens, meant the values that were once held dear in terms of marriage—specifically fathers in the homes, rather than being negligent—when people worked hard for a living rather than being eager for a handout, when moral values where more in line with those held by our founders and other great leaders of the past; barring of course the atrocities that some fools committed. Though Mrs. Owens was asked the question she was shouted down by members of the panel and the crowd, because they refused to hear her definition of the phrase. It was an argument over semantics.

In Regards to Eternal Punishment…

As I noted in an earlier post in regards to Conditionalism/Annihilationism (See Here) from what I can tell the argument is one over semantics. Since that time, I have read a few articles, books, and some of the early writings of those often labeled “Church fathers” (i.e., the pastors, theologians and scholars of the early church).  I’ve also ordered a couple books on the subject from opposing sides. Until that time, I think that there are a few areas that I might address without having read those books.

What’s to be Expected…

The first has to do with the use of metaphoric language (i.e., symbolic use). The second will deal with the meaning of death in Scripture. The way I have seen it argued from the Conditionalist side is heavily geared towards cessation. If that is in fact the case, then we ought to be able to find biblical support for that position. We shall see. There is a third position that we could look into and that is heavily tied to the emotive human response to the idea of eternal punishment and/or damnation. Let it suffice to say that if both sides are honest NO ONE LIKES the idea of sinners in an eternity of torment/suffering. But the issue at hand has little to do with likes. Whether or not I like something or dislike something has no bearing on whether or not it is truth that should be embraced or rejected. The creature of God is called to submit to the Truth of God regardless of lack of total understanding and emotional bias. I may have a fourth article loosely tied to this in regards to philosophy vs. exegesis, in light of how they relate to one another. But time will tell what I decide on that point.

Until then I pray that you will have a blessed weekend. Worship the Lord while He may be found. Take advantage of today, for tomorrow is promised to none of us. God Bless.


ENDNOTES:

[1] This conversation is paraphrased from the original. The content is accurate, as well as the emotional distaste of my evangelist friend, but I don’t want to act as if this is an exact transcript. Many years have passed since then, and while I don’t believe my memory is slipping I don’t want to overstate my case.

[2] James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief, E-book edition (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, [1998], 2012), 25, Kindle, loc 254.

[3] My ordination would not come until the April of 2014. By then I had left the Church of the Nazarene for doctrinal reasons, having submitted my resignation letter to my church and the District Superintendent.

[4] All italics are mine to emphasize the word in question.

Posted in Abortion

Debating Abortion: Why it’s Done and What’s the Appropriate Response?

Why is there a debate on abortion? Have you ever sat back and really chewed on the reasons behind the debate? I was born in the late 70’s, and so as long as I can remember (at least when I started to care about such things) the debate on this issue has been the norm.

Some will say that the issue is about “women’s rights,” or “reproductive rights.” Some will claim that it is a scientific question of when life begins. Others will attempt to identify the debate on philosophical grounds, specifically in terms of person-hood. But do any of those really get to the heart of the matter? Is there a heart in the matter?

What I find at the same time amusing and disturbing is the reluctance for a great number of people on either side of the debate (Pro-choice; Pro-life) to see it as a religious issue. The general attitude seems to be “that must be avoided at all costs!” There will be those of the unbelieving sect that will sneer at the very audacity of daring to bring religion into the debate. Similarly, those of the believing sect will either tsk, tsk, tsk at the notion, or they will cower in fear of appearing too confrontational to others.

A couple of things might be said to both sides on this particular point…

First, a debate by definition is an argument of opposing sides. The argument is by its nature confrontational. To debate the position of another is to attack that position you are arguing against. In the same breath, you are also defending the position that you hold in a debate against the one who is attacking your position by arguing against it. DEBATES are CONFRONTATIONAL. And so, I wonder what is the root cause of the professed believers in shying away from dealing with the religious nature of the debate?

Secondly, religion by definition is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”[1] Therefore, there is no question that the debate over abortion is religious in nature. All people are religious, although they may differ in the object of their faith-commitment. If you happen to be one that prefers to leave religion out of the discussion, you may not like to hear that, but truth that is psychologically disturbing to the recipient is nonetheless truth.

Why the Debate?

Back to the original question I proposed at the beginning of this post: Why is there a debate on abortion? What is at stake? What is the heart of the issue? The answer is PRIDE.

Prides says, “To everybody else go and die, I am going to do it my way!” Pride is by nature autonomous. Pride recognizes no other authority but self. Pride is the blessed root of selfishness. Pride cares little for the affairs of others, but only that which is precious to itself.

Again, I find it amusing and disturbing that pride is the reason not only for abortion, but the reluctance to see the debate as religiously oriented. Pride is also the reason why so many go to such great lengths at avoiding the debate. As if a strong confrontation of ideas is wrong?

Christian Commitment…

I should add at this point that the Christian is commanded by Christ to be Christlike. Which means “gentle as doves and wise as serpents.” Which looks like speaking the truth in love, but with love of God as the ultimate commitment that cannot be subverted in the slightest. Which means being gentle and firm at the same time; patient and insistent; kind but unabashedly bold for the truth.

The Underlying Issue…

Now I will grant that the reason the one side (Pro-choice) wants it to remain outside the purview of a confrontation is because they do not want to hear opposition. They don’t want to be told they are wrong. They don’t want to be told that there are consequences for choosing to “off” their offspring. They don’t want it to be an issue of right or wrong, because “choice” sounds so much more intelligent and sophisticated. Most of all they don’t want to be told that what they are really doing is sinning. Sinning against the child in the womb, against the father who is also responsible for the child, against the society that feels the effects of their “choice,” but most of all they don’t want to be told they are sinning against a Holy God in heaven that will hold them accountable for their “choice.”

At root, pride is found nestled, deeply embedded in the hearts/minds of those on that side of the fence. Sadly, they are not the only ones. For in an effort to “keep-face” with the world; To not come off as a bigot before the multitudes; To not be hated by those who they may encounter on a daily basis, or break bread with during those special times of the year, Pro-lifer’s will avoid bringing religion—specifically, the Christian faith—into the discussion.

Speaking specifically to those who bear the cross of Christ

For the Christian to effectively address the issue of abortion they must understand that it is a gospel issue. How so?

First and foremost, in recognizing that abortion is not about “women’s rights,” or “reproductive rights,” or about “scientific evidences,” or “philosophical meanderings.” Abortion is about fallen human beings that in an effort to preserve their way of life and guard the convictions of their own hearts, sacrifice their children on the altar of convenience.  One glaring example of this that comes to mind is that of actress Michelle Williams who thanked her ability to kill a child to promote her career. (Read Here).

Secondly, by defining abortion for what it truly is…MURDER! When we properly define it for what it is, then we are able to rightly identify the class it fits within…SIN! Again, I am often amazed at the way people refuse to define terms. Abortion is the murder of an unborn, but living, child. To call it a fetus does not change this fact, for from the Latin fetus means young one, babe or offspring.

Third and finally, admitting that there is only one solution to sin—the gospel of Jesus Christ. A person who takes the life of their own offspring is in bondage to sin. Who can set them free from that sin? Who can lift them from the muck and mire, pulling out their prideful roots that have embedded their hearts/minds, if not Christ? There is no one else. Christ alone atones for sin. Christ alone gives victory over sin. The work of Christ alone breaks up hardened hearts, giving them a heart of flesh.

Brief Worldview Analysis…

The fact is, if you are trying to change a person’s position which would need to go against their base convictions of reality, you cannot do it. Facts and evidences will not change a person’s heart. That person will stick to their guns. They will hold tight to their presupposition, for to give up that one many others would have to follow.

Which is why you will hear various “buts” to escape the obvious, logical conclusion that the thing growing inside of a woman during her pregnancy is not a thing at all. It is a human being, a person, a little babe that is young and small, but growing onward toward maturity. The issue scientifically is not that its just a lump of cells, a mutation, an alien, or an intruder, but the offspring of a union between a man and a woman.

The issue is not intellectual, scientific, or philosophical but the condition of the human heart. Of course, all of those things have a bearing in the discussion, but a person’s intellect, interpretation of scientific facts, and the philosophical conclusions they draw are driven by the object that holds their faith (i.e., faith-commitment).

A couple possible objections…

“Yes, but if I’m offensive to the person(s) I am speaking to they will shut their ears. They will refuse to listen, and I will lose my opportunity to present the gospel.”

  • If you know anything about the Lord Jesus, you will see that he never subverted from the truth in order to be inoffensive. In fact, a consistent reading of the gospels will show that Jesus was at times very offensive, and He never apologized for it. Better to smack the person that needs smacked in order to wake them up, then to butter them with kisses and let them die. He told the truth graciously, which meant the things I said above, and when people left Him because they were offended, He let them. And, when they got angry at his message, he told them that they would die in their sins (verbally shaking the dust off his sandals, if you get the reference).

“Yes, but the Christian should be more about saving lost souls and preaching the gospel, not getting into debates over cultural mores and/or societal and political habits.”

  • The Great Commission (see Matt 28.18-20) says two things that every Christian should know. First, that we are to preach the gospel of God, who is defined by the Lord as (The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), baptizing all people in His Name. Second, that we are to teach all nations (i.e., all peoples) “to obey all that He has commanded.” What do you suppose were the commandments to which He was referring?
  • If you think that New Testament Christian’s Scripture was the New Testament, then you are grossly mistaken. Their Scripture was what we call the Old Testament (Tanakh and/or Torah). The commandments to which Christ referred were His holy law that He gave to Moses long ago. The gospel is about saving people from their sin, but sin is that which we think, speak and do. Therefore, saving people from sin also speaks of justice and righteousness and holiness. Which are the means by which we are instructed to love God and love our neighbor.
  • Thus, the Christian is called to address the societal/political habits of the people by calling them what they are when they stray from God’s holy instruction (sinful behaviors); thereby, pointing them to repentance and a change of heart regarding them. Which in turn does what? Changes the society/political habits of the people because the surrounding culture (i.e., cultus) has had a change of heart.

Forthcoming…

For those unfamiliar with the historic anti-abortion movement, next week I will give you (the reader) some background information and a book recommendation that I believe you will find helpful. If you’d like to hook up with an excellent Christian ministry that is on the front lines of this fight for the lives of unborn babies, then I graciously turn you to End Abortion Now’s website

Have a blessed weekend.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster), 1052, “religion,” s.v., def. 4.