Interpreting Genesis

In a previous post I wrote about my distaste for putting the foundation of Scripture in the Genesis creation account rather than the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This post is from another blog I once wrote on. Seems relevant to continue this discussion.

 

 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

-Genesis 1:3

 

A few months ago I began reading Metaphysics and the God of Israel by Neil B. MacDonald. It is a challenging read, but one that is worth investing time in. In these days, where many want to first interpret natural science and than apply it to the text of Genesis 1:1-11, I think the most important thing is to properly interpret the text itself, without reading anything into it in terms of natural science. Not that the text can’t be read in this way, but science is not the only form of knowledge by in which we can know truth.

Some terms to understand what is being said;

  1. locutionary act, the performance of an utterance: the actual utterance and its ostensible meaning, comprising phonetic, phatic and rhetic acts corresponding to the verbal, syntactic and semantic aspects of any meaningful utterance.
  2. an illocutionary act: the pragmatic ‘illocutionary force’ of the utterance, thus its intended significance as a socially valid verbal action.

The first chapter “The First Two Days of Creation: Time and Space” where he heavily relies on Claus Westermann’s exegesis on Genesis 1:3 in his commentary Genesis 1-11: A Continental Commentary which I recommend highly. In it, he applies the speech act theory to the saying “Let there be light.” Westermann contends that at this point God isn’t really creating anything; he is creating the possibility of something (1). More is to be said on theories of time, A-B theories, how God relates to time and how time existed before God created the universe we now experience. What God was creating was the possibility of something other than Himself. He was creating temporal successiveness. He concludes it by summing up this way;

“From Claus Westermann’s exegesis we learned that in saying, “Let there be light”, God was creating temporal successiveness. Putting the speech-act theory and Westermann together, we can see that there are two different actions at work here. One is the locutionary action corresponding to the God saying “Let there be light”. The other is the illocutionary action- which is other than the locutionary action- corresponding to God creating the possibility of time…”(2)

(1) Metaphysics and the God of Israel, pg. 9,  MacDonald, B Neil, Baker Academic 2006

(2) Metaphysics and the God of Israel, pg. 18,  MacDonald, B Neil, Baker Academic 2006

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Authentic Christianity.

“People understand me so little that they do not even understand when I complain of being misunderstood.”

           —Søren Kierkegaard, JOURNALS FEB. 1836″
 

My love for Soren Kierkegaard goes deep as a philosopher and as a foundational thinker within the history of Christian thought. I believe he is misunderstood in many ways, either because those who have read him did not take the time and energy to really understand what he was truly advocating, or those who have been told by others and have done no further investigation into who he was and what he was up against. Mind you, I do not fully endorse all of the thoughts and ideas of the theologians and philosophers I read, Kierkegaard included. Proper understanding and critique of opposing views should always be our goal. Never dismiss and ignore what we do not understand or agree with.

My wife recently purchased me a book (Kierkegaard and Theology by Murray Rae) for my birthday, and it is because she knows me so well, it is a tremendous blessing to finally read some justified understanding of Kierkegaard’s thoughts and words on what it means to be a Christian and how we can live authentically Christian. The book has eight chapters, and within those chapters are detailed in sub sections on Kierkegaard’s thoughts and beliefs on individual subjects such as; grace, atonement, consciousness of the self and many more. The third chapter is called “What it means to Become a Christian” where a few statements hit hard and challenged me to critique my own way of thinking about the faith that I hold.

One of the main reasons I hold such reverence for Kierkegaard is his ability to call out my own inauthentic beliefs. More specifically in recent years, I have become far more rationalistic in my approach to faith and the things of God.

Johannes Climacus was one of the pseudonym’s Kierkegaard wrote under, and he poses the question;

“How can I, Johannes Climacus, share in the happiness Christianity promises?”(1)

We cannot be a Christian by just following the crowd, Christianity is foremost concerned with the individual and their heart. We can look to the the question Jesus posed to the rich young man in Luke 18:18-25. “And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” To which Jesus offered no universal formula, but a challenge addressed to the young man’s point of greatest resistance (2): “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Murray Rae cohesively sums up Climacus’s (Kierkegaard’s) attack upon the methodology of Modernity upon Christianity:

“The first problem, he is well on the way to dealing with; it is the problem of Christendom, that cultural landscape in which it is supposed that everyone is Christian without having to do anything at all. Climacus, however, has discovered that Christianity requires something more of him. But what? Here the second obstacle proves much more difficult to overcome. It is the obstacle posed by the supposition of Modernity that everything must be reasonable, that we cannot commit ourselves to anything about which there is the least bit of reasonable doubt. The difficulty is, in Modernity, that setting aside one’s reason is every bit as scandalous as selling one’s possessions and distributing the money to the poor.” (3)

Following Jesus is what it means to be a Christian. Not to just believe in a set of objective propositions, but to set all of our reason to follow Christ wherever He calls us. Christianity is at war with our whole being, because we are about the “self”. We want to depend on our “autonomous reasoning” and nothing else. To believe with all certainty and no doubt. This is not the call of Christ. Trust Him, when all seems uncertain.

 

(1) Kierkegaard and Theology, Murray Rae

(2) Kierkegaard and Theology, Murray Rae

(3) Kierkegaard and Theology, Murray Rae

Alexander Pruss on a better way to argue the Kalaam. (Distinctions)

Crucial to the Kalaam argument is showing that the universe has only a finite past. A standard approach is:

If the universe has an infinite past, there is an actual infinite.
If an actual infinite is possible, Hilbert’s Hotel is possible.
Hilbert’s Hotel is impossible.
So, the universe doesn’t have an infinite past.
Apart from the real challenge, which is defending (3), there are at least three distracting difficulties here.
First, one needs to defend the often not very clear distinction between a potential infinite and an actual infinite.

Second, holding on to the argument while believing in an infinite future afterlife requires a very particular theory of time: the growing block theory. For consider the two alternatives: eternalism and presentism. On eternalism, future infinites are no less actual than past ones, and so an infinite future is just as much a problem as an infinite past. On presentism, neither past nor future infinites are actual, and premise (1) fails.

Third, the conditional in (2) is dubious. Not all actual infinites are of the same sort. An actual infinity of past events does not seem to be close enough to Hilbert’s Hotel—a present infinity of rooms—to allow inferring the possibility of the Hotel from the possibility of the past infinity.

Here is an alternative:

If the universe has an infinite past, a simultaneous infinity of objects is possible.
If a simultaneous infinity of objects is possible, Hilbert’s Hotel is possible.
HIlbert’s Hotel is impossible.
So, the universe doesn’t have an infinite past.
Advantages: We don’t need any murky distinction between actual and potential infinites, just the much clearer notion of a simultaneous infinite.[note 1] An infinite future is not an issue, and any theory of time can be plugged in. Finally, the move from a simultaneous infinity of objects to Hilbert’s Hotel in (6) is much more plausible than the corresponding move in (2). For if a simultaneous infinity of objects is possible, surely they could be shaped like rooms.

The one disadvantage, of course, is that (5) needs an argument. Here it is. If an infinite past is possible, surely it’s possible that at infinitely many past times an object came into existence that has not yet ceased to exist. But if that happened, there are now infinitely many objects, a simultaneous infinity.

Still, one might worry. How can we argue for the possibility of an object coming into existence at infinitely past times, given an infinite past? Well, we can imagine a law of nature on which when two particles collide they are annihilated into four particles, with correspondingly smaller individual mass-energy, and we can imagine that these particles by law cannot otherwise disappear. We can then suppose that there have always been such particles, and that during each of a past infinity of years there was at least one collision. Then that very plausibly possible story implies that there is a present infinity of particles.

I think the difficulties in arguing for (5) are far outweighed by the advantages of the simultaneous infinity formulation of the argument.”

Original post.

Stop introducing people to Jesus.

“All truth is God’s truth.”
-Augustine of Hippo

I want to ask you to stop introducing people to Jesus. This claim may be heresy to some, I want to assure you it’s not what you think. I’ve heard a few messages on at churches about “evangelism” and I am always left frustrated and disappointed. The messages are filled with terms like “boldness” and “confidence”, but often the message leaves you with everything but feeling bold and confident. The call is to share our story with others, deal wholly with the relational side of Christianity. While I do think that there is a place for this in our conversations with those we deal with on a daily basis, it should be one part of our evangelistic method, not the whole. I had a discussion once with someone within a church about why a message about evangelism had no mention of apologetics at all. The response was “Well, the Holy Spirit does all the work anyways…” This reply is baffling to me. If we were to follow this line of thinking logically, why do any evangelism at all? It makes no sense to rule out intellectual, reasoned dialogue as a part of our method. It side steps, and ignores the real problem with evangelism today. It shows the anti-intellectualism that has plagued our churches for a century, and is an enormous part of why we are losing the youth in and outside of the church. Francis Schaeffer puts it eloquently;

“I do not ask for answers, I just believe.” This sounds spiritual, and it deceives many fine people. These are often young men and women who are not content only to repeat the phrases of the intellectual or spiritual status quo. They have become rightly dissatisfied with a dull, dusty, introverted orthodoxy given only to pounding out the well-known clichés. The new theology sound spiritual and vibrant, and they are trapped. But the price they pay for what seems to be spiritual is high, for to operate in the upper story using undefined religious terms is to fail to know and function on the level of the whole man. The answer is not to ask these people to return to the poorness of the status quo, but to a living orthodoxy which is concerned with the whole man, including the rational and the intellectual, in his relationship to God.” (1)

We live in an age where modernity and scientism rule the minds of the skeptic. Even some within the church have accepted post-modernism as a viable form of philosophy in approaching the external world. As those who fought against the invasion of liberalism into interpreting Scripture and Christianity in the early part of the 20th century, we must deal with this problem in modern evangelism.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ makes this declaration to His disciples;

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20 NIV)

Our mission as Christians is first and foremost to make disciples of all nations. How are we to do this? Not just relaying the relational side of Christianity, but with a methodology. Evangelism, apologetics and apostolic ministry often go hand in hand. Take the Apostle Paul as our example. In Acts 17, Paul is provoked in his spirit, recognizing the idol worship within the city of Athens:

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to mthe Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” (Acts 17:16-20 ESV)

We see here that Paul had first dealt with the Jews and devout persons in the synagogue. He knew how to answer them, and in the following passage, Paul knows how to answer the Stoic philosophers, and those who aren’t Jewish.

“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being sLord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live yon all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” (Acts 17:22-26)

Paul met these people where they were. To a Jew he became a Jew, and so on. (1 Corinthians 9:20) I propose we take on what Paul had begun. Learn all that we can about what those around us believe, finding the truth of God in things we never thought we would. Philosophy plays a much bigger role in our thinking than we realize. Let us pursue proper thinking, argumentation, and expound it all with grace and kindness towards those who are opposed or questioning the faith (1 Peter 3:15). As followers of Christ, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. There needs to be a balance. Extremes either way do harm of properly presenting the Gospel message. Christ knew how to answer each person, as did Paul (Colossians 4:5,6). JP Moreland sums it up for us:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.”

(1) Schaeffer, Francis “The God Who Is There”, IVP Books 1968