Monday, 30 July 2012

Family membership and infant baptism

Steve Hays posts what he calls a "modest little argument for infant baptism".

Infant baptism, he says, is justified by the recognition that you are born into a church community. But infant communion is not thereby justified.

  1. The division is arbitrary. What kind of community calls you a member but does not allow you to take part in the community meals?
  2. Baptism means what Jesus says it means, and that is that is that it is a sign of discipleship/New Covenant membership. We're not free to play around with the definition, and make it a social ordinance as Hays proposes.
  3. The Bible teaches that initiation into the New Covenant is via the new birth. Hays, as all covenantal paedobaptists, is right to say that it's about family membership, and that it should be for all those born into the family. But the question is, which family - and how are we born into it? Hays and those like-minded, in this issue, are still camped out with Nicodemus.

"The Bible says it, therefore I believe it"

(Cross-posted at

Sal wonders why someone might say "the Bible said it, therefore I believe it", unless they are "supremely gullible".
This is an epistemological question. I approve of the formula, so I'll try and answer why.
Firstly, let's clear away some possible misunderstandings. The formula presupposes that the Bible really does say whatever the "it" is. Someone might choose to apply the formula to something the Bible doesn't say. The Bible teaches the world ended last Tuesday, therefore I believe it - except that, it doesn't. Those reading the Bible can be caught up in misunderstanding, misinterpreting, twisting, mistranslating, and the like. Such cases are not in view in this discussion.
Secondly, the formula presupposes that there really are things that the Bible does say, and which we should know it says. Some things are not a matter of personal interpretation, or so doubtful that we cannot say anything, whatever the canons of literary deconstruction say. The mother of Jesus was, according to the Bible, called Mary. Regardless of how much pomo-relativo juice you drink, you cannot validly read it to say that she was called Jezebel Mehetabel Bob Smith. Should the reader prefer to interpret the text that way, the reader is a loon.
Thirdly, we're not here discussing how someone personally moves to this position. Someone might not be sure why they might find the Bible reliable, or how to end up in such a position if you start from a position of skepticism. A Christian answer to that would bring in many further issues. The scope here though is how someone who does hold that position - whatever their journey was - could reasonably justify it, having arrived there.
OK, got that. We're thinking of something that we are supposing the Bible really did say. Why might someone - as I do - then proceed to say "therefore, I believe it?" and not need to add the corollary "coz I is supremely gullible, you know?"
Sal himself quoted Jesus two sentences later. The quote was out of context; Jesus was talking about miracles his hearers had personally witnessed, not about scientific experiments. But anyway, Sal seems to think that Jesus is someone we might take seriously. I'm not sure how far he'd go with that. But if you think that Jesus is the Son of God, and that his claims about himself, that he had come from the Father and his words were totally reliable because he had descended from heaven, then that's one place to begin. Jesus took the words of Scripture as totally reliable. Jesus himself took the position "the Bible said it, therefore I believe it." "The Scripture cannot be broken", John 10:35. "You are wrong, because you do not know the Scriptures" (Matthew 22:29).
He who says "A" and "B" must then say "C". Once someone takes the presupposition that the words of Jesus are supremely reliable, it follows that the Scriptures then have to be taken as supremely reliable. To be consistent, if you believe that Jesus' attitude to Scripture is reliably recorded in the gospel records, and if you believe that Jesus had a correct attitude to Scripture, then this becomes your position. The alternative is to be incoherent. If God is orderly and coherent, then his image-bearers should seek to be so too. QED.
Sal posits that we might take the Bible's statements as tentative, then test them out. How do you test them out?
Remember that the Bible itself claims to be the revelation of the mind of God. It is claiming to be a *final* authority. Where do you go after you have taken your case to the Supreme Court? Either the court really was supreme, or it wasn't. If there is another bench that sits afterwards, then it wasn't the Supreme Court after all.
If the Bible's statements can be taken to a higher authority to test - such as Sal's laboratory, or mine - then ipso facto, the Bible is already assumed to /not/ be what it claims to be. My or Sal's reasoning processes are being set up as a more reliable authority, and can be used to test it.
Either the Bible can sit in judgment on my reasoning processes and verify their veracity, or my reasoning processes can sit in judgment on the Bible and verify its veracity. But not both.
My position as a Christian is not that I can prove every statement in the Bible, or even most of them, to be true. Such a claim would actually be inconsistent with the view that the Bible is the final authority. By definition, your foundational presuppositions or (those things directly deducible from them) are not subject to further verification - or they would not in fact be foundational presuppositions. Rather, my position is that only taking the Bible as foundational can consistently make sense of everything else. C S Lewis asked why we believe that our night-time dreams are not the true world, rather than the one we spend the day in. How do we know that day-time is not the dream? How do we decide for sure which is the real world? He answered, because the real world makes sense of our dreams; whereas our dreams make sense of nothing. One gives a coherent account of the other. That's as far as you go in such questions, and normally it satisfies us. Christians believe in the triune God and in the Bible, not because we have a scientific proof of them; but because they make sense of the world, science and everything else whereas the alternative choices fall far short. Science makes sense within a Biblical world-view. There are coherent reasons for doing science and expecting sound results. But when I make myself the centre of my existence and epistemology, I end up being able to make sense of nothing. How do I know that the world is not just an illusion? Why expect the future to be in accordance with the past? There are reasons why science flourished within the soil of a Christian culture, when it had failed to do so amongst other those of world-views.
This is not special pleading. Sal appears to believe that his own reasonings and perhaps empirical tests can prove or disprove statements in the Bible. This means that Sal believes in the reliability of his own reasonings and tests, above that of the Bible. But why does he believe in them? What makes him think they are reliable? Has he verified them some other way? If so, then how was that "other way" itself verified?
If you keep pressing that process back, then eventually you have to come back to some foundation beyond which you cannot go. Unless you presuppose *something*, you cannot deduce *anything*. There must be a "this is where we start, and which we assume is true". The child's questions "why, why, why?" must eventually end with an answer "because it is so". The issue is not "why take the Bible as your foundation - doesn't this decide the issue in advance?" It's not a matter of taking a foundation or not. Our epistemology has to have *some* foundation. The only question is, "which one?". A man with zero prior assumptions can only end up with zero conclusions. If you have some conclusions, you must have had some foundational assumptions. So why not the Bible? Why believe in your own ultimate, final reliability above that of the Bible?
So, the only question to be decided is where we stop, not whether to stop. As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is that ultimately reliable stopping place. I myself am a fallen creature, and my reasoning processes are corrupt and not ultimately and finally reliable. They are biased, by my own ignorance and selfishness. I cannot make them the ultimate foundation of my thinking and living.
I hope this at least answers the question, why someone might use the formula "the Bible says it, therefore I believe it". I approve of that formula, not because I think of myself as supremely gullible, but because my aim is to bring my thoughts into submission to God's - rather than the other way around.
Nobody is claiming that agreeing with this assessment is an essential of Intelligent Design theory. But it surely helps conversation if we each understand why we are each saying the things we do. If we're convinced that scientism is a bogus epistemology, then what does a true one look like? "The Bible says it, therefore I believe it" gives me a basis for doing science personally; made in the image of God, in a logical and orderly creation, I can put some level of basic trust in my thought processes and observations - whilst maintaining a healthy skepticism, knowing my own fallibility. Where does Sal get such a belief from? Does he just hope that this is the way it is? (Don't tell me he's done some tests/had some past experience - that's viciously circular). I get what Sal assumes, for free, as a consequence of my foundational assumptions. "The Bible says it, therefore I believe it" is a sound epistemology, not a mark of being gullible.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Who has believed?

After nearly five years in Kenya, I ask myself many questions. One is, what are the characteristic sins of the people I work with? What is really preventing them from submitting to Christ?

The answer that comes back to me from the Scriptures is again and again from Isaiah 53:1 - "Lord, who has believed our report?"

There are many obvious sins of the people. Theft, lying and adultery are the most stark. Yet beyond these, the great and root sin that I see amongst the great bulk of the people I preach to is the same as it was in England. They don't believe the words that the word of God is telling them. As far as I can tell, they think they might be true, but not quite true enough to act upon. The implications of their being true worry them; but they do not move beyond worry to repentance or faith. The implications of discipleship are startling; too startling. The demands of Christ are large; too large.

The Old Testament prophets wept, as did the apostles (Romans 9:2). They wept because they saw multitudes of people queuing up for their own destruction, and refusing to listen to the warnings of the Word of God. As then, so today, they do it.

Except that, I really wonder if we weep today. After all, if the reality of the world's unbelief is too much, then there's always Twitter or the cinema or whatever to distract our minds from it. We can retreat into our favourite websites, or sport, etcetera. But that only means that we don't believe either. We also think that life should be much more comfortable than the gospel way promises us, and we want to have our cake later when Christ returns whilst also eating it now in the meantime. Where are today's weeping prophets? Who is there who actually believes the Bible and its implications for the unbelieving world of today?

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Pick your battles, know your purpose, trust your Lord

This news story prompts a thought on some of the wisdom that Jesus teaches:

One can easily understand the couple's point of view. To have so many people using a lay-by, within site of their front door, as a urinal irritated them deeply.

But in the view of the judge, this annoyance became an obsession. Objectively, they spent six figures upon it. And they lost.

Life is full of annoyances and petty grievances. The inconsiderate actions of others can build up until they feel like a running sore. And then they can eat up our thoughts, time and other resources.

Unsaved people have no anchor in life to give them stability through these various winds. They know of no ultimate over-riding narrative of reality that they are part of. They do not know themselves as soldiers in a cosmic warfare. They do not have a higher, uplifting force to help them rise above the troubles, overwhelming or petty, of life in a fallen world.

A Christian soldier on the other hand, can simply accept that the soldier's life will have various distractions, which are precisely that - distractions. They play upon our pride, that somehow we deserve an easy ride, and others should be smoothing the way. They should be handed over to God in prayer, and we should seek grace to practice a joyful, submissive response to them. You can accept that life in a fallen world cannot be fair, and that it is actually much better than sinners such as ourselves deserve; that our duty is not to see if others are making sure we have no annoyances, but rather to serve without questioning what rations and commissions our Lord gives us. We can believe that the risen Christ has given us jewels of far greater beauty than any passing troubles in the gospel, and that in the world to come all the inconveniences of the pilgrimage and warfare of this life will not even be memories, so far will they be gone. And if you find that you are too weak to rise above them in this manner, then you can move elsewhere and accept the temporary inconvenience of the move in exchange for removing the long-term distraction.

But if you and your little life is all there is, then you can instead launch a multi-year, multi-thousand-pound battle to make sure that nobody does what you do not approve of in a lay-by near your house. You can invest your life, money and health and then lose. And then what? Afterwards, the grave.

To know and follow Christ is better by far.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Yea, hath God really said?

I was passed that R T Kendall link in an email from "Christianity
Magazine" (UK) which I'm struggling to place.

But I don't think I'll be subscribing, unless I'm looking for material
to weep over.

DEAR MAGGIE: Even more sex questions

"I'm dating a Christian guy and we do not intend to have sex before
marriage. We've gone too far in the past,
far enough that I was worried I might have got pregnant. We dont
intend to do it again, but should I go on
contraception just in case? The thought of having a baby with
someone when we are not ready seems to be a
bigger concern than the idea that being on contraception would
encourage us to go further."

You raise some important issues here. You are right to take
incredibly seriously the responsibility of
conceiving life. You want a baby to come ideally into a secure and
forever relationship that has got the
foundations to cope with the demands of being shared with children.

It sounds as if you need to talk through together how committed you
are to not having sex before marriage,
and whether you are therefore safe to not go on any contraception.
Maybe condoms might be a middle ground
between going on some more permanent contraception such as the
pill, and having nothing at all. The act of
having to put on a condom will also give you a moment of
practicality to check if you are making the right
decision as a couple to go ahead with penetrative sex.

That's what Maggie says. Maggie "is director of Lifecentre Rape Crisis
Service and a psychosexual therapist".

Here's what God says: "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed
undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge", Hebrews
13:4. "Flee from sexual immorality", 1 Corinthians 6:18. "Do you not
know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be
deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers
nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the
greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the
kingdom of God" - 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. "8 But the cowardly, the
unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who
practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars their place will be in
the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."

Having a baby would be a big step, of course, and Maggie suggests that
whilst fornicating you deploy a condom to help you consider what it
would mean. Entering the lake of burning fire and sulphur would also be
a big step, but Maggie and the editors of "Christianity magazine"
managed to overlook that God said anything about that.

Beware of false teachers, said Jesus; they come to you in sheep's
clothing, but inside they are wolves, ready to destroy your souls.

R T Kendall's deeply mistaken "Forgiving God" teaching

R T Kendall wants to explain why we should "forgive God".

Forgive God? Has God done something wrong? Kendall replies, "I honestly do not believe God is guilty of doing anything wrong. He has nothing to answer for." Confused? Me too. In the English language, forgiveness is extended to wrong-doers. By definition, the person who needs to be forgiven is the person who has done wrong. The one who has done nothing wrong requires no forgiveness. The two concepts are opposites.

Kendall continues, "Why then do we need to forgive him?" That's coming to the point... what's the answer?

"First, we must not be governed by our limited perception of him – supposing that we are qualified to judge him;". Now, notice that this is a reason why we need to forgive God despite him having done nothing wrong. Again, the English language appears to have been turned on its head. If you accept the premise that you are not "qualified to judge" someone, then as night follows day, it follows that you have thus accepted that you cannot then decide to "forgive" that person either. If on the other hand you are "forgiving" someone, then you have already judged that that person stands in need of forgiveness.

Kendall appears to be using the word "forgive" not to mean "to pardon wrongdoing", as it means in English, but with a novel and contradictory meaning - "to accept what the other person has done, without necessarily evaluating whether what that person did was justified or not."

That was first. What is second?

"secondly, we forgive him not because he is guilty, but because we choose to affirm him as he is revealed in the Bible".

R T Kendall is a teacher of the church. Teachers are supposed to elucidate truth, not to obscure it. The only reason for forgiving someone is because we consider them guilty. As the Oxford English Dictionary says, "Definition of forgive: (with object) stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake." Since God is not guilty of any offences, flaws or mistakes, ergo there exists nothing to forgive him for.

What is revealed about God in the Bible? Reading through Kendall's article, he affirms the orthodox truth that God is too wise to make mistakes and too loving to not do what is best for his children. Again, this second point appears to teach and reveal nothing to us, except that Kendall has chosen to give a novel new meaning to the concept of "forgive". He appears to realise that his reader will know the usual meaning of that word, because he has to clarify - "not because he is guilty". The reader realises that "forgiveness" implies "guilt". So the meaning of the redefinition needs explaining.

But explaining esoteric and personal redefinitions of Biblical terms is not Bible teaching. It's just parading your idiosyncrasies and drawing attention to yourself, to the confusion of the flock.

"and thirdly, we must set him free – letting him totally off the hook – until the day arrives when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11)."

We must "set him free"? What does that mean? Apparently it means "letting him totally off the hook". But what hook is this? Since Kendall has conceded that God is not guilty of anything, then there is no hook.

Where does this "freedom", or lack of it (the "hook") exist? Is it an objective one, or a subjective one? That is, is God really on trial to legitimate accusations by his rebellious and depraved creatures? Or is it some kind of psychological state that only exists inside us that we need to release ourselves from by changing our own twisted conception of God? Kendall does not make this point immediately clear in the above article. The gloss at the end of the sentence, "until the day arrives when every knee shall bow (etc.)" does not appear to shed any light at first, and its function in the sentence is not clear (how would the sentence's meaning be altered if we simply changed it for "until the end of time"?)

As Kendall unfolds his teaching, the answer is apparently "both". You need to forgive God "because of what it will do for you". Failing to forgive God will make you bitter. Secondly, "because of what it will do for him." What this means, in Kendall's explanation, is that God will be really pleased that you are not bitter any more. Thirdly, Kendall explains the meaning of the end of his sentence. On the final day of judgment, God will show the world that he was right all along; he will vindicate himself. This appears to imply that God really is on the hook objectively - that the issue is that he is being accused of wrong-doing. Here, Kendall shows his confusion again; though he's re-defined "forgive" to mean "accept what he's done", he's now equivocating with its actual meaning, "pardon an offender", and ending up with some kind of hybrid: we accept what he's done, because later he'll prove to us that he is not an offender.

I see no Biblical evidence that the purpose of the day of judgment is for God to prove that he is not an offender. Quite the reverse: the day of judgment *pre-supposes* that God is the righteous judge who will sit to judge the actual offenders. God is not the one on trial on the day of judgment. The Biblical doctrine of forgiveness has nothing to do with waiting until that day for him to be vindicated.

Interpreted to its logical conclusions, Kendall's use of this kind of language is blasphemous. The article makes clear enough that Kendall does not himself interpret it these conclusions. Much of the words in his article could be helpfully re-employed in an article about God's sovereignty and our response to it. Nevertheless, he is guilty of a perverted and confusing use of language, for no good reason. That is not at all to minimise the offence, because with teachers, language is their primary tool to use in instructing God's flock. I don't know what is motivating Kendall to do this, but it is shameful. With light-bearers like these, who needs people to confuse us?

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Mathematics and technology

I love mathematics. I love technology. Therefore I agree wholeheartedly with this piece, which explains that there are no technological shortcuts in the learning of mathematics, and many technological hindrances.

Good quote: "earned fluency is the only way to understanding". A calculator can tell you the answer; but plenty of hard work with pencil and paper is the way to understand the answer. Confusing those two concepts is fatal.

On the subject of mathematics, here's a link to an article I wrote a few years ago, "Creation and Mathematics".

The state of the purported reconstruction of animal body-plan evolution

“Higher-level animal phylogenetics is hot. Unprecedented funding opportunities, increasingly sophisticated phylogenetic methods, and an accelerating avalanche of new data have combined to make new phylogenies welcome fodder for our revered scientific tabloids. One thing the resulting phylogenetic forest has brought into sharp relief is that never before have we been faced with such conspicuous gaps between the body plans of closest relatives. Barring fortuitous discoveries from the fossil record, many or most of these gaps can be expected to be permanent. With our imagination as the only available bridge across these gaps, it seems inescapable that our scenarios of body plan evolution will remain forever precariously poised on the narrow edge between fact and fantasy.”

Dr Ronald Jenner - taken from the publicity material for a lecture given by Dr Jenner entitled ‘Please mind the gaps: fact and fantasy in the reconstruction of animal body plan evolution’ at the Natural History Museum, London, 29 June 2012.

Some free advice for raving anti-creationists

Paul Garner offers some free advice for the more hysterical portion of the Internet's Darwinist contingent:

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Creationism debate

A debate between two accomplished young earth and old earth creationists.

The terms "old" and "young" are of course mutually relative. The earth is only exactly as young as it is, and as old as the Bible says it is!

Banks and governments

I was glad to see Dominic Lawson making the points made here:

Does the command "thou shalt not steal" cease when you cross the line from private sector to state?

In modern secularist thinking, the answer is basically "yes". The state is god, and is above the law.

Thus, modern states' accounting systems are replete with schemes which, as Lawson points out, would very quickly put the despised bankers in jail.

Why is it that politicians are so quick to point out these faults in bankers? Surely they protest too much.

What I find regrettable is that too many Christians in the UK have apparently swallowed the secularist assumption (that the state is divine and not subject, even at a basic level, to the laws it imposes on others). Lawson is not a Christian commentator. Why are Christians not pointing out that modern government accounting contains a large dose of practices that, when others partake in it, are considered both immoral and criminal?