The Loneliness of Understanding Reality Christianly

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series The Loneliness of Thinking Christianly
Series: The Loneliness of Thinking Christianly

Someone on Facebook asked, “How would you answer this?”

Christian, watch it if you dare. Prepare for a barrage.

At the end of the clip, the interviewer says, “That sure is the longest answer to that question that I ever got in this entire series,” and they both laugh over it.

That’s nothing, though, compared to how long it would take to answer Stephen Fry. That’s because few people understand what’s behind the Christian explanation for reality as a whole: they don’t understand reality Christianly.

Background Work For Understanding Reality Christianly

It’s not that there is no answer. Given time, any reasonably well-informed Christian thinker could take apart Stephen Fry’s response both philosophically and theologically, and show in great detail how he has misunderstood and misinterpreted Christianity’s view of suffering in the world.

To do that, however, would require laying an enormous amount of groundwork. We would have to ask him to start back at the beginning: to imagine an entirely different reality than the one he thinks he lives in. We’d have to ask him to be patient with us as we lay out a wholly unfamiliar worldview, one in which a good God rules wisely over a not-always-good universe and is making it good for his glory.

For the sake of hearing and grasping an answer to the questions he’s raised, he would need to take a stab at understanding reality as Christians understand it. Only then could he even begin to evaluate whether Christianity can offer his challenge a solid answer.

Would he be willing to do that? Would he take the time and exercise the patience to do that?

I don’t know the man, so I don’t know, but I do know the shallow, glib, gleeful God-condemnations offered by major New Atheist writers and the atheist Internet. Rarely do I sense that they want to invest any energy in understanding the Christians’ answer. They mock Christianity with rapier-sharp slogans and sound bites, but unfortunately also in shallow ignorance.

And it’s partly our fault, Christians.

Many of the people of whom I speak learned (so to speak) this shallow view of Christianity in church. David Kinnaman wrote about this in You Lost Me. In America, at least, we’re talking about the de-churched more than the completely unchurched.

The Church’s Weakness In Teaching a Christian Understanding of Reality

From this point forward I’m no longer speaking about Stephen Fry, for as far as I can tell his upbringing was not at all Christian. I’m speaking instead of all those who think they learned Christianity growing up, but didn’t. They might think they have. Their churches might have led them to believe they have, but they haven’t. Their churches haven’t taught it.

Now, I don’t want to generalize unfairly here. There are great teaching churches, and there are poor ones. Even among the great teaching churches, though, there are distinctions. Some (including some I’ve attended) believe greatly in teaching the Bible, and they teach it well, in one sense. They don’t always teach it in context of the real questions of the day, however, which is to say, they teach it well but not in all the ways that matter most.

Look at it this way: any college student could raise Stephen Fry’s challenge. Every student who goes to school as a Christian, therefore, is likely to hear them. Do they know how to answer? Only if we’ve taught them what they need to know–which means, only if we’ve gone into significant depth with them about understanding reality in a Christian way.

If we’ve done this for them, then they’re probably going to be equipped to stand a challenge like this one. If not, they’re sitting ducks. The next college sophomore with an axe to grind against God is going to sharpen it on them.

Again, I don’t want to generalize unfairly, but from my direct observations and my reading of the research, high-quality Christian-reality teaching is the exception, not the rule. For those of us who want understand all of reality Christianly, even the church can feel like a lonely place.

Stephen Fry’s Vulnerability

I’ll go back to Stephen Fry for a moment. I don’t know him or his educational background beyond what our great friend Wikipedia tells us, but I can at least see he answers with the air of someone who has observed well and felt deeply (which is excellent). His thinking, on the other hand, is vulnerable, to say the least. I don’t see him demonstrating any careful, reflective thought here, and certainly none that take seriously the possibility that Christians have also grappled with these questions. It’s as if we let 2,000 years go by without ever realizing there might be a problem there, and, OH NO!, the actors and pundits have discovered there’s a hole in our worldview.

(May I interrupt my flow of thought here to remind us all how unlikely that really is? Every day, though, I read Internet atheists dropping bombs over Christianity, not knowing they’ve been disarmed for centuries.)

Fry has landed himself in a dangerous place. For God is a good God who rules this earth for his glory and our flourishing, and Fry is poking a hot stick in his eye. Let me clarify what I mean there. God doesn’t have eyes, and he’s not worried about hot sticks. He has a way of turning good back upon us in multiplied ways, but also pain, shame, and contempt. The poker, I fear, is in Stephen Fry’s eye. And it is his own doing. I find that very sad for him.

An Opportunity To Help Others Understand Reality Christianly

It’s not all his fault though. We haven’t done our job. We’ve made it seem unusual for Christians to work hard at understanding reality Christianly. We’ve made it a lonely occupation.

We can do something about this, those of us who care about it. I wrote recently about connecting with other thinking believers. We can work on it with unbelievers, too.

This blog isn’t a great context for what I’m about to recommend. It’s the kind of thing you do walking along a path instead, or sitting across the table at a coffee shop together. I’m suggesting that we take time to go back to the beginning. Let’s tell the story. Let’s not get bogged down in how long the first part of it took (Genesis 1 and 2); instead, just speak of God creating. To do so is one fundamental way to clarify the meaning of “God,” after all.

Let’s talk about how humans carry all the dignity and potential greatness that comes of being made in his image, but how we descended into deadly distance from him instead. We need not be afraid to use the word “sin,” but we must sure to explain what it means.

Then we can just go on and tell the story, especially the story of Jesus Christ.

Story of that sort is needed to build the basic preliminary understanding of the gospel. Even if the other person doesn’t embrace Christianity as true, at least they’ll be much further along the way toward being able to grasp a Christian understanding of reality so they can decide for themselves.

Understanding Reality Christianly

We have our work cut out for us. We’ve got a lot of story-telling to catch up on. That’s how we’ll provide the background people need so they can evaluate the truth and meaningfulness of Christianity. For many, the story alone will be enough to convince. Others will ask for more reasons to believe.

The story matters, though, because first of all it’s true, and second, it’s how people come to understand reality Christianly. The story has not been well told in our culture. The other day someone wrote,

According to Tom his religion is responsible for all of the evil in the world. Something about Adam and Eve or something. So when is he going to apologize for it? (It wouldn’t surprise me if he actuality does apologize for it haha.)

If he thought I was going to apologize for it, it could only be because he thought I might think he had said something halfway true about Christianity. He hadn’t. He thought he had, but no; in fact, this displays a marvelous ignorance of Christianity coupled with an equally marvelous confidence in that ignorance.

It also displays that he hasn’t heard the story. I wonder whether he’s one of the never-churched or the de-churched. Either one is possible.

Overcoming the Loneliness

We need to do a better job of explaining how to understand reality Christianly in the church. We need to do a better job outside the church, too. “How can they hear without a preacher?” asks Paul in Romans 10. How can we preach it if we’re not teaching it in our churches?

I close with this. My recent post on the loneliness of thinking Christianly received more page views by far than any other I have ever written, with the exception of some that were tied to specific controversial current events. It struck a nerve. It’s not enough to think Christianly; we need to know and to communicate how to understand reality Christianly. And we need to make sure that’s not the lonely kind of enterprise it’s been.

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Comments 66
  1. BillT

    Of course, the short answer is that we don’t believe in the God that Stephen Fry does either. And we don’t worship the God Stephen Fry believes we do. And Stephen Fry is wholly uninformed about the explanations for “reasons for evil” which seem to be his main complaint. Stephen Fry though is right that the reason he won’t enter the “Pearly Gates” is because he doesn’t want to. However, he doesn’t really know what he is giving up or why.

    But you’re right Tom. The reason Stephen Fry is so uninformed is, at least in part, us. Or as my pastor sometimes reminds us, “The reason there aren’t more people in church on Sunday is because of the people that are already there.”

  2. SteveK

    Below is me quoting snippets from Greg Koukl at STR. I think that he’s right about most people having some of the correct puzzle pieces in place, but the bigger problem is our collective inability to make them all fit together into the one picture of reality that everyone can see, hear and understand.

    Christianity teaches a worldview, and I’m pretty convinced that most Christians don’t know that worldview. They have some pieces, but they don’t know how it all fits together. It’s like having a puzzle box full of interlocking puzzle pieces and saying, “Now I’ve got a puzzle.” Well, you don’t have a puzzle, you have pieces. You don’t have a picture, what you have is pieces. You might have the whole puzzle there in the box, but you don’t have the puzzle picture. You get the picture by assembling the pieces in the right order.

    Religions are like puzzles that represent, when pieced together, a picture of reality.

    What is the picture of the Christian worldview? What is the story that the Christian worldview tells?

    There are just five points. So if you could get these five points, then you’ve got the five points of the Christian worldview. Now, the five points aren’t just the five points. You’ve got to know something about the points to be able to add flesh to it. But these points represent the skeleton, as it were, of the picture of reality that Christianity offers. And those five points are God, man, Jesus, the Cross, and the resurrection (the resurrection of all believers).

  3. G. Rodrigues

    There is something exceedingly odd, which I cannot characterize exactly, in the hollow bravado of the ringing “How dare you?” It is, I imagine, because Fry does not take the possibility as remotely real, so it costs him nothing — contrary to what he seems to think, he would be (and with God’s grace, will) on his knees the very minute he would stand face to face with Him. Although there is something admirable, even morally admirable, in this kind of heroic defiance, there is also a note of phoniness in the moral outrage, like some counterfeit article trying to pass up for genuine.

    If one canvasses the literary hero-villains that made their fortunes clenching their fists at God, a motley crew that surely includes Milton’s Satan and Melville’s Captain Ahab, rarely if ever their protests are protests directed against the moral order (or disorder) of the created universe; rather they probe something much deeper and much more central and significant than a well-off, borgeous concern for little children having their eyes gouged out by insects (here is another irony: atheists continually harangue God for allowing children in India to be eaten alive by lice while Mother Theresa takes the lice out of the children, one by one and with her bare hands, while continually giving thanks to God in silent prayer). This is probably best seen in Iago and his direct undoing of God’s work:

    Were I the Moor I would not be Iago.
    In following him I follow but myself;
    Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
    But seeming so for my peculiar end.
    For when my outward action doth demonstrate
    The native act and figure of my heart
    In compliment extern, ’tis not long after
    But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
    For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.
    — Othello I. i. 57–65

    “I am not what I am” is, in one sense, a protest against being other than God, which is what Fry’s wrangling sounds to me: “How dare you have *created* me”? The ultimate wound, the ultimate insult that God spat to our faces is that we are just that, created, and not our own potency, items in a created, contingent order, and not self-made, uncreated in the manner of the Gnostic heresies, our puissance all our own.

    This way, madness and despair lies. The Universe, and our lives in particular, assent in two pillars, God’s mercy, by which we are assured that our trespasses against others will be forgiven, and God’s providence, by which we are assured that the trespasses of others against us will also be forgiven, which is to say, corrected (the others here include an innocent bug gouging our eyes out or a cancerous growth of cells eating away our brains). By this and through this, we can avoid despair, which is the only thing that Fry can possibly aim at.

  4. Bob Seidensticker

    “Given time, any reasonably well-informed Christian thinker could take apart Stephen Fry’s response both philosophically and theologically, and show in great detail how he has misunderstood and misinterpreted Christianity’s view of suffering in the world.”

    How do you avoid rationalizing? That is, how do you avoid simply taking your position as a given and then doing your best to defend it, right or wrong?

    I assume you want to follow the evidence where it points, right?

  5. toddes

    Bob,

    From your blog, it appears that you’re capable of answering your own questions. Will you do so?

  6. Tom Gilson

    Bob, I just saw your comment after posting this new item this morning. The same Research 101 principle I wrote about there applies here as well: if the evidence can be explained by two different theories, then the evidence doesn’t lead directly to either one of them.

    (Since you’re here, though, I have to ask you again why you’ve resisted retracting your misrepresentation of me on your blog as I requested.

    You need not answer here. Let me simply say that if I ever write that you support something, and you write back and explain that I was wrong and you want me to correct my error, I’ll correct it. I won’t wiggle around it the way you have.)

  7. Tom Gilson

    As for taking a position and defending it, right or wrong, that’s a very large epistemological and psychological question. Feel free to suggest an answer on your own blog, as toddes said. This post is about something else, and I prefer to keep my discussions on topic.

    (I’ll admit I made an exception in my last comment where I asked you about that missing correction. That was an aside, written because the opportunity presented itself, and obviously not intended to turn the whole discussion in that direction.)

  8. Tom Gilson

    If you can focus your question in #4 to something more obviously related to this blog’s topic, Bob, I’d be glad to have that conversation here.

  9. Keith

    but I do know the shallow, glib, gleeful God-condemnations offered by major New Atheist writers and the atheist Internet. Rarely do I sense that they want to invest any energy in understanding the Christians’ answer.

    I know how you get there, but there’s a reason: the shallow, glib responses are intended to challenge the theistic beliefs … of the vast majority of Christians.

    An audience that believes Noah put 9 million unique species on a boat and the kangaroos hopped from Mount Ararat to Australia without leaving a single skeleton. That doesn’t require challenging the best cases for God, that requires pointing out that 18 million animals require a lot of food, produce a lot of waste, the wolves would probably eat the rabbits, and oh-by-the-way, the massive influx of fresh water would kill all of the whales and vegetation, and where did God keep them safe, anyway?

    It’s interesting to engage the deeper answers for and against Christianity, but irrational religious fundamentalism is the important target, the target on which atheists should focus.

    Tom’s Christianity “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”.

    The rest of American Christianity — electing presidents based on Hagee’s drivel about “blood moons” — is more problematical.

    In summary, the arguments being made are not being made to you, any more than the Prosperity Gospel sermons, declaring my financial blessing is the will of God, are being made to me.

  10. Tom Gilson

    Keith, does AiG say 9 million unique species? I don’t know, maybe you do. They’re the chief representatives of the position I think you’re referring to.

  11. Tom Gilson

    Never mind. Here’s their position: “Under these conservative assumptions, there were no more than 16,000 land animals and birds on the ark.”

    Let me quote again: “Rarely do I sense that they want to invest any energy in understanding the Christians’ answer.”

    Note that many Christians consider it perfectly consistent with Bible and science to interpret the flood as regional rather than literally global, in which case it would be even harder to make the ark story look ridiculous.

  12. Tom Gilson

    Further, is it your position that the reason these atheistic writers don’t care about true Christian answers is because they can get the result they want without bothering with the truth?

    I think that’s what you’re saying. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it were so.

    Please let me know if I read you wrong, though.

  13. Keith

    Tom, close, but “the truth” is carrying too much water in that sentence.

    The reason atheistic writers don’t write about thoughtful, deeper, sophisticated Christian answers is because the number of Christians who care about what you consider thoughtful, deeper, sophisticated Christian questions is approximately zero.

    When I talk to someone who was raised Christian, has never read the Bible and is curious about atheism, do you really think I should open with “equivocation fallacies in the Kalam Cosmological Argument”?

    It doesn’t mean atheistic writers don’t care about “the truth”, it just means they aren’t talking or writing for you.

    The last time you shared your faith with a student: did you tell them there are incredibly smart people who have carefully considered the arguments you’re presenting and rejected them utterly, and maybe they should read “The End of Faith” before making a decision? Did you suggest the student should search the web for the phrase “God of the Gaps” and other atheist topics before accepting Jesus?

    When is the last time you heard a pastor discuss the hard questions of atheism from the pulpit?

    You’re being hypocritical.

  14. Keith

    Tom @10:

    Offhand, it seems like a stretch to argue a regional flood.

    Reading Genesis 6: “the face of the earth”, “the fowls of the air” (regional floods wouldn’t kill birds), “the end of all flesh”, “destroy all flesh … from under heaven”, “every thing that is in the earth shall die”, “all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven”. (KJV)

    If it was regional, why didn’t Noah take the animals and leave, why does he build an ark?

    And God promises there will never to be another flood like it — we have regional floods all the time.

    I’ve Googled around, and I can’t find anything that makes me think a regional flood is a real thing: do you have a reference?

  15. Tom Gilson

    The last time I heard a pastor do that was the last Sunday sermon I listened to.

    Look, Keith, if these writers were saying, “These things we’re talking about–they’re all intended as a huge indictment on everyday thoughtless Christianity!” then you might be right. I might even be cheering them on–these posts are my own complaints about excessively thoughtless Christianity.

    But they’re saying they’re addressing Christianity as it is. Dawkins thinks he can set aside Aquinas in a couple paragraphs. If he hadn’t mentioned Aquinas, that would be one thing; the fact that he does, and does it so carelessly, means he really doesn’t care what the truth is about Aquinas.

    He has a chapter on “Bayesian arguments.” Who is that written to, did you say?

    Again, he doesn’t present his one crucial argument against God as if it were merely persuasive but as unanswerable (literally, “very strong and, I suspect, unanswerable”). He doesn’t mean “unanswerable by people who don’t care about digging up answers.” He means “unanswerable.” By me. By anyone. Not just by the people you claim he’s writing to.

    Your answer fails the test of what he and other writers like have said themselves.

  16. Tom Gilson

    You ask,

    The last time you shared your faith with a student: did you tell them there are incredibly smart people who have carefully considered the arguments you’re presenting and rejected them utterly, and maybe they should read “The End of Faith” before making a decision? Did you suggest the student should search the web for the phrase “God of the Gaps” and other atheist topics before accepting Jesus?

    No. I tell them what I understand to be the truth, and if they accept it as such, I don’t try to talk them out of it.

    I do, however, strongly encourage people to explore questions if they have them. Ask my own kids about that.

    I also strongly encourage Christians to explore questions. Did you notice there was a video at the head of this post? Do you think I’m trying to protect everyday Christians from hearing other sides of the story?

    Sure, it’s not the best side of the atheist story, but it’s one of the more powerful, and I think I stated that very transparently.

    In general, though, if someone really wanted to know something about well-thought-out anti-Christian beliefs, I wouldn’t send them to Harris. “The End of Faith”? You’ve got to be kidding.

  17. Tom Gilson

    Again, since this is really a strange thing you’ve said here,

    When is the last time you heard a pastor discuss the hard questions of atheism from the pulpit?

    You’re being hypocritical.

    I’m being hypocritical, you say?

    When was the last time you saw a blogger discuss a hard question of atheism on a blog post?

    Note that I did not limit my discussion in this post to Stephen Fry.

    (You might also ask how much of my life energy I’ve devoted to encouraging pastors to discuss hard questions from the pulpit. Just in case, you know, it might affect whether I seem hypocritical or not.)

  18. Tom Gilson

    Is it your position that the reason these atheistic writers, presenting themselves as authorities as they do, don’t care about knowledgeable Christian answers is because they can get the result they want without bothering with knowledgeable Christian answers?

    If yes, do you consider that to be intellectually responsible on their part? Bear in mind that (as putative authorities) intellectual responsibility is a necessary component of personal integrity, so I could have asked, Do you consider their work to be honest?

    If no, then what are you trying to tell me instead, because in that case I haven’t been understanding you.

  19. scblhrm

    The Pop Culture Atheist really is being both silly and unsophisticated in his thinking.

    All fish and sea life had to be “destroyed” and the Earth itself had to be “destroyed” too by the Pop Culture Atheist’s (PCA moving forward) reading.

    Why? Because, according to the PCA, the Christian cannot just “magically” discount key truths and key themes buried in words such as All and Life and Whole and Earth and Fill / Populate and Destroy.

    Let’s remember those words as we move forward out of the Ark. Before we move on to “that”, let’s say them one more time: All and Life and Whole and Earth and Fill / Populate and Destroy. The PCA rants, “Re-Populate the [Whole] [Earth]. ‘Cause the Bible tells me so.”

    But first back to the flood:

    Whatever is under heaven and has life in it will die.

    The PCA unconcerned with truth carries on:

    1) “And, umm, “all” umm… “flesh”…. umm “die”, umm “whole” umm, “earth”, umm.. whatever has, umm… “life” in it.”
    2) [Not on the Ark] = [Death]. ‘Cause the New Testament and Ark and Water and Covenant and All and Whole and Life.
    3) The boat is the means of salvation there. ‘Cause the Bible tells me so. So there were no Whales afterwards. Or sharks. Or people. Or 18 million species. ‘Cause the New Testament and Water and Ark and Covenant and ‘All’ and ‘Whole’ and ‘Life’. Just like there were no biological Canaanite descendants in the NT finding Christ. ‘Cause the Bible and Destroy and All and…..and…..

    Scripture states in the OT flood blueprint: “…..all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.” So, naturally, the unsophisticated PCA rants, “Anything with life in it. Well there it is. Whales. Trees. Moss. Fungi. Fish. 18 million species. Anything with life in it that is not ON the Ark is out of the covenant and, so, well, the Bible tells me so.”

    Anything with the breath of life that was NOT on the boat was out of the covenant. And YET all sorts of life and breath carry onward despite being out of, off, the Ark. But how can THAT be? How can there be Canaanite descendants in the NT? The shadows of words such as All and Fill the Earth and Destroy and so on rise to the Theist’s defense as actual thinking ensues.

    Even worse, “I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth”. Oh dear. The PCA has his ammunition, “So now the Earth itself is going to be destroyed – ‘Cause destroy means physically annihilate/end……’Cause earth means earth…. Life…. Breath…. Earth…All….Destroy. ‘Cause the Bible tells me so.”

    On that point the PCA then continues: “So God must have created a new Earth right? It says right there that God destroyed not ONLY life/breath but ALSO the Earth itself! So, like, God had to create a new planet before He let those guys off the Ark! And Christians BELIEVE in that!”

    Bad news for the PCA:

    Scripture clearly states “all the people”. Can their biological descendants then dive into the Waters of Christ? Impossible right? Well *not* if one is *only* basing that assumption on the semantics of All and Whole and Earth and Fill and Populate and Destroy. The semantics there carry forward as “All people” (and so on) were destroyed when Israel fought in wars with civilizations who liked to burn children alive in fires on altars, and, well, for some reason God didn’t like that, wrestled with them for generations, and finally dismantled and disenfranchised and disempowered their social constructs via war and “every single member of their kind” was killed. Every Canaanite. All Canaanites. Face of the Earth. (Let’s hear it one more time: All and Life and Whole and Earth and Fill / Populate and Destroy) Then in the next chapter the very same people who Israel just “killed every single member of their kind” are right there in their cities doing this and that and so on. The PCA responds, “But wait…..But wait…… what happened to “Every”? What happened to “All”? What happened to “Genocide”?? Wait!! But….. But Genocide.….. but the Bible tells me so…”

    Can you imagine if Canaanite descendants were found not ONLY in the Old Testament “after” the words “all” and “destroyed” were clearly, unmistakably employed there in the OT but that Canaanites were ALSO in the New Testament diving into the Waters of Christ? What would THAT do to the PCA’s read of Noah and those pesky OT semantics? Oh dear.

    And maybe a little more to come to address the unsophisticated thinking of the PCA…….

  20. scblhrm

    A little more for our unsophisticated Pop Culture Atheist (PCA) ~

    Scripture quite casually defines itself in such arenas. If only one will “read”. Unfortunately, our a priori commitments keep us from, well, “reading”. Pop Culture Atheists hinge entire (inane) caricatures on “one word” and discount the very lines which the larger meta-narrative *necessitate*. And again unfortunately, constructions of literary semantics of the ancient near east are not something PCA’s (Pop-Culture Atheist’s) really care to dive into. Another example is in Genesis, “In response, Cain lamented, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me”. God responded, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him”.

    Okay then. One wonders where all those other people came from. No need to shoe-horn in the evidence of observational reality. All sorts of scenarios will be, can be, could be, perfectly compatible with that as it is unpacked. Easy. Seamless. And nothing in the metaphysics of the Christian’s singular meta-narrative housed in Scripture’s [A – Z] is challenged. But that’s another story.

    The PCA, basically, just wants to believe the following, perhaps to appease his own cognitive dissonance: That all flesh died if it was NOT on the Ark, that any life OFF the Ark just could not have survived / been present when Noah left the Ark, that the Earth itself was also physically destroyed, that Genocide is in the Bible, that there were no Canaanite descendants found in the OT after “all/destroy” nor found in the NT Gospels exposed to Christ’s Waters after “all/destroy”, that Whales and Sharks were on the Ark, and that Noah populated the All/Whole/Earth. ‘Cause the Bible says All and Life and Whole and Destroy and Earth and Fill / Populate. And so on. The Christian of course has all sorts of room to unpack all of that in casual congruence with observational reality as information comes along. Easy. Simple.

    We must move with thoughtfulness here: Water. Covenant. Abraham. Faith. Israel. Nations. Outside. Inside. Christ. New Creation. As in: The seamless thematic archetypical semantics of God’s singular meta-narrative.

    More bad news for the PCA:

    “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you — the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you — every living creature on earth…”

    The PCA here rants:

    1) Breath of life that was ON the Ark. Breath of life which came OFF the Ark.
    2) Full stop.
    3) Planet Earth itself “destroyed”….just…. like…. all that breath of life *not* on the Ark.
    4) Destroyed means physically destroyed.
    5) Earth. Destroyed. *Just like* breath. *Just like* life.
    6) Whales on the Ark. And sharks. Breath. Life. On Ark. Off Ark.
    7) God made a new planet so Noah could get off the Ark.
    8) Full stop.

    “And Christians BELIEVE that about a new planet for Noah to off load the Ark! They MUST! ‘Cause the Bible…” and so on rants the PCA.

    What then was the Covenant and the Water and the Salvation all about if All clearly does not mean All and Whole clearly isn’t Whole and Earth clearly isn’t Earth and Destroyed clearly isn’t physical annihilation?

    Could it be Noah and those in him and a Covenant? Could it be Abraham and those in his line and Israel those in that line and Christ and the New Creation and….and….? The PCA retorts, “Well THAT can’t be”. And why not Mr. PCA? And the PCA replies, “Well…. Um…’cause the Bible…. And…. ‘cause it’s not like Scripture enunciates across history with the thematic archetypical semantics of God’s singular meta-narrative….” Well, actually, it *is* in fact the case that Scripture enunciates across history the thematic archetypical semantics of………

    Even worse for the PCA:

    Biological Canaanites in the New Testament diving into Christ’s Waters. And their descendants. Oh dear. Mr. PCA isn’t it true that in the Old Testament God killed “all Canaanite flesh”? Genocide? PCA responds, “Humm…..well… yeah. ‘Cause the Bible tells me so. Genocide. ‘Cause the Bible…. ‘Cause All and ‘Cause destroy and ‘Cause Earth and…….” But Mr. PCA, didn’t you know that “Matthew reinforces this point by specifying exactly what Mark’s Hellenistic Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk 7:26) means. She is a [biological] descendant of the ancient Canaanites, the bitter biblical enemies of Israel whose paganism had often led Israel into idolatry…..

    Biological descendants of Canaanites finding Christ’s Waters. Huh?. How does the PCA “mix” that with the OT semantics and with those very same semantics in Noah’s arena? Actually it’s very easy if he just, like, “reads” what is front of him. The PCA isn’t phased as he responds: “So then the Christian must believe in BOTH Genocide AND that God must have resurrected some of them in the NT? Maybe the Christian believes that Jesus did that? The Christian MUST believe both of those…. ‘Cause the Bible…. ‘Cause God annihilated all Canaanite flesh. All of it. ‘Cause the Bible tells me so. It’s in the Old Testament. Genocide. But…… ‘Cause the Bible…. And all flesh died….. and Ark…. And off Ark…. and filled the earth…. umm…. ‘Cause the Bible….”

    Actually:

    Based on Scripture’s use of the word “All” and “Whole” and “Earth” as such relate to the obviously-not-all and the obviously not-whole, and based on the obvious fact that in all cases the word “destroy” does not mean physical annihilation, such ancient near east semantics may just in fact find that based on Scripture’s / God’s description of His judgment, wrath, and dismantling of societies which burned children alive on altars of fire in OT books AFTER Genesis, one could argue that that “same semantics” of judgment and dismantling of Man’s (sinful) social constructs is what ALSO took place IN Genesis. The *same* cultural linguistics apply *and* the *same* seamless, singular meta-narrative of Scripture must also apply. All. Whole. Water. Covenant. Inside. Outside. Faith. New Creation. Oddly, the New Testament writers speak of [Israel and Outside] with the very same archetypical thematic semantics with which it treats [Noah and Outside] in the seamless, singular meta-narrative moving towards the end of such fragmentation when, finally, the more excellent paradigm will actualize wherein all nations, all tongues, all peoples are one in Him.

    But instead of such thinking, the PCA just remains unsophisticated: “But….but the Bible… ‘Cause the Bible says, ummm…. All and Life and Whole and Earth and Destroyed and…. and… ummm…. and Populated and, umm, Ark and Noah’s Sons and they Filled the earth and, umm… Destroyed and umm… Genocide and those on the Ark and umm… those that came off the Ark and….and….and All….and….’Cause the Bible….”

    Everyone must read Scripture *both* in terms of ancient near east semantics *and* also in terms of what Scripture actually is given to Mankind to be: a messenger of but one seamless meta-narrative of the topography amid God/Man. It’s not complicated. There’s no need for the Christian to bend over backwards to shoe-horn in observational reality to Scripture’s meta-narrative as the Atheist is forced to do with his own philosophical naturalism. Waters. Covenants. Abraham. Faith. Israel. Nations. Christ. Old. New. Creation. Canaanites (biological descendants) diving into Christ’s Waters. Simple. Easy. The metaphysical coherence of all Christian lines easily contain all such scenarios as we unpack various lines of evidence. That is to say, the seamless thematic archetypical semantics of God’s singular meta-narrative easily dissolves all such tensions. Meanwhile, all abstractions in philosophical naturalism’s regressions leave the PCA with nothing more than useful fictions.

  21. Keith

    scblhrm @ 21, 22:

    For an omnipotent and omniscient being, God sure has a hard time making himself clearly understood.

    Given the stakes — His desired relationship with us and our eternal torment in Hell — you’d think He’d have done a better job.

    It’s sort of like me punishing my 5-year-old when he misunderstands the thematic structure of Shakespeare’s King Lear. By killing him.

  22. scblhrm

    Keith,

    Given that you believe that God destroyed the Earth and then created a New Earth so that the Ark could off-load, it seems certain the level of communication you speak of couldn’t be possible. Besides, hundreds of years of burning children alive on altars of fires is processed mechanistically in the arena which reduces to Covenant Theology – Israel – and so on. Which, of course, the OT describes as the lesser, with a far greater yet to come simply because Moral Excellence metaphysically cannot, will not, come by Law, by Knowledge.

    We prove it every day.

    But Covenant Theology – and actual Moral Excellence juxtaposed to Moral Fragmentation – from Adam, to Cain, to Noah, to Abraham, to Israel, to Christ, and so on, isn’t something we expect you to employ as such would clearly show [Adam / Outside] as it shows [Cain / Outside] as it shows [Noah / Outside] which just is found too in [Israel / Outside] there in the OT’s landscape which is not a Pan-Planet / Global set of motions. Again, the lesser moving towards the greater. And by “lesser” we mean something that cannot be counted as perfect. At least that is how the OT defines itself. And the NT agrees. As do you. As does the Christian.

  23. BillT

    When is the last time you heard a pastor discuss the hard questions of atheism from the pulpit?

    To echo Tom, my pastor does this regularly as well. Comparing secular and theistic worldviews is part of his stock in trade. I posted a link to his sermons in “The Loneliness of Thinking Christianly” thread if you’re interested.

  24. scblhrm

    There are no hard questions of Atheism. Nor of Christianity. Not in the sense the Atheist foists as a challenge to the Christian.

    Because we all suffer regardless of which camp we are in.

    And we all wonder at matters that are hard to focus in on regardless of which camp we are in.

    Really, there are only hard questions of being the sorts of creatures we are in the sort of world we are in. For all of us. In fact, there’s very little that is just, well, easy-peezzy about it. For all of us. From the existential to the intellectual. For all of us.

    Selling books seems to need one to say otherwise, of course. The new discovery of human suffering. The new Atheism and all that.

    Whatever.

  25. Tom Gilson

    But Keith, did you know that 5-year-olds and illiterates and orality-based communities and knitting grandmothers and ditch diggers as well as theologians and apologists have actually made the life-giving connection with Jesus Christ?

    Check out the God, Science, and Big Questions video I posted last night. It was around 28 minutes in when J.P. Moreland spoke about core versus peripheral questions, and when doubts about peripheral matters should shake our belief in the core. He presented an epistemologically responsible view there based on the work of the late Roderick Chisholm.

    The idea is that when there are difficult questions at the edges of our belief, yet we have strong confidence at the core, we can very responsibly suspend judgment on the difficult questions until they get resolved. That’s my view on the flood. I’ve referenced two philosophers in getting to it, but that was my view before I saw this video, because actually it’s a common-sense approach.

    I sympathize still with your frustration over the difficulty of understanding everything in the Bible. Some of it is abundantly clear. I don’t know why we would expect all of it to be. What’s clear to us would not be clear to others in other communication traditions.

    The only way God could have made the Bible systematically and analytically clear to all readers would have been to make it so that all readers in all history would be of the sort who process information systematically like we do.

    God’s revelation is clear enough where it needs to be, I think.

  26. Keith

    Tom @15

    Thanks for the regional flood reference; after I posted, I found How should we interpret the Genesis flood account? at BioLogos, and Yes, Noah’s Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth at the NCSE, both of which are worthwhile. Neither one approach the theological consequences of a regional flood, but they do clarify the language allows it.

    I am not accusing anyone of avoiding the hard questions — that’s why I read this blog.

    I disagree with you atheist writers are ignoring “knowledgeable Christian answers”; they’ve investigated those answers and are now writing to a particular audience, as Christian (and popular science) writers will do.

    I believe an author advocating on any contentious topic to a popular audience will inevitably seem “shallow”, and when arguing for one particular view, “glib”, to someone who is knowledgeable and disagrees with them. Their writing inevitably reflects their ultimate conclusion as well: that their arguments are “unanswerable”, even when they don’t lay out all of those arguments.

    (I realize I shifted target slightly in that last sentence: I’m not defending Dawkins’ presentation of an “unanswerable” argument — like Aquinas, Dawkins has been known to make some huge mistakes. I’m only saying the conclusion will come through in the writing as “unanswerable”, even where that level of argument is not attempted in the book.)

    It’s not dishonest, it’s not avoiding the hard questions, it’s approaching your audience at their level — for atheists, Christians and popular science writers alike.

    Anyway, I can think of no way to further clarify — here’s hoping!

  27. BillT

    For an omnipotent and omniscient being, God sure has a hard time making himself clearly understood.

    That seems a strange comment Keith. As scblhrm just demonstrated, it’s not that hard for anyone who is actually trying to understand him.

  28. scblhrm

    Keith,

    “Neither one approach the theological consequences of a regional flood, but they do clarify the language allows it.”

    Obviously the language allows it. An important thing to remember in the big picture is that if Noah’s Covenant Theology “framework” is non-theological, then so too is Israel’s.

    Covenant Theology is not global but is ipso facto regional and that is the language of the OT (Covenant Theology). From Adam to Cain to Noah to Abraham to Israel. The OT defines that paradigm (defines itself) as the lesser paradigm, with a far greater paradigm to come, as the OT and the NT and you and the Christian all agree is the case where Moral Excellence infusing into Mankind is concerned.

  29. Keith

    Bill @25:

    I don’t recall ever listening to Tim Keller — thank you! Although, with over 2,000 sermons at that link I was wondering if you had specific ones in mind?

    Given your & Tom’s insistence, I’m going to have to agree pastors do this.

    What can I say? I grew up in a lot of churches, and it wasn’t a thing.

  30. BillT

    Keith,

    What I’d say about Tim’s sermons is pick a topic or verse you have some interest in and start from there. And you’re undoubtedly right about a lot of churches. We struggle to find other churches who teach as well. It’s not that common (hopefully becoming more so) but it is available.

    P.S. If you’re married, the marriage series is excellent (10 sermons).

  31. Tom Gilson

    In all fairness, Keith, whenever someone asks me who does this the best of all pastors, I always point to Tim Keller. Neither BillT nor I would consider him representative of the norm. He stands far above.

    So I tell them about Tim when they ask; and then I plead with them: “Please, study how he does it, and learn from him!”

  32. Tom Gilson

    You say, “I disagree with you atheist writers are ignoring ‘knowledgeable Christian answers’; they’ve investigated those answers and are now writing to a particular audience, as Christian (and popular science) writers will do.”

    I’m sorry, but they have quite intentionally avoided investigating knowledgeable Christian answers. PZ Myers even invented a reason why Dawkins didn’t have to do that investigation. Dawkins has endorsed the tactic.

    So apart from the clear evidence that they’re (a) writing from the position of “authorities,” (b) making (b) universal claims about arguments in general, as I noted above, (c) addressing (after a fashion) and dismissing technical, not popular arguments, and (d) interacting with scholars like John Lennox with similar approaches–all of which show your thesis to be wrong already–they also admit proudly that they don’t care to know what they’re talking about.

    This one, Keith, is open and shut.

  33. Keith

    Bill @29:

    it’s not that hard for anyone who is actually trying to understand him.

    Are you saying that Aquinas, Augustine, Luther and Calvin, any Pope, the Southern Baptists, the Mormons (the list is approximately infinite), weren’t trying to understand Him?

    Every one of those individuals or groups advocated utterly repugnant views any Biblical scholar with the sensibilities of our century can trivially “prove” to be incorrect Scriptural exegesis.

    Trying to understand Him?

    I guess that explains the 40,000+ distinct Christian denominations: they’re just not trying hard enough.

    [Edited for snark; let me apologize for that if you saw the first version. Speaking for myself, I tried hard — very, very hard — and when someone says “it’s not that hard”, or “actually trying to understand”, my first response isn’t charitable.]

  34. Tom Gilson

    I think, BillT and Keith, the answer is that it’s not that hard to understand well enough to follow and love Jesus Christ.

    To plumb the full depths of the realities of God will require an eternity’s investigation.

  35. scblhrm

    Keith,

    One could approach this from this slightly different direction. It may or may not be helpful.

    God is love. So therefore love and lovelessness sum to the whole show.

    That’s not hard.

    But wait. There’s more:

    As Tom notes, of course, infinite vectors. Eternity. Whatever eternity “is”, and so on. Time itself fades as Timelessness ensues. What “time-less-ness” would actually “look like”, well, I’ve no idea. But then, Scripture told of us such a fabric eons before QM was even a blip on the screen.

    Well so what?

    Well QM isn’t going to help our souls. Not in the fundamental way our souls, our Selves, need help. But as stated in an earlier post, Knowledge and Law will prove hopeless in “that” arena.

    We prove it every day.

    Self/Other is simple.

    Hungry/Feed.
    Widow/Comfort.
    Prisoner/Visit.
    Mercy/Justice.

    And so on.

    That’s first grade.

    If we think the Teacher, our Father in Heaven, is going to move onto Theology’s version of “God’s QM” while we are yet flunking the first few years of grade school we are either arrogant, clueless, or both.

    Christ revealed love’s ceaseless reciprocity amid self-sacrifice housed timelessly in Trinity – and that is the A and the Z of Man’s image. At least in this world. If you are asking for more, great. But the Body of Christ which does not or cannot love one another is at a dead end. So don’t think that “more” is going to actualize in any big, fancy way given that our fundamental subtraction/addition remains imperfect.

    It will take a lifetime to learn to love, not perfectly, but simply better. And, to be honest, the most profound insights of Him seem to be in that arena.

    We want fancy and bling-bling, but He has different plans for His Beloved. I mean, just look at the OT’s lesser paradigm fragmented in lovelessness and Christ’s greater paradigm as God Himself pours Himself out for His Beloved. It’s just obvious. There is His Image, the image of the immutable love of the Necessary Being, and then…. and then everything else is just ugly by comparison.

    So “more” and “bling” all amount to, to…. to the fractured and loveless world we find ourselves in right now.

  36. scblhrm

    Keith,

    40K denominations.

    Again, you need to look at that from another direction…… from Christ’s perspective.

    Which you are, though you may not know it.

    The diagnosis which Christ spoke of, that of His Body being in division, and of love’s necessity there inside of self-sacrifice, just is the landscape which you address in the 40K denominations. As such you agree with, and echo, Christ about all such vectors. There are no mysteries which are to be revealed which are going to heal selfishness. In fact *none* of this, of that, is a matter of revelation or of trying to understand or of everyone getting a different view. It’s something very, very, very simple there inside of love and lovelesssness. Christ couldn’t have said it, and predicted it, and defined it, any better. It is the very fabric of our primary disease, or illness, or whatever. That Man’s enmity with himself and with others bothers you as an ought-not-be speaks volumes which philosophical naturalism could never justifiably grant you. That Man’s enmity with himself and with others is the target of most if not all of Christ’s primary targets in His Church and in Mankind speaks volumes which only “Ontic-Necessity” housing love can justifiably grant you. And after all of that it is quite telling given that you actually prophesy Christ’s very own words back to the world and back to the Church in your very own complaints. And you thought God wasn’t speaking clearly.

  37. BillT

    Keith,

    My apologies, I didn’t mean to be cavalier in that statement. The Bible is a nuanced book and can require extensive study to understand all it’s details. As Tom said though the basic details are there to be seen pretty readily. As far as the ancient scholars, we do believe in a progressive revelation that continues to gain depth and understanding. We never think we understand it all. (And I was also referring to the understanding that scblhrm had provided relating to the flood.) I do hope you will find something Tim Keller has spoken on of interest.

  38. Keith

    scblhrm @38:

    Veering wildly off-road, and spinning mud and gravel into the air.

    I find it hard to reconcile your postings on God and love with Scripture. You have to interpret Scripture pretty hard to argue that love is the primary facet of God’s character — God’s hatred of sin trumps love every time (at least any behavior I would understand as the love of an individual).

    As C.S. Lewis notably said, “Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

    I find the analogy of God as teacher hard to work with.

    “Hey, kids, sit down and shut up — that means you too, Sally! The teacher isn’t coming in until the end of, well, forever, but here’s a few badly transcribed notes some kids took a few years back before we invented food. Remember, there’s a test sometime next week, and it’s a B+ or better or you’ll be tortured for eternity. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.”

  39. scblhrm

    Keith,

    And none of what you just said changes your very own prophetic echos of Christ’s love as they perfectly relate to said issue of 40K denominations.

  40. bigbird

    @Keith

    When is the last time you heard a pastor discuss the hard questions of atheism from the pulpit?

    Just before Christmas. We had a multi-part series on the tough questions people ask about Christianity.

    This is a church in the UK. My previous (Australian) church regularly had an apologetics team (of which I was a part) preach on these issues.

  41. Tom Gilson

    Keith, God’s hatred of sin is his love, or one facet of it, rather. It’s his hatred of destruction, death, damage, alienation, needless pain, needless hurt, needless loss, and needless grief, as they get re-played again and again and again.

    All sin leads to death, in both a real and metaphorical sense. It distances us from God, which is a spiritual death. It destroys (kills) relationships, opportunities, justice, hope, and physical life.

    To stand against that, and to stand for relationships, opportunity, justice, hope, life, and a connection with God is definitive of love. This is God’s love in action! It’s real.

    Do you not hate the thought of someone harming someone you love? Is that not a part of your love for that person?

    You see, Keith, God’s hatred of sin is never his hatred of humans. He loved us enough to die on the cross for us, the Son of God himself bearing all the sin of the world on himself, and the death it all entailed, so that we might be free from the condemnation of sin. He did this because he hates the damage of sin we’re all wrapped up in. We couldn’t loose ourselves, but he freed us from it.

    And since we were talking a bit ago about knowing what we’re talking about here: those weren’t badly transcribed notes he left us. What did you think oral tradition was always unreliable? Think again. NT scholarship is moving more and more toward confidence in the texts. The really crucial points in the text, having to do with major facts surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, have gained almost universal assent among scholars both conservative and skeptical.

    You’re dealing with old data there.

  42. bigbird

    @Keith

    I guess that explains the 40,000+ distinct Christian denominations: they’re just not trying hard enough.

    Have you ever looked into what the “40,000+ distinct Christian denominations” actually are?

    The actual source of this quote is the World Christian Encyclopedia, and it defines a denomination as “an organized aggregate of worship centers or congregations of similar ecclesiastical tradition within a specific country”.

    It turns out that “as a statistical unit in this Encyclopedia, a ‘denomination’ always refers to one single country. Thus the Roman Catholic Church, although a single organization, is described here as consisting of 236 denominations in the world’s 238 countries.” Similarly for other denominations. So the actual number of true denominations is far less.

    In any case, for your point to have any validity whatsoever, you need to examine what these different organization actually believe about God, and how they differ in these beliefs. If you cared to do so, you’d find beliefs about God across denominations are very similar. Denominational differences are usually due to church practice and organization, not beliefs about God.

  43. Keith

    Tom @43:

    I didn’t say God didn’t exhibit facets of love — I just said His hatred of sin trumps love, or at least overrides better outcomes for individual.s

    By traditional exegesis, there are Canaanite children in hell forever, at root because they were born of Canaanite parents. Ditto the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today. Ditto me, ditto every other Christian apostate you know.

    Christians point to God’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross as the best demonstration of His love for us — but that’s like an absent parent coming by for Christmas Day dinner. It might be a big deal, but it’s pretty easy to suggest some major improvements.

  44. Keith

    Tom @43:

    badly transcribed: You’re correct, my bad; I certainly agree the text transcription is generally reliable. I would say there are some significant changes (including theologically significant changes), but they are admittedly few. Nothing to trouble anyone but the ultra-dogmatic.

    I think the most interesting question with respect to Scripture was why the selected canon was chosen.

    St. John’s Revelation was rejected for theological reasons by none other than Martin Luther himself — and where would Hal Lindsey and American Christianity itself be, without end-time theology?

    When you push back on the canon, there’s really no other answer than “the Holy Spirit guided the choice”.

  45. Keith

    Bigbird @44:

    When you say “Denominational differences are usually due to church practice and organization, not beliefs about God.”, you are certainly correct — with more denominations than verses in the Bible, it’s hard to imagine they all differ in their beliefs about God.

    If you want to be pedantic about “denomination”, I’d have to respond a denomination is any individual with a substantively different belief. If I don’t believe what the other groups believe, am I not my own denomination, regardless of leasing a building?

    I have a friend who doesn’t believe Hell exists, yet is a practicing Catholic (whatever that means). Is she her own denomination?

    Regardless, I raised the point to refute the argument that God is clear to those who truly wish to understand (I’m paraphrasing there).

    The fact is, churches/theologians differ wildly in their beliefs about God, and worse by far, churches change their beliefs about God over time.

    God may be lots of things, but “easily understood” isn’t one of them.

    BillT notes “progressive revelation”, and that’s one argument.

    I personally find it hard to distinguish between progressive revelation and the continuous revelation of the LDS church’s Prophets, myself. Besides, what’s the point of a “progressive revelation”, anyway? Is God trying to be obscure? (“Sure, the humans won’t understand it correctly at first — they’ll kill each other for awhile over competing interpretations, and others will go to Hell for eternity (LOL!) — but eventually they’ll figure it out.”)

    Tom argues God would have to change humans to make it work: “The only way God could have made the Bible systematically and analytically clear to all readers would have been to make it so that all readers in all history would be of the sort who process information systematically like we do.”

    Apparently, only a single revelation is a rule, regardless how utterly impenetrable and confusing that revelation has historically proven. It seems to me God ghosting a second volume (perhaps one not as focused on ritually burning the livestock), might improve His ROI.

  46. Tom Gilson

    Keith, are you the board chair or just a heavy stockholder in God, Inc.?

    Is that how you get to decide the standards by which he gets his performance rating?

    Please re-read the OP. Yes, we need to explain God better to you so that you can get it from a reasonable perspective. But you need to calm down and listen yourself, just in case there’s another answer, and your whole eternity depends on it.

    God loves you. Please listen to what that means!

  47. scblhrm

    Well I almost made the mistake of taking Keith seriously….. till that last post misrepresenting others and having the Christian God shout laughingly “LOL” at the possibility of a loved one hurting.

    So much for honest dialogue.

  48. Keith

    Tom @ 48:

    Heavy-stockholder! 🙂

    I understand and (seriously/honestly) accept the “who are you to judge God” view, but there’s an argument to be made here which can be summarized as “that’s no way to run a railroad”.

    When God takes actions inexplicable within His character as we understand it, it’s right to question the incoherency: He may not be as defined, He might not exist, or we may not understand His actions.

    We have a responsibility to ask why God behaves in a certain way: rejecting an argument that questions God’s actions on no other grounds than “we can’t judge God” is abdication; we judge God’s actions all the time (else the Canaanite genocide wouldn’t bother us.)

    In the same book we find Habakkuk 1:5, we also find Job 23:3-7:

    3 If only I knew where to find him;
    if only I could go to his dwelling!
    4 I would state my case before him
    and fill my mouth with arguments.
    5 I would find out what he would answer me,
    and consider what he would say to me.
    6 Would he vigorously oppose me?
    No, he would not press charges against me.
    7 There the upright can establish their innocence before him,
    and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.

    If only.

  49. scblhrm

    Ah yes planet Earth physically destroyed ‘Cause the Bible and the genocide ‘Cause the Bible and the God who laughs LOL at His Beloved hurting ‘Cause the Bible.

    Classic thus far.

  50. Keith

    scblhrm @49:

    I don’t see where I misrepresented anyone?

    I quoted people, if I misrepresented someone it was in my interpretation, or did I take something out-of-context? Regardless, it wasn’t intentional.

    And now to get to the heart: the LOL snark was over the line, and I apologize.

    It’s a little frustrating: others test God and God supernaturally responds. Gideon not only gets visitation from an angel, but two additional fleece tests.

  51. scblhrm

    Keith,

    Yes, but your misread of the flood and of genocide ought to alert you to a two sided problem. That on the Theist’s end, and then also, that on *your* end.

    In the same way, if the Christian tells you such a landscape as you point to makes sense inside of a the paradigms of love in wholeness and love in fragmentation, well he may have sound metaphysical reasons for the ineffectual ceiling of raw power to change souls. Compulsion amid volition’s Self/Other just isn’t going to go anywhere *ultimately*. Nor obedience. Nor Knowledge.

    So then, Power, Law, and Knowledge, while you keep appealing to them as means God ought to employ, are clearly not the means which can achieve the ends you desire.

    If you think Scripture is *wrong* about those means, well make your case.

    Magic just won’t cut it though where Volition and Personhood are the very *essence* found in the epicenter of love’s (Trinity’s) ceaseless reciprocity amid Self/Other so you’ll need to show your metaphysical discontent with the God who makes man in His Own Image there in that epicenter of relationality by showing your work while avoiding annihilating that (love’s) Image in Man (God’s Image in Man).

    If you can.

    Another misread on your end: Knowledge can’t save a man nor condemn a man. “Forgive them for they know not”. Satan knows. Be careful how play that knowledge card – for better or for worse. Scripture is quite clear on the means into Him and out of Him where knowledge is concerned in the New Covenant.

    You can ignore those words from our Judge’s Mouth if you want as He forgives for they know not. But that is an incoherence on your end then.

    So we are back to the flood and the genocide issue. The Christian needs to do better, and you need to employ Christian metaphysical regressions where Personhood, Sin, Volition, and ultimate wholeness are all concerned.

    The simple line is that of love, as I remarked on earlier.

    Well, if you want *more* then you’ll have to walk a little……That is to say, if “Ultimately reality comes down to the Person Who is Himself the very essence we call love” is not *enough* for you, well then just walk a little.

    I think that is the overall theme of this OP by Tom.

    Another misread: we’ve already agreed that the OT is ugly compared to love’s wholeness. That is how the OT defines itself – the lesser – as in – less than perfect paradigm – awaiting the greater paradigm.

    If you aren’t willing to allow Scripture to so define the OT, well then that is on your end. Basically: “Means and Ends and Essence and Final Causes inside of Trinity’s Relationality”. Full stop. It will keep coming back to those landscapes.

    Such lines if misplayed by you then echo back to your flood and genocide silliness with those inventions of Non-Bible-Events.

    Lastly, it is in *Christ* where all these lines converge and sum to unity. If you won’t go there, then may I suggest a non-Christian blog to explore.

  52. scblhrm

    Keith,

    Just to state the obvious: There are no fleshed out arguments or explanations of any question of yours in my last post. Its only intent is to raise the issue of the Christian having to do better and then also of the questioner having to do more than throw misread caricature after misread caricature at the Christian with a subtle undertone of sarcasm and disbelief. I’m just saying. There is evidence in this thread of a need on both sides. I see it. I hope you do too. Tom seems to with the tone of the OP. Especially since the Christian *also* joins you in the *same* disbelief of such (misread) claims on / caricatures of Scripture and the Christian God.

  53. Keith

    scblhrm @54:

    I understand (I think) — to be honest, your posts are not the easiest to work through. 🙂

    When you say I present a caricature of Scripture or the Christian God, I think the onus moves to you to show that is the case: I don’t think I’ve said anything which is not a well-understood belief of a large number of Christians. How can it be a caricature if representative group believes it?

  54. scblhrm

    Keith,

    That’s a better place to be per the OP. Genocide ya or na. Discussion. Obviously it’s “na” given the semantics and the history. Your appeal to majority rather than Scripture’s many sided semantic lines is what it is. It may even be false in that a minority take your view. Stats? Sample size? But all of that is now at least open to debate which is the place the OP is pushing the dialogue towards. Given your misread of the flood semantics and Covenant Theology there is easily room for doubting you. It’s reasonable to doubt your view given those misreads. Etc. But the OP is on posture and tone, not any particular topic per se. I’m not here to hash out topic X, only to show an unsophisticated posture towards semantics and so on by many who “challenge” the Christian. The language clearly permits….. as you noted…. eventually….

  55. scblhrm

    1) Christians assimilate new information, insights, and symmetry. That’s evidence for no-god.

    2) Christians refuse such assimilation. That’s evidence for an unthinking Christianity.

    3) Christianity teaches a *static* Mankind where such awareness is concerned.

    Case closed.

    Signed: Skeptic

  56. Keith

    scblhrm @56:

    Where — exactly — have I misread “flood semantics and Covenant Theology”?

  57. SteveK

    Going back to #9, Keith is telling us that the purpose of the atheist arguments is to straighten out the theology of fundamentalist Christians so as to make them better people of faith? Yeah, right.

  58. bigbird

    @Keith

    with more denominations than verses in the Bible, it’s hard to imagine they all differ in their beliefs about God.

    There are more organizations than verses – but as I’ve explained, the Catholic Church is counted as 236 denominations because of the number of countries it is present in. Similarly for the Salvation Army and other world-wide denominations.

    If you want to be pedantic about “denomination” …

    Pedantic? By that you mean examining the source of your “40,000+ denominations” and finding out what it actually means?

    … I’d have to respond a denomination is any individual with a substantively different belief. If I don’t believe what the other groups believe, am I not my own denomination, regardless of leasing a building?

    Well, at least you are looking at beliefs rather than organizations.

    Regardless, I raised the point to refute the argument that God is clear to those who truly wish to understand (I’m paraphrasing there).

    The fact is, churches/theologians differ wildly in their beliefs about God, and worse by far, churches change their beliefs about God over time.

    I don’t think they vary wildly in their beliefs about God at all. Some examples of variation and change?

    God may be lots of things, but “easily understood” isn’t one of them.

    Well, I actually agree with you here. I have no expectation that God can be easily understood by the human brain. Stephen Fry has a problem with pointless suffering, and I do too. I know the various theological and philosophical arguments, but they don’t help much when someone is suffering.

    God has revealed a certain amount about himself that is easily understood, but God himself is not understandable at all.

  59. scblhrm

    Keith,

    You initially stated this:

    “An audience that believes Noah put 9 million unique species on a boat and the kangaroos hopped from Mount Ararat to Australia without leaving a single skeleton. That doesn’t require challenging the best cases for God, that requires pointing out that 18 million animals require a lot of food”

    Then you changed your opinion about where the language / semantics could take us:

    “Neither one approach the theological consequences of a regional flood, but they do clarify the language allows it.”

    Then I added,

    Obviously the language allows it. An important thing to remember in the big picture is that if Noah’s Covenant Theology “framework” is non-theological, then so too is Israel’s. Covenant Theology is not global but is ipso facto regional and that is the language of the OT (Covenant Theology). From Adam to Cain to Noah to Abraham to Israel. The OT defines that paradigm (defines itself) as the lesser paradigm, with a far greater paradigm to come, as the OT and the NT and you and the Christian all agree is the case where Moral Excellence infusing into Mankind is concerned.

    And so on.

    The semantics of ALL / EVERY / EARTH / WHOLE / DESTORYED / POPULATE / FOREVER / MAN / PEOPLE / EACH and so on and Covenant Theology and Noah and flood semantics all travel forward quite seamlessly to the Israel / Canaanite arena with the same unavoidable results.

    So this is a good example of the challenger’s initial posture being sarcastic about 18 million animals and food and a sort of “THE CHRISTIANS REALLY BELIIVE THIS SILLINESS!” tone changing into a very different posture and tone about a very regional situation completely void of Pan-Death-Genocidal-Vectors and so on.

    The posture and tone of the PCA (Pop Culture Atheist) is I think the point of the OP.

  60. scblhrm

    Keith,

    Your approach to Mankind’s awareness of God inside of Time and Physicality is quite unscriptural as your approach has elements of these presuppositions built into them on several levels:

    1) When Christians assimilate new information, insights, and symmetry, that is evidence for no-god.

    2) When Christians refuse such assimilation of new symmetry, that is evidence of the unthinking nature of Christianity.

    3) Christianity teaches a *static* Mankind where such awareness of God is concerned inside of Time and Physicality. Change inside of Time is contrary to the Christian paradigm.

    4) Christianity teaches that *Non-Static* beds of symmetry amid Mankind’s awareness of truths about God and His Means and Ends cannot be helpful nor truthful because *STASIS* in the awareness and knowledge of God inside of Time and Physicality is the Christian paradigm’s definition of Man/Knowledge/God.

    5) In Scripture it is always the case that the Majority Opinion and Statistical Percentage Winners about God inside of Israel and inside of the Body of Christ have always been the most Godly and Righteous and Accurate and Truth-Based vectors. According to Scripture.

  61. scblhrm

    Tom,

    Comments # 62 and 63 can be deleted. I posted those and they went to the “held in moderator” box. So later I edited and re-tried and they “took”. 64 and 65 are the newer / preferred versions.

  62. Billy Squibs

    While I was busy commenting about Stephen Fry on another of Tom’s blog posts this post had been written days before. Whoops! In my defence I’ve got a 8 week old daughter and if I manage to steal an hour or two here and there I’m doing well.

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