Exploring Truth

Proclaiming the truth of the gospel and the centrality of Christ in all things



February 2013



God still justly punishes sinners

Written by , Posted in Soteriology, Theology

A week ago on February 13, Daniel Sinclair had published a blog article that confronted the question of whether or not it is just for God to punish those who had never heard the message of the gospel. If you believe that those who have never heard the gospel are going to face judgment for their sins, he asked, then how can you call God just? It seems unfair that some people have had a chance to hear the gospel and others have not. [1] Now, I do not for a moment think that Sinclair was asking that question for himself, that is, I do not believe he thinks the justice of God is a questionable matter. I believe he merely recognizes that such a question exists and tries to provide what he thinks is a sensible answer—see his “generational justice” toward the end—after first looking at some answers that others might offer.

I offered a response to his article that same evening from the perspective of Reformed theology, [2] since his anticipation of how Calvinists might respond seemed, well, a little off. He gestured at the issues of God’s sovereignty, predestination, and election, but I did not think these directly answered the question being asked. And it certainly did not seem to be how a Calvinist might perceive the question and answer it—at least not this one (yours truly). So as a Calvinist I offered what turned out to be the most succinct answer I have ever provided to any theological question. Yes God is just, and here is why: human beings are sinners. Bam, done.
Maybe that answer was a little too easy. Later on Sinclair admitted in conversation that perhaps he had sold Calvinism a little short. “Maybe I should fix that,” he said. I told him that I would make a note of it in my article if he did, letting our readers know that he had fixed it. A week later he republished his article with significant changes to it, but did he fix the Calvinism section? Let us have a look.

1. Predestination and free will

The first significant change he made was adding a section of three paragraphs on the difference between a logical and evidential challenge (the latter being conflated with emotional). [3] First, he said that answering the logical challenge is about settling the matter of whether or not the doctrines of predestination and free will logically contradict one another. Second, answering the evidential or emotional challenge is about arguing that they are not only logically possible but in fact probable and in a way that is philosophically, evidentially, and intuitively convincing.

Okay but wait, predestination and free will? Why is that subject raised?

Yes, exactly. It is a bit of a mystery to me because he never actually explains that. He describes the conflict of predestination versus free will as one of the two most significant challenges to Christianity, so far as he is concerned, [4] and that the plight of the unreached taps into that. But then that is it. He never goes on to explain how exactly this is relevant to the question of God’s justice in condemning the unreached. How does this tap into the predestination versus free will issue?

Since he does not say, we can only guess, and I will offer my best educated guess. What he is doing, I think, is importing into this question the assumption that in order to be morally accountable to God one must have a will that is free of God’s sovereign purview, his will and rule. That this is an imported assumption is evidenced by the stark and persistent absence of a scriptural argument supporting it by those who make use of it, which must necessarily be the case since none is even possible because the scriptures paint a very different picture. You know what is free of God’s sovereign purview? Nothing—literally, because that which is free of his sovereign will and hand, that which is metaphysically separated from God, cannot exist. Nothing exists or happens apart from the sustaining will and rule of the Trinity. If something exists, then it was created and sustained by God according to his eternal purpose. All of reality is God’s creation and upheld by the hand of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will (Colossians 1:16-17; John 1:3, Revelation 4:11).

Our will is free insofar as our choices are a product of our nature and desires. Think of the Assyrian king Sennacherib who boasted of the destruction he brought upon one nation after another, and yet God said, “Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained this, from days of old I planned it; and now I am bringing it to pass.” God sent him in judgment against a godless nation, ordering him to devastate the people with whom he was angry. But that was not the king’s intention, that is not how he thought of it; he boasted arrogantly as if his power was in himself, not giving God the glory, and for that God determined to punish the Assyrian king, for his pride and arrogance (2 Kings 19; Isaiah 10). The will is free only insofar as our choices are a product of our nature and desires. Our will is not free of us, nor is it free of God’s sovereign purview. Think also of Abimelech, king of Gerar, to whom God said, “It was I who kept you from sinning against me” and thus “did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:6; cf. Exodus 21:12-13, Joshua 11:19-20, Proverbs 16:9, 21:1, Ezra 1:1, Acts 17:26, 16:14, 2 Corinthians 8:16, etc.). Our will is not free of God’s sovereign will and rule. It is also not free of us and our sinful nature.

There is no contradiction between predestination and free will—that is, when these concepts are biblically understood, drawing our conclusions exegetically from the scriptures and not assuming them in advance and imposing them on the texts. Equipped with a properly biblical view, gratuitous conundrums vanish and we need not make appeals to mystery or our being “too puny to get it.”

The answer to the basis of our moral accountability is found in whether God has decided to judge us—and he has. Freedom of the will is irrelevant. Think about it. If our will was free from God’s sovereign purview but we are never judged by him, then we would not be morally accountable! The very concept becomes unintelligible. Moral accountability is predicated on a God who has decided to judge mankind; it is not predicated on any freedom of our will. As one of my favorite apologists so aptly put it, we are responsible not because we are free but precisely because we are not free, for a holy and sovereign God has determined to judge us at an appointed time.

That is, of course, unless you are reconciled to God through covenant union with Christ, in which case he bore upon the cross the judgment of God’s wrath for your sins, punished in your place. You have no judgment for sins to face, for Christ already faced it, bearing the curse of sins that were not his so you might enjoy the blessings of righteousness that is not yours. I hope that your life is hidden with Christ in God.

The answer to the logical challenge is that there is no contradiction, provided that properly biblical teaching is not being substituted with straw man caricatures. If you are talking to Christians who believe the human will is free, then ask them to prove that from scriptures. When they fail to—and they will—patiently show them the abundant biblical testimony demonstrating that our will is neither free of our selves nor of God’s sovereign purview, that apart from Christ our will is no less a slave to sin than any other part of our selves, and every bit a part of God’s creation which he upholds with unmitigated sovereignty according to the counsel of his will. That precludes libertarian freedom.

And the answer to the evidential challenge is that God indeed is just because he does not condemn any man except for that man’s sin. Condemnation is conditional, but such a condition every man meets! It must always be kept in mind that the natural man exists in a state of condemnation before God. He does not move from a morally neutral state over to a condemned state. There is no morally neutral state. Man does not exist in a state of spiritual limbo from which either belief or unbelief finally determines his standing before God, whether justified or condemned. For it is not his unbelief that condemns him; rather, it is the entire scope and depth of his sin that condemns him; and in his unbelief he remains condemned. No man is ever in a neutral state; all mankind exists in a state of condemnation on account of sin. We all come from the same pool of death and darkness, of sin and moral ruin, where we willingly remain apart from God’s redeeming grace. We exist in death; only in Christ do we move to life. We exist in darkness; only in Christ do we move to light. We exist under God’s wrath; only in Christ is that wrath removed. We exist in condemnation; only in Christ are we justified.

2. Mercy and grace

Another paragraph that Sinclair added to his article took into account my initial response to him. He admitted that a biblical theology would profess that all people are guilty before God; as such, if God punishes the unreached it is because like everyone else they are guilty of sins and merely getting the just penalty, nothing more. With that I would heartily agree—obviously, given that it was the very answer I provided.

But then he goes a bit off:

If some receive mercy and are not punished, that does not make the punishment of others unjust. And while this may be logically consistent and sound, it utterly fails to address the inequity of mercy given to the two groups—and so it fails to address the evidential challenge.

There is no inequity in the mercy God shows mankind; that is, he shows mercy to all mankind, universally. If the wages of sin is death, then every single passing moment we are alive and drawing breath is a manifestation of God’s mercy; he withholds the cursing we deserve. Even the riches of his common grace is showered upon all mankind, wherein he gives us blessings we do not deserve, constituted by every moment of joy, comfort, health and so forth. To withhold cursings we deserve is mercy. To give blessings we do not deserve is grace.

Where inequity emerges is when we speak of the saving grace of God, wherein we are reconciled to God through covenant union with Christ and made co-heirs in his eternal kingdom, the consummation of which all of creation awaits. Such grace is indeed discriminating, for he does not save all of mankind. But we have not somehow lost the challenge by admitting this, for grace by definition is undeserved. It is only unjust if you deserve it and do not receive it. But who deserves grace? No one; it is by definition undeserved. No injustice has occurred when you do not receive something you were never owed in the first place.

The logical challenge is answered. The evidential challenge is answered. The emotional challenge is ignored because the scriptures predict the enmity and slander of the unregenerate against God; it is not any kind of challenge when they supply the proof to what the scriptures predict. And, again, nobody will be judged for not hearing the gospel because not hearing the gospel is not a sin. In the final analysis the answer to the challenge is yes, God is just in punishing sinners…

… still.



[1] Daniel Sinclair, “The unreached: Can God justly punish those who have never heard?Whole Reason [blog], posted February 13, 2013. The article was significantly modified on February 17; the modified version is what the link now displays. The original version is gone.

[2] David Smart, “God justly punishes sinners,” Aristophrenium [blog], posted February 13, 2013. Reformed theology is substantially Calvinist; its distinction is in being confessional, that is, expressed in such confessional documents as the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity.

[3] “What ends up happening in these cases is that the challenge breaks down into two pieces,” he writes: “the  logical argument, and the evidential or emotional argument.” He said “two pieces” but lists three items, which implies to me that evidential and emotional are being conflated into one.

[4] The other is the supposed problem of evil.



February 2013



God justly punishes sinners

Written by , Posted in Soteriology, Theology

NOTE: A week later (February 17) Daniel Sinclair substantially altered the text of his original article which I had responded to here; he did not leave the original text as it was and make an addition but instead rewrote it. My response below now may or may not make sense in light of his changes. See here for my new response.

Over at his blog Daniel Sinclair posed a question about the justice of God with respect to those who have never heard the gospel, that is, “the unreached.” If you believe that those who have never heard the gospel are going to face judgment for their sins, he asks, then how can you call God just? Isn’t it unfair that some people have had a chance to hear the gospel and others have not? [1]

He offers five unique “theodicies for defending the damnation of the unreached” and you can read them yourself over at his blog, but I am only interested in responding to one of them. And if you had gone to his blog and read his post first before continuing here, you will no doubt have been able to guess which one.

That’s right, his proposed Calvinist response.

He said that Calvinists “heavily emphasize God’s role in choosing the saved and the damned” and therefore “can merely remark that God chose who would be near the preaching of the gospel, and who would not,” and that something like Romans 9:18 might possibly get quoted.

Let me say, first, that he is right as far as that goes; namely, it is indeed up to God who would be near the preaching of the gospel. (In the ordo salutis of Reformed dogmatics to hear the gospel responsively is to be called; e.g., Romans 8:29-30, “those whom he foreknew he also predestined . . . And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.” This calling is one of the links in this golden chain of redemption.) But let me also add, second, that this is somewhat irrelevant to the question his blog post is raising and attempting to answer. Why is that? Because his question was, How can you call God just if you believe that those who have never heard the gospel are going to face judgment for their sins?

And the answer is right there in the very question itself. It is because of their sins that they stand condemned. That is how we can call God just, for he justly condemns all sinners—reached and unreached alike—for their manifold sin. Even if someone never has even “one good chance to hear the gospel,” God would still be considered just because they are rightly condemned sinners. And also importantly, God does not owe it to anyone to ensure they hear the gospel; if he did, then it would not be grace. Those upon whom his saving grace falls will hear the gospel responsively; e.g., John 6:37, “Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me” (emphasis mine). And perhaps just as importantly, nobody will be judged for not hearing the gospel because not hearing the gospel is not a sin.

[1] Daniel Sinclair, “The unreached: Can God justly punish those who have never heard?Whole Reason [blog] (posted February 13, 2013).



February 2013



Implications of divine revelation

Written by , Posted in Bibliology, Theology

I have been having a discussion today regarding the nature of Scripture and our relationship to it, a discussion sparked by a story about “a young Korean girl [who] claims that Jesus took her to hell, and told her to draw what she saw.” [1] I am sharing this because it strikes me as a rather important issue. (Names have been changed, except mine.)

DAVID: Because it is given a religious gloss, the girl will probably not receive the psychological evaluation she possibly needs. Those were some disturbing notions and pictures.

STEVEN: Wait, she’s crazy because she believes the Bible?

DAVID: Well, let us perhaps first qualify that term. Since she claimed that the one and holy Son of God himself revealed to her these visions of hell, it follows that she must believe in an open canon—to which her vision must now be added, as it is also divine revelation. Ergo, just exactly what is “the Bible” that she ostensibly believes?

STEVEN: So Jesus doesn’t talk to us today? Or the Holy Spirit’s illumination doesn’t include dreams and visions? You must be a dispensationalist.

DAVID: Of course Jesus talks to us today, Steven, through the enscripturated testimony of his apostles in the canonical texts. Or would you be so bold as to suggest that he does not speak to us through the sacred scriptures of God’s word? And yes, the Holy Spirit can illumine our understanding through dreams and visions, but it is in reference to the scriptures, not in addition to them. The Holy Spirit is sent of the Father in the Son’s name, to instruct and bring to remembrance the things revealed by the Son (John 14:26), guiding into all truth; yet never speaking on his own authority, but that which he hears and to tell what is to come (John 16:13). Just as the Son never spoke anything than what the Father gave him to speak (John 12:49; 14:10), surely we may expect the Trinity to be self-consistent.

And no, I am definitely not a dispensationalist.

STEVEN: I’m not being contentious, but I come from a tradition where one expects to have a conversational relationship with God, where one can hear God speak in real words within our spirit. You can hold that position without thinking that you are hearing so clearly as to be canonical or speak ex cathedra. And such hearing is improved through knowledge of, and exposure to, the word (viz. faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the word of God).

Note that this does not say faith comes by hearing the word of God; it says that hearing comes by the word of God, and faith comes as a result of this hearing. I interpret this to mean that the ability to hear God speak comes from the word, that is, the renewing of your mind.

(By the way, I realize this does cause some issues when people say, “God told me such and so,” but I don’t think that statement alone makes them less than credible.)

DAVID: Indeed “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). And what is that word? “The word you hear is not mine,” Jesus said, “but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:24).

Correlate this with John 8:43-47, “Why don’t you understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot accept my teaching. . . . The one who belongs to God listens and responds to God’s words. You don’t listen and respond, because you don’t belong to God” (cf. 10:25-27). See also the parable of The Sower (cf. Luke 8:11 and 1 Peter 1:23 with 1 Corinthians 3:6 and Acts 16:14).

PETER: Is there a difference in interpretation between “faith comes from hearing” and “faith comes from what is heard”? This also seems to be relevant in cultures where almost everyone would hear the scriptures orally and not read them. I’m asking because I don’t know.

DAVID: There should not be a difference in interpretation between “faith comes from hearing” (NIV) and “faith comes from what is heard” (NET), for this is more than the mere act of hearing with our auditory senses. In everyday conversation we might distinguish between listening to someone and hearing them; so it is one thing to listen to the word being preached but another thing to genuinely hear it (e.g., “The one who belongs to God listens and responds to God’s words”), which is by the grace of God and only for those who belong to him. In the ordo salutis this is effectual calling.

STEVEN: So David, are you disagreeing with my claim that a conversational relationship with God is normative, or with my using that passage to support it, or with just my exegesis of that passage?

DAVID: First, I am not really sure what a “conversational” relationship with God even means. It sounds like one of those hipster churchy buzzwords, like missional and intentional. It might be too trendy for my paygrade. Being uncertain as I am about what it even means, I can neither agree or disagree as to whether or not it is normative for Christians. (If a “conversational” relationship is supposed to mean a genuine and active relationship with God in prayer, then I would agree that it is normative. I would also wonder why you didn’t just say prayer, which is why I think you probably don’t mean prayer.)

Second, since I could not be sure what you even meant, I also could not be sure how you were using that particular uncited passage. So I cited it and contributed what the scriptures seem to be saying about it (i.e., what the word is, what that means, and what is meant by hearing, and who hears and why, etc.).

[1] Robert Brownell, “Pictures from The Pit: A young Korean artist claims to have seen hell,” Liveleak.com (video), posted September 18, 2010 (accessed February 11, 2013). Brownell runs the web site http://www.divinerevelations.info.



February 2013



Evolution vs. evolutionism: One of these precludes a Savior.

Written by , Posted in Apologetics, Creation/Evolution, Origins of Life

Back in September of 2012 it was reported that Paul C. Broun, U.S. representative for the 10th congressional district in Georgia, had made a very curious claim during a campaign speech at the 2012 Sportsman’s Banquet in Hartwell, Georgia, a claim which garnered him a great deal of critical attention.

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang theory,” Broun proclaimed, “all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.”

And it’s lies to try to keep me, and all the folks who were taught that, from understanding that they need a Savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says. [1]

I am going to try and ignore as best I can the fact that a physician with a medical degree actually regarded embryology as not only a lie but one straight from the pit of hell, as well as the fact that he serves on the House Committee on Science and Technology even though he believes that our planet did not exist until more than four thousand years after the Clovis people had already begun inhabiting the Americas. The reason for why I am going to ignore that low hanging fruit is because I want to just briefly address his remark that these things keep people from understanding that they need a Savior, which is a comment I hear quite frequently when it comes to the creation versus evolution debates.

In that campaign speech Broun never identified exactly how it is that believing the universe to be expanding from an initial big bang or that life evolved from common ancestry is supposed to keep people from understanding that they need a Savior, but presumably he has in mind an idea similar to that of Richard Peachey, vice-president of the Creation Science Association of British Columbia, who said that “in evolution there is no fall from perfection, no sin and no necessity for a Saviour,” and therefore evolution “strikes at the very heart of our Christian faith.” [2]

So is that true? Well, yes and no. You see, it depends very much on what is meant by the term evolution—as is nearly always the case—for it is not as if it is somehow this one monolithic and univocal idea. When it comes to the evolutionary view that people are taught in Western public education systems, I would agree that they are probably not hearing about Adam and Eve as real people in history, about their covenant relationship with God, their fall from grace, and the reality of mankind’s now sinful condition in Adam and need for a Savior, the promise of whom was first heard by Adam and Eve. I would almost be willing to guarantee that they are not hearing about these things, and I suspect that in rare cases they may be hearing that these are simply religious myths or fictions. This is because what is being taught presupposes a methodological naturalism that results in an evolutionary view that is at once godless and dysteleological. [3] As John Haldane (1882-1964) is reported to have said, “Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he’s unwilling to be seen with her in public.” [4]

But this implicates the point I wish to make, namely, that there are evolutionary views out there which are not embarrassed to be seen with her in public; in fact they are proud to be seen with her and wish for people to understand that teleology is not a mistress but a lawfully wedded wife. Maybe that analogy is being pushed too far. What I mean to say is that there are evolutionary views out there which are self-consciously God-centered and teleological. Such evolutionary views reject and repudiate notions of dysteleological natural selection in favor of teleological divine selection, whereby creation accomplishes what God intends it to accomplish in Christ. [5] The relationship between Christian faith and scientific understanding is approached by viewing it through a theology of the cross, wherein all of life is seen in the context of redemptive history predicated on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, [6] taking seriously the historical reality of Adam and Eve and the dawn of redemptive history in the garden of Eden, their fall into sin and mankind’s desperate need of a Savior—all quite contrary to the remarks of Broun and Peachey.

Which brings me to my final point. There is a tendency and fear that acceptance of scientific ideas of evolution must lead inexorably to the philosophical ideas of evolutionism. Tim Keller described the fear this way: “If you believe human life was formed through evolutionary biological processes . . . you must therefore believe in the Grand Theory of Evolution” or the philosophical world view of evolutionism, a plausibility structure which entails that “all features of human life have a natural, scientifically explicable cause.” [7] Keller believes that Christian pastors, theologians, and scientists who want to argue for evolution as a suite of scientific biological theories must therefore at the same time put a great deal of emphasis on repudiating and arguing against evolutionism as a controlling philosophical world view. The scientific ideas of evolution do not entail philosophical ideas of evolutionism which, as a world view plausibility structure, keeps people from understanding that they need a Savior, denying there was a fall into sin and a necessity for a Savior, thereby striking at the very heart of our Christian faith. Scientific biological theories of evolution have nothing to say about these things and are consistent with a Christian faith.


[1] BridgeProject21, “Rep. Broun: Evolution, Embryology, Big Bang Theory Are ‘Lies Straight From The Pit Of Hell’,” YouTube video [1:25], posted October 10, 2012 (accessed February 4, 2013). From a speech given at the 2012 Sportsman’s Banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia, on September 27, 2012.

[2] See the “About Us” section of the Creation Science Association of British Columbia web site (accessed February 7, 2013). I am assuming here that Richard Peachey is the author since his name appears on practically every single article on that site.

[3] To refer to something as dysteleological is to say that it has no telos or final cause from purposeful design; it is the negation of teleological (purposeful).

[4] As quoted by Professor Pittendrigh in a letter to Ernst Mayr dated February 26, 1970. See Ernst Mayr, “Teleological and teleonomic: A new analysis,” Methodological and Historical Essays in the Natural and Social Sciences, eds. Robert S. Cohen and Marx W. Wartofsky, Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science, vol. 14 (D. Reidel Publishing, 1974), 115.

[5] See Robert C. Bishop, “Recovering the Doctrine of Creation,” BioLogos Foundation (2011). See also the outstanding and helpful embryology-evolution illustration that Denis Lamoureux uses in his “Evolutionary creation: A Christian approach to evolution,” BioLogos Foundation (2011), 2.

[6] See for example George Murphy, “Human Evolution in Theological Cont
,” BioLogos Foundation (2011).

[7] Tim Keller, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” BioLogos Foundation (2011), 6. Keller writes that evolutionism as a philosophical world view “is fast becoming what Peter Berger calls a ‘plausibility structure’. It is a set of beliefs considered so basic, and with so much support from authoritative figures and institutions, that it is becoming impossible for individuals to publicly question them. A plausibility structure is a ‘given’ supported by enormous social pressure. The writings of the new atheists here are important to observe because their attitudes are more powerful than their arguments. The disdain and refusal to show any respect to opponents is not actually an effort to refute them logically, but to ostracize them socially and turn their own views into a plausibility structure. They are well on their way.”



February 2013





February 2013



Putting the conflict in perspective

Written by , Posted in Apologetics, Creation/Evolution

The following is excerpted from Origins: Christian Perspectives On Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, 2nd ed. (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2011):


Debate the Weather?

To illustrate why the debate about origins isn’t simply a matter of science versus religion, imagine living in a culture where there is a similar debate about the weather. The Bible clearly teaches that God governs the weather. Many Bible passages proclaim that God causes rain and drought (see Deut. 11:14-17; 1 Kings 8:35-36; Job 5:10; 37:6; Jer. 14:22). Writers of Deuteronomy, the Psalms, and Jeremiah refer specifically to storehouses of rain and snow (see Deut. 28:12, 24; Ps. 135:7; Jer. 10:13).

What causes the rain? Most of us were taught that water evaporates from the ground level, rises to where the air is cooler, and condenses into water droplets that form clouds. We learned how cold fronts and warm fronts and low pressure systems bring rain. When we watch meteorologists on television, we hear that scientists now use sophisticated computer models to help them understand and predict the weather a few days in advance. Their ability to understand meteorology is especially important for farmers, airline pilots, military personnel, and coastal residents. Every year scientists develop increasingly accurate computer models of the weather.

Now imagine that debates arise about what should be taught in schools about the weather. Imagine that prominent scientists write popular books about meteorology that state, “From our scientific understanding of the causes of wind and rain, it is clear that no divine being controls the weather.” Imagine that a professional organization of science teachers writes a set of guidelines that state, “Students must learn that all weather phenomena follow from natural causes; weather is unguided and no divine action is involved.” Meanwhile, other people insist that these scientific explanations of rain and wind must be wrong because the Bible clearly teaches that God governs the weather. These people write books and give public speeches saying, “Atheists have invented their godless theories about evaporation and condensation. But we can prove that their so-called scientific theories are false and that the Bible is true.” They go to churches and teach, “If you believe what these scientists are saying about the causes of wind and rain, then you’ve abandoned belief in the Bible.” They petition school boards and courts to require that science classrooms also teach their “storehouses” theory of the weather as an alternate explanation to evaporation and condensation.

If you lived in a world with that sort of debate going on, would you be content to see it simply as a conflict between science and religion? Would you be willing to agree wholly with one side or the other?

More Than Two Options

Fortunately, we don’t have such debates about what causes the weather. The majority of Christians say that when it comes to the weather, both science and the Bible are correct. God governs the weather, usually through the scientifically understandable processes of evaporation and condensation. And the majority of atheists today would also agree that having a scientific explanation for the weather, by itself, neither proves nor disproves the existence of God. So there are no court battles about what science classrooms should teach about the weather.

Debates about creation, evolution, and design have some similarities to the above example, but in many ways they are more difficult. The questions about how to interpret Scripture are more challenging, and these debates raise more theological issues. A good place to start in making sense of these debates is to remember that more than two options exist.

Deborah B. Haarsma and Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: Christian Perspectives On Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, 2nd ed. (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2011), 13-14. Available at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle editions.

“The first edition of this book . . . (2007), was commissioned for a target audience of Christians familiar with Reformed theology and tradition. This new edition is intended for a broader audience. The content is substantially unchanged. In various places we have . . . removed most ‘insider’ references to the Reformed tradition.”



January 2013



The unpaid bills of the church

Written by , Posted in Apologetics

I have to agree with Nick Peters. Like him, I too wish I had a nickel for every person I have met who said they used to be a Christian. And yes, a great many of these so-called ex-Christians constitute the main opponents I come across, too. “These people fight Christianity with a vengeance,” Peters observed, “and I suspect it’s because they think they were duped by their church and have a strong vendetta against it.

“And in many cases, I think their church did dupe them.”

You know what I often read from them? I get the message that they were told they should just have faith. They were denied the right to ask questions. They were told they needed to walk the line or get out. They were treated as if they were the problem. Very rarely do I hear the account of a minister who says “That’s a good question. Let’s do some research and see what we find out.”

Is it any wonder these people leave?

. . .

We are spending so much on making sure we have the best sound equipment and making sure our youth get to go on special trips and having the carpet looking nice in the church and getting a new camera for video taping services and in themselves, none of these are bad things.

Yet none of them are what the church is really about. The church is meant to equip the saints so that they can glorify God. It is meant to bring a community of worshipers together to the glory of God. Instead, we often turn it into a feel-good service where we can go out and be “Nice Christians.” . . . If you want to bring about the glory of God and salvation for the world, you must have Jesus Christ. The church cannot do that if we are not emphasizing Christ.

Instead, we emphasize ourselves and how we feel.

When someone comes along who doesn’t march to the beat of that drum for whatever reason, we cast them aside. How dare you interrupt our parade! We are here to feel good about ourselves! You’re dragging us out of our comfort zone.

Read more here:

Nick Peters, “The church’s financial debt,” Deep Waters [blog], January 29, 2013, http://deeperwaters.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/the-churchs-financial-debt/



January 2013



A misguided attempt to critique Walton

Written by , Posted in Creation/Evolution, Origins of Life

So this is admittedly a bit late. I realize that. But it was not until just this afternoon that my attention was directed to this critical article by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute which I was led to believe addressed John Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One (IVP Academic, 2009). [1] Had I known about this article sooner I would have responded to it sooner. Better late than never?

I suppose there is a sense in which Luskin did address Walton’s book, but that is only technically true. The fact of the matter is that Luskin admitted right from the first paragraph that since he has no expertise “in ancient Hebrew language or biblical hermeneutics” he therefore had “no intention of expressing an opinion on Walton’s basic thesis about how to interpret Genesis 1.”

Fair enough, so what then was the purpose of his writing? Evidently it was to critically explore two particular issues regarding how Intelligent Design (ID) was represented by Walton in his book. Since that bears no relevance to Walton’s thesis, what is there for me to respond to?

Nothing, really. [2] However, I do want to address those two issues raised by Luskin because, ironically, I think he did not himself represent Walton fairly.

The two issues Luskin identified were described like this. First, he did not grasp the relevance of Walton devoting such space to ID, the Discovery Institute, and public education when those were “all topics far removed from interpreting Genesis.” Second, he was disappointed with “how inaccurate Walton’s discussion of ID was.”

First, I am not sure why Luskin found it “surprising” and remarkable that Walton would devote such space to ID, the Discovery Institute, and public education, because Walton states rather clearly and plainly at the beginning of the chapter what the relevance is; specifically, that he is going to explore “the impact of this view of Genesis 1 on our understanding of evolution, Intelligent Design and public education.” [3] He first describes how the view which he presents better constitutes intelligent design because it is unabashedly teleological, such that

the view involves God working with intention, purpose and a goal in every aspect of his role as Creator (which includes originating and sustaining). The obvious result of this is that all of creation is, by this definition, intelligent, and likewise, all of it is designed. Nothing could be considered accidental. Nothing happens “by itself,” and origins are not just found in the outworking of natural laws. [4]

This is unlike ID which at best offers such things like “irreducible complexity” and “complex specified information” and so forth, all of which are consistent with teleology but they do not demand it; [5] however, they are also consistent with dysteleology (but do not demand that either). ID also represents itself as something of a God-of-the-gaps approach, which its proponents vehemently deny but

the logical hurdle is that if they believe that naturalistic explanations are insufficient, [then] design in nature can only be established beyond reasonable doubt if all naturalistic explanations have been ruled out. Proving a negative logically requires that all possibilities have been considered, which in turn requires that all possibilities are known. As a result design cannot be established beyond reasonable doubt (it would be presumptuous to suggest that knowledge is so exhaustive that all possibilities are known), and it can only fall back on the claim that the currently proposed naturalistic mechanisms do not suffice. Design is thus attributed to observable phenomena that carry characteristic hallmarks of design (in an ID way of understanding) that cannot be explained by naturalistic mechanisms. This list ends up looking very much like the God of the gaps list. [6]

This represents a stark contrast to the view Walton proposes, wherein “everything that exists and everything that happens is, in Christian thinking, ultimately an act of God,” [7] with both Christological focus and significance to redemptive history, given the cosmos as temple. In other words, there is utterly no room for any sort of God-of-the-gaps thinking. These are just some of the impacts of this view on our understanding of intelligent design and more.

The view of Genesis offered in this book is also teleological but accepts that all of creation is the result of God’s handiwork, whether naturalistic mechanisms are identifiable or not, and whether evolutionary processes took place or not. God has designed all that there is and may have brought some of his designs into existence instantaneously, whereas others he may have chosen to bring into existence through long, complicated processes. Neither procedure would be any less an act of God. [8]

As for what Walton states regarding the Discovery Institute, Luskin felt that he “wrongly thinks he has the ability to speak for the Discovery Institute, and in fact most people at Discovery Institute would not agree with his assessment that ID is insufficiently developed to be part of a science curriculum.” That much is true. They do think they have a replacement model to propose in lieu of dysteleological evolution. But then Walton is right, too: despite their convictions, they actually do not offer a scientifically testable and falsifiable alternative.

Nevertheless proponents of ID would make a lesser claim that design itself is detectable and researchable and therefore can be subject to scientific investigation—the design element, not the nature or existence of the designer. They offer no theory of origins nor do they attempt to interpret the Bible or contribute to theological thinking. [9]

Second, while I can appreciate that Luskin was disappointed with how “inaccurate” Walton’s discussion of ID was, I have to wonder if Luskin was aware that Walton’s book was not about ID? Sure, Walton neglected this important nuance and failed to quote that prominent figure and didn’t interact with those central claims and so forth. But then the point never was ID per se in the first place, so why would he include such specific points and claims? He was critical of the problematic weaknesses of ID theologically and scientifically in the context of contrasting that with how his thesis fares in those arenas, so a Cliff’s Notes view of ID was sufficient for that end. He did the same thing with neo-Darwinism, neither describing nor interacting with the intricate details thereof. It was not necessary to his task, which was about contrasting the conflicts that hound both ID and evolution with how those conflicts vanish when his thesis is in view. And that is how it ought to be, honestly, because those conflicts really are unnecessary. As affirmed in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, God is the author of all truth, therefore all truths—biblical and extrabiblical—are consistent and cohere; moreover, extra-biblical data can thus have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations. [10]

Moreover, I am not convinced that Walton was inaccurate in the first place. There is no doubt Luskin felt that he was, for he made that claim rather clear; but he hardly did anything more than claim it. For example, Luskin complained that Walton did not define ID “by citing a leading ID proponent like Stephen Meyer or Michael Behe,” and that if he had done so then “perhaps readers might have learned that ID is not merely a negative argument against evolution, but rather is based upon a positive argument.” I found this complaint remarkable, since Walton actually did cite leading ID proponents—including Michael Behe! On page 131 Walton lists the “Technical Support” for this chapter, citing among others Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box
), William Dembski (Intelligent Design), Phillip Johnson (Darwin on Trial), and Denyse O’Leary (By Design or By Chance?), inviting his readers to learn about ID from such leading proponents. Perhaps Luskin felt that Walton had misunderstood how Behe and the others have described ID, but then he ought to find out where Walton derived this or that idea and then show how it is a misunderstanding. But to say that he did not cite leading proponents is simply false.

One final remark. Walton said that ID proponents “offer no theory of origins nor do they attempt to interpret the Bible or contribute to theological thinking.” [11] To this Luskin has an utterly baffling response. He says that we are supposed to have seen that ID does offer “a positive theory of design detection.” Let us grant that for the sake of argument; now, exactly where did Walton say otherwise? Is “theory of origins” somehow the same thing as “theory of design detection”? In what world? Just because one has detected design, that does not mean anything has been said about origins.

And supposedly Walton is “wrong to claim that ID proponents offer no contributions to biblical interpretations.” But it is frankly incoherent to say that Walton was wrong to claim something he actually never claimed; with regard to ID, Walton said that its proponents do not attempt to interpret the Bible—because they don’t. There may be proponents of ID who, like Phillip Johnson, work to “help readers understand how ID coheres with biblical interpretations,” as Luskin worded it (emphasis mine), but showing how a view coheres with an interpretation presupposes the existence of that interpretation, which is quite different from doing interpretation of the Bible. There is also a significant difference between what a proponent of ID teaches and what ID itself teaches. Or perhaps Luskin is suggesting that ID is religious like its proponents are? I hope not, because its proponents have spilled a lot of ink trying to distance ID from the arena of religion, which is where Bible interpretation occurs. For example, Johnson suggested that “the first thing that has to be done is to get the Bible out of the discussion,” an issue to be taken up later “after we have separated materialist prejudice from scientific fact.” [12] (It still astounds me he said that.)

And to the extent that ID has nothing to say about, and has no interest in, the identity, nature, or character of the designer, [13] indeed it does not contribute to theological thinking. It is about determining whether or not specific features “reliably point to the activity of an intelligent agent or designer. Whether that designer happens to be the God of some religious creed is not properly part of ID.” [14]

Like I said, Luskin ironically failed to represent Walton fairly in an article that was intended to show how Walton did not represent ID fairly. And again, I have to disagree with Luskin because Walton did seem to represent ID fairly—although not comprehensively, I admit. And while ID might be expressed in confident scientific tones by its proponents, they and Luskin know very well that it has failed every scientific test so far applied to it; see especially the 2005 landmark legal battle Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, wherein experts on both sides argued their best case under oath. [15]


[1] Casey Luskin, “A misguided attempt to critique Intelligent Design: A response to John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One,” Faith and Science News [blog], Evolution News and Views (September 3, 2011), http://www.evolutionnews.org/
2011/09/a_lost_attempt_to_critique_int050431.html (Accessed January 22, 2013). Luskin is an attorney who works as Program Officer in Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Discovery Institute.

[2] “You are not John Walton, so why would you need to respond at all?” The need for me to respond is self-inflicted and a by-product of my skepticism; namely, I am particularly skeptical toward things I want to be true. Given Walton’s thesis being so exegetically compelling and theologically important, I consider it an imperative to seek out published criticisms of it. And given that I have so badly dropped the ball on publishing here at the Aristophrenium, and given my New Year’s resolution to start ramping up my output, this represents a good opportunity to publish something interacting with criticisms of the views I affirm (be what they may).

[3] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (IVP Academic, 2009), 125.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See for example Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (Oxford University, 1996), in which Kauffman “proposes that matter self-organizes, thus making design an expected result intrinsic to the nature of matter and not dependent on a designer” (Walton, 186, n3).

[6] Walton, 128-129; emphasis original.

[7] Ibid., 126.

[8] Ibid., 131; emphasis mine.

[9] Ibid., 127.

[10] Norman L. Geisler, “Explaining hermeneutics: A commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics,” in Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible, eds. Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus (Academie Books, 1984), 902. Reproduced at Bible Research: Internet Resources for Students of Scripture, ed. Michael D. Marlowe (January 20, 2012), http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago2.html (Accessed January 22, 2013).

[11] Walton, 128.

[12] Phillip Johnson, “The Wedge: Breaking the modernist monopoly on science,” Access Research Network (1999), http://www.arn.org/docs/johnson/le_wedge.htm (Accessed January 22, 2013). (Emphasis mine.)

[13] “Does intelligent design postulate a ‘supernatural creator’?” Truth Sheet #09-05, Discovery Institute (n.d.), http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=565 (Accessed January 22, 2013). Herein we are told that “intelligent design does not address metaphysical and religious questions such as the nature or identity of the designer.”

[14] B. Dembski, K. Miller, P. Nelson, B. Newman, and D. Wilcox, “Commission on Creation,” American Scientific Affiliation (August 2000), http://www.asa3.org/ASA/
topics/Evolution/commission_on_creation.html (Accessed January 22, 2013). (Emphasis mine.)

[15] “Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/
w/index.php?title=Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District&oldid=534011845 (accessed January 22, 2013).



January 2013



Churches For Apologetics: A Petition.

Written by , Posted in Apologetics, Christian activism, Education, Witnessing

The leadership and overall community of the Christian Apologetics Alliance [1] are highly motivated to encourage and equip the church in defending the faith using the tools available through Christian apologetics. It is their desire to see local churches everywhere creating and fostering a safe environment of questioning and learning in which members of Christ’s body are enabled and empowered to confront the hard questions that target the faith and consequently grow in strength, knowledge, and confidence. Apologetics in the church is no less important and relevant today than it was over 150 years ago when Wilberforce noted the following: [2]

In an age in which infidelity abounds, do we observe them [parents] carefully instructing their children in the principles of faith which they profess? Or do they furnish their children with arguments for the defense of that faith? They would blush on their child’s birth to think him inadequate in any branch of knowledge or any skill pertaining to his station in life. He cultivates these skills with becoming diligence. But he is left to collect his religion as he may. The study of Christianity has formed no part of his education. His attachment to it—where any attachment to it exists at all—is too often not the preference of sober reason and conviction. Instead his attachment to Christianity is merely the result of early and groundless possession. He was born in a Christian country, so of course he is a Christian. His father was a member of the Church of England, so that is why he is, too. When religion is handed down among us by heredity succession, it is not surprising to find youth of sense and spirit beginning to question the truth of the system in which they were brought up. And it is not surprising to see them abandon a position which they are unable to defend.

According to Drew Dyck, the vast majority of those who leave the church recount how they “were regularly shut down when they expressed doubts. Some were ridiculed in front of peers for asking ‘insolent questions.’ Others reported receiving trite answers to vexing questions and being scolded for not accepting them.” He mentioned studies which found that deconverts reported “sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers.” [3]

It is the earnest prayer of Christian Apologetics Alliance that every church commits to adopting an apologetics program designed to adequately and honestly address such difficult questions when they arise, and to equip a generation of leaders and teachers in the church who not only have a real passion for apologetics but who will also recognize the skepticism and doubt in others as an authentic spiritual plea.

Please add your voice to their petition and proclaim that you are committed to equipping and supporting your church with an apologetics program:

[1] Christian Apologetics Alliance [web site] [Facebook page].

[2] William Wilberforce, Real Christianity (1829; Multnomah, 1982), 1-2; quoted in J. P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (NavPress, 1997), 134-135. (All emphases mine.)

[3] Drew Dyck, “The Leavers: Young doubters exit the church,” Christianity Today (November 19, 2010), http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/november/27.40.html (Accessed January 20, 2013). “More than in previous generations, 20- and 30- somethings are abandoning the faith. Why?”



December 2012



Christmas: A "festivus" for all of us

Written by , Posted in Society & Culture

End of year celebrations. Cries of Happy Holidays. People in the streets wearing Santa hats, reindeer antlers or elf-ears. Carollers singing about magical snowmen, a red-nosed reindeer and a jolly-fat guy in a red suit who squeezes down chimneys, pilfering milk and cookies, stuffing stockings and sneaking a pash with your mother. Snow-filled, feel-good, luke warm, b-grade family movies showing in cinemas or being re-run on TV for the umpteenth dozen time. Crazed, 3am zombie shoppers, milling through malls. Variations of egg-nog recipes; decorated ginger-bread houses. Candy canes; tinsel; baubles; and fake, plastic trees. Roast turkeys; roast geese. Wishes on stars and sneaking kisses under mistletoe. Outlandish, homespun woollen green and red sweaters. Fastidious – and bordering on obsessive-compulsive – displays of lights on houses and roof tops and trees. Oddly-shaped gifts; magnificently wrapped gifts; poorly wrapped gifts; unwrapped gifts! Family feuds; carols by candlelight; Kris Kringles and office parties. Grinches; Jim Carey; Will Ferrel; more b-grade movies. Tacky, though seasonally appropriate, Let It Snow plugins for blogs and websites! It’s a time for giving, buying, indulging, socialising and imbibing. Xmas or X-mas or The Silly Season. A Festivus for the Rest-of-us!

Some of us opine, They’ve removed Christ from Christmas! Others cheerfully quip, Jesus is the reason for the season. Still others inquire, Where’s the nativity scene this year? Yet more others, likely parents or aunts, expound, Christmas is for the kids, anyway.

These and many other things are what often come to mind whenever we think of Christmas. Our Western culture is steeped in them and there is no escape.

To all of which I say that Christmas, as we know it, is typically highly commercialised, politically correct-isised and, chiefly by those staunch Christians among us (of which I can sometimes be counted), over analysed.

Much of what is standard fare for our Christmases is largely cultural – that much is true – but there is a core to Christmas that transcends both time and culture. We can lament how far we have removed ourselves from it, but Christ will always remain central whether we recognise it or not and God will always remain patiently faithful.

For we recognise Christmas, not for the trinkets (although they are nice), not specifically for the kids (despite the immense joy of parents to delight them), nor for the food, family and friends who consist of our world, but for a particular gift. A gift given to all of mankind. A gift without which we could not enjoy (or despise!) any of the above mentioned things: a gift of redemption. And Jesus is that gift, for whom this site exists and for whom we proclaim his truth within what we write. In Jesus, we have no need to fill our lives with the vain trappings of our Western Christmases, but we are at liberty to enjoy them; in Jesus, we can embrace the heavy sorrows of this world and yet in him still rejoice; in Jesus, we extend our hearts to others as God extended his to us:

For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son so that who ever believes on him shall not perish but have life eternal; for Christ is God’s indescribable gift; a child whose name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace; a name that was humble and obedient in heart and in character to the point of death, a name above all names, to which every knee shall bow; a name, at who’s announcement of his coming is not a cause for fear but of great joy; for by his name is given to us the free gift of God – eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord (cf. John 3:16; 2Cor 9:15; Isa 9:6; Phil 2:8-10; Luke 2:11; Rom 6:23).

Christmas – or rather, the Christ amongst it – is a joy to the world! (Santa hats, inane shopping-centre jingles, bad dress-sense and jaded relatives included, as a matter of course.) Our desire for you is to share in the knowledge and assurance of that joy.

Over the years, we’ve published a number of different messages here regarding Christmas. We would invite you to browse through a selection of them below (and to identify who our resident Grinch Aristo-staffer is), to take cheer and to remind yourself that Christmas is a celebration of the coming of the King of Kings.

From all of us at The Aristophrenium, have a glorious Christmas and may God continue to bless you richly in many unexpected ways throughout the coming year.