Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Critical Appraisal of Anselm’s Ontological Argument

One of the most powerful arguments for the existence of God can be found in Anselm’s work, “Faith Seeking Understanding.” This work was later retitled Proslogium by Anselm, which means, A Discourse. The Proslogium is actually a prayer or meditation on God and the divine attributes. In it Anselm sets out an argument for the existence of God that is still recognized by many, as the most insightful and intellectually challenging argument of it’s kind by many philosophers and theologians. In this meditation, Anselm begins by acknowledging that God gives understanding to faith and humbly requests that God graciously grant him understanding as to the nature of the divine being. And so, Lord, do thou, who dost give understanding to faith, give me, so far as thou knowest it to be profitable, to understand that thou art as we believe; and that thou art that which we believe.[1] Now, what kind of being does Anselm, presumably speaking on behalf of the Church, believe that God is?And, indeed, we believe that thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.[2] From this Anselm argues that there is then a being than which none greater can be conceived that exists in the understanding. However, Anselm then acknowledges that it is one thing for something to exist in the understanding and quite another for it to exist in reality. The move is from our understanding a being than which none greater can be conceived, to the existence of such a being at least in our understanding. For if we can understand something, then it at least exists in the understanding. Even the fool is convinced of this much.

Anselm’s next move is to claim that a being than which none greater can be conceived cannot exist in the understanding alone. For if it can exist in the understanding alone, then it can be conceived to exist in reality, which is greater. Now, if that than which none greater can be conceived actually exists in the understanding alone, then there is a being in reality that is greater than that which cannot be conceived because to exist in reality is greater than to exist in the understanding alone. But this is clearly impossible. From this position, Anselm moves to his conclusion that there is a being than which none greater can be conceived and this being exists both in the understanding and in reality. And this being we call God.

Anselm then moves to the premise, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, can be conceived not to exist, it is not that than which nothing greater can be conceived. This very idea is a clear contradiction in Anselm’s mind and therefore, it is obvious, as the argument goes, that the being than which none greater can be conceived exists and it is inconceivable for this being not to exist. God cannot be conceived not to exist. God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived. That which can be conceived not to exist is not God. No one who understands God’s being truly can truly conceive that God does not exist.

Malcolm understands Anselm as saying that “something is greater if it is both conceived of and exists than if it is merely conceived of.”[3] The issue here is whether or not the statement can be taken at face value. Why does a thing’s existence in reality make it greater than it’s existence in the understanding alone? Anselm seems to be saying that existence in this world is greater than existence only in concept. The assumption is that existence is a perfection of sorts. However, Malcolm defends Anselm by claiming it isn’t existence per se, but necessary existence that is a perfection. It is the logical impossibility of the being’s non-existence that makes it a being than which none greater can be conceived. The atheist’s denial of God shows that God at least exists in the atheist’s understanding. Hence, the atheist is already on the slippery slope of the ontological argument the moment he denies God’s existence.

I think there are some seriously flaws in the ontological argument that are worth observation. The first issue I have with the argument is that is seems to rest on subjective grounds. The idea that there is a being greater than which none can be conceived rests on the ground of the subjective imagination of each individual. How can we tell if my conception and your conception are the same? Moreover, how can we tell whether my understanding of maximal greatness is the same as your understanding of maximal greatness. It seems that some idea of maximal greatness must exist prior to the argument, and hence, the argument is actually assuming what it endeavors to prove.

Additionally, it seems to me that one must assume God priori to arguing for God as far as the ontological argument goes. The concepts of omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection obviously have their source in God rather than to lead us to the conclusion of God. One has to wonder if we could ever get to the ontological argument apart from presupposing God from the start. I am very doubtful.

Moreover, it seems to me that as human beings, we must acknowledge that our understanding is finite. Our ability to conceive of a being is naturally limited. Who is to say that our concept is the proper judge of God as a being than which none greater can be conceived? It would seem that the human understanding would naturally place some limits on the being of God and that there could be a being that is actually greater than God but that the human mind would not be able to conceive. The incomprehensibility of God demonstrates this to be the case. It seems then that a finite mind cannot be trusted as the source for discovering the most infinite of being we call God.

The greatest weakness in Anselm’s argument is the fact that it depends on human contemplation. Thinking, as it were, is a subjective experience. The act of contemplation differs from person to person. So long as the argument is at the mercy of finite human contemplation, I could imagine that just about any sort of argument could be made using the form of the ontological argument regardless of how absurd it might be. Thinking that God exists in the understanding, and in the actual world is still a mental act. Mental acts are limited to mental images. A human’s ability to create mental images is a weak argument from which to argue for God’s existence. Gaunilo’s lost Island is a good example. My ability to conceive of the perfect lost Island does not at all mean that such an island exists or must exist. This leads me to my last point. The ontological argument, grounded in the mind of man as it is, is grounded in the depraved mind of depraved men. The argument assumes a neutral disposition of the human mind where the God of Christian theism is concerned and we know that Scripture affirms that no such neutrality exists. And if Scripture affirms no such neutrality exists, then such neutrality is impossible. Moreover, God is not something very broad as the ontological argument imagines, but rather, He is a being that is very specifically something and unless we speak of that narrow God spoken of in Scripture, then we are speaking of no god at all.

In the end then, it seems to me that the ontological argument only works with the Christian mind that has already had God revealed to it in such a way that to think of the non-existence of God is simply impossible. In other words, the ontological argument works, but only within a distinctly Christian, and presuppositional framework.

[1] Saint Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury and Sidney Norton Deane, Proslogium; Monologium; An Appendix, In Behalf of the Fool, by Gaunilon; and Cur Deus Homo (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 7.
[2] Ibid, 7.
[3] Baruch A. Brody, ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Religion: An Analytic Approach, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, ©1992), 101.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Unpopular Christianity

Jesus said to the crowd at the “Sermon on the Mount” that the gate that leads to eternal life is narrow. He said that there would be few people who find that gate and subsequently, find eternal life. (Matt. 5:13-14) Greek and Roman writers fairly often employed the image of the two paths in life.[1] Such thinking receives its fair amount of scorn in modern, western cultures. What is more, much of that scorn comes from the religious community. Such thinking is continually viewed as legalistic, hypocritical, and often associated with the sect of religious leaders known as the Pharisees. But these are the words of Jesus Christ Himself. In addition, Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people who were primarily religious. Yet, according to Jesus, most of this crowd was lost. Most Jewish people in Jesus’ day were religious; respecting God and keeping his commandments were important parts of their culture.[2] We can relate to this sort of culture in America. Our country is filled with churches like this and our churches are filled with people like this. They do not drink beer, fornicate, commit adultery, lie (at least not really big lies), or commit a variety of other sins they think are the worse kind of sins. They have never been born again. They think they are morally good and therefore that makes them a Christian.

There is another component now filling our churches. This element thinks that Scripture is simply a good guide in that it points in a certain moral direction but that it should not be taken overly-literally, even in its prohibitions. These are the people who divorce their husbands and wives at will when they feel they have the ground to do so. They are the churches filling their pulpits with female pastors who denounce and deny God’s ordained role for women. These are the people who think there is nothing necessarily wrong with abortion and who suggest one can be gay and Christian. Essentially, they destroy the Christian standard revealed in Scripture and replace it with one that meets with their preferences. They deny the exclusive claims of Christ, believing that eternal judgment is an outdated doctrine. In their mind, Jesus was not talking about eternal judgment but rather, temporal happiness. For them, it is merely an attitudinal issue that Jesus was concerned about. Christianity is about loving your neighbor in precisely the terms they would define them. Christianity is about social causes, racial issues, gay marriage, income equality, gun control, utopia in the here and the now. Christianity is more of a socio-political movement than it is a supernatural religion making outrageous claims about morality and eternal judgment. After all, that is the stuff that bigots are made of.

Second, this unpopular Christianity, as opposed to pop-Christianity, is something the world actually hates. Jesus did not say that if Christians would be just the right kind of Christians that the world would come flocking to Christ. I realize that men in the emergent church and in Rick Warren’s seeker-sensitive model and Andy Stanley’s psychological version think that Christ is just about relationships and that if we just show people we care, they will want Christ and all that He offers. Where that nonsense comes from I am not sure. I am sure however, that it does not come from biblical exegesis. That much is not difficult to ascertain. Jesus said to His disciples that all men because of the name of Jesus would hate them. (Matt. 10:22) Now, if we listen to men like Perry Noble, Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, and Joel Osteen, we are led to believe that if we are doing it the way Jesus told us to do it, then the world would flock to our churches in groves, literally tens of thousands of people would pound the doors down wanting this Jesus we have to offer. Moreover, we are told that if the world hates you and rejects your message; that the reason is in how we deliver that message. You’ve heard it: man, you just turn people off with that repentance stuff. That kind of preaching just doesn’t work. You need to get with the times if you want your message and your church to be relevant. Yet, in stark contrast to this, Jesus told His disciples not to stop doing what they are doing when men hate them, despise them, and say evil things against them falsely, but rather, to rejoice that they are considered worthy to suffer for His name’s sake. Biblical Christianity is despised by the world while pop-Christianity is embraced by the world and despised by Christ.

Finally, unpopular Christianity brings division and controversy. Jesus said that He did not come to bring peace on the earth. Rather, Jesus came to bring division. (Lu. 12:51) Those who think that Jesus came in order to make it so that we could all stand around, holding hands, and singing “We are the world” while ignoring our serious theological differences (such as exclusion, homosexuality, illicit divorce, Christology, the Nature of Scripture, et al) exhibit a profound ignorance of the very words spoken by Jesus Himself. Biblical Christianity is a profoundly unpopular, and from a worldly standpoint, an intensely disturbing religion. Biblical Christianity leaves no stone unturned. It leaves no behavior to human autonomy. It demands that everything that we are and do be subject to the Creator of all that is. Nothing is left to itself. There is no independence. The idea of individual “rights” simply does not exist in such a system. The demands of the Christ of Scripture are higher than any demands any man could place on himself. The Christian dictum that one must die to oneself if one is to find life is at the heartbeat of Biblical Christianity. It is any wonder why such a system would be so unpopular among the world? It is for this very reason that only those that are the objects of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit do actually come to embrace this profoundly unpopular religion. Who, in their right mind, would ever want to die their own self?

Popular Christianity in the west and especially in the Americas has become a religion that is, in a strict sense, unknown to Scripture and Scripture unknown to it. For decades this religion has denied the authority of Scripture, changed the image of God, perverted the teachings of Christ, and removed every offense from Scripture it could find. Popular Christianity is little more than a psychological subscription to moralistic principles derived from the image of God within man, modified of course, by each individual’s preferences. For some, it is little more than having a clubhouse of friends to chat with on Sundays. For others, it is a means to positive thinking, to better parenting, to career enhancement, and to a better over all self-esteem, albeit entrenched in a subtle self-righteousness that resides hidden deep within, but, nevertheless is at the core of it’s philosophy.

Jesus said he who loves his life will lose it and he who hates his life will find it. (Jn. 12:25) Jesus said if you were of the world, the world would love you. But because I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you! (Jn. 15:19) So, Christian, if the world hates you, then rejoice! But if the world loves you, you must be the world too.

[1] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI;  Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 250.
[2] Ibid., 251.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Time Magazine: Inside the Evangelical Fight over Gay Marriage

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post that was highly critical of the Southern Baptist Ethics team hosting a conference on the subject of gay marriage. Specifically, I was critical of the tone set by the conference. I felt it sent the wrong message at a time when Evangelicals need their leaders to send a strong message of opposition based on truth and delivered in love. I was upset with Dr. Al Mohler (a man whom I deeply love and admire) and the appearance that secret meetings, between Mohler and Matthew Vines communicated, and the fact that other secret meetings between certain groups of proponents of gay Christianity and the Southern Baptist Ethics team members. The main thrust of my criticism was that the overall message of the conference was confused. I said then that others in secular media would interpret that conference differently. I said that Christians needed to be reassured that their continual battle for the truth and in this case against the onslaught of gay Christianity was precisely what God would expect from them. Christians needed to know that their leaders were with them, and that, without doubt, without hesitation, and without wavering. My main concern was that this conference would fuel the flames of secular media and give them the ammunition they are looking for to at least cast doubt on the Evangelical resolve against gay Christianity. According to a recent article in Time Magazine, my concerns were right on target.

The article points to Matthew Vines as a gay Evangelical activist and the work he is doing in this area. Now, we could say that Matthew Vines is about as Evangelical as the pope. We could say that Matthew Vines is not a true believer. We could say that Vines’ rejection of the divine revelation is a rejection of God speaking and acting in His divine self-disclosure. We could say that Matthew Vines is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And we should be saying all these things. We should be affirming all these things. And we should be saying these things in love, but with the deepest sense of urgency and forcefulness as we can. Matthew Vines does not know Christ. He is outside the Christian community and his work is not to be praised but to be destroyed without reserve, and without mercy. We must stand ready and hopeful that God will grant him repentance and should that happen, we would receive him into our community with open arms. But make no mistake about it: the work that Vines is engaged in is as satanic as any work could be. His aim is the destruction of Biblical Christianity without apology, without hesitation, and without mercy. You have a grave problem in your thinking if you believe that Vines work can be categorized in any way other than satanic deception at it’s core.

It is for this reason that I was so incredibly alarmed by Al Mohler’s agreement to meet with Vines and then to refuse to be transparent about the nature of that meeting. If Mohler wanted to meet with Vines privately, then the fact of the meeting should have been private as well. No one should have known about it except those closest to Vines and Mohler. Why? No one should know because it gives the impression of gay Christianity’s progress into the most conservative ranks of Evangelicalism. It opens the door to the speculation, as the Time Magazine article said, that the last dominoes against gay marriage are falling. And those of us who are out here in the real world standing for truth need men like Mohler NOT to do anything that might even come close to leaving people like Time with that impression. If we know about the meeting, we should know about the exchange. I believe Dr. Mohler called Vines to repentance. I believe Dr. Mohler said all the right things to Vines behind closed doors. But I want others, outside our camp, to believe that also.

At a minimum, the conference should have reinforced the Christian position openly, and without any hint that any sort of weakening is taking place. Optimally, the conference should have either NOT taken place or its focus should have been elsewhere. Do we really need to have meetings about gay Christianity or gay marriage? Are these subjects really up for discussion? I can understand a conference designed to help Christians better understand and articulate a defense for the Christian position. I can understand a conference designed to answer the nonsense we read in books published by men like Vines. Such a conference would be very encouraging and very useful. Perhaps there was some of this at that conference. But there were gay activists at the conference and they were extended the privilege of private meetings. These are not people who are sincerely misled who are truly searching for help with what God says about gay sex. No one needs help to understand what God says about gay sex outside of providing the incredibly clear Scriptures on the subject. These people spend their life looking for ways around those texts. Christians, at least those of us living in the West have allowed the modern phenomenon of political correctness to do its work in our minds. Rather than see these things as the damnable servants of demons that they are, and rather than seeing these men as the wolves and vile perverts that they are, we tidy the language up and it leaves the impression that the attempt to destroy Christianity isn’t so bad, and neither are the people involved in the effort. Either that, or we are so dim-witted and dull that we do not see gay Christianity as the obliteration of Biblical Christianity. We treat the teaching as if it is a small matter of disagreement and we treat those pushing it as if they are sincere people only wanting God’s best for everyone involved. They are ministers of Satan sent out to deceive and to damn the souls of as many men and women as they can. And that is how we should view them.

No, there is no such thing as the Evangelical acceptance of gay Christianity because there is no such thing as gay Christianity. Secular media interprets evangelical churches accepting gay marriage and gay Christianity as the evangelical acceptance of these things. It is not. Rather, it is evangelical churches making a conscious decision NOT to be evangelical any longer. If a church were to convert to Islam would we say that Christianity is adopting Muslim beliefs as part of it’s Christianity or would we say that that particular church is defecting from Christianity? We certainly would say that latter.

Acts 20:29 false teachers that bring false teachings are described as savage wolves. In 2 Cor. 11:13-15, false teachers are described as false apostles, deceitful workers, and servants of Satan. In 2 Cor. 10:3-5, Paul paints the vivid picture of how Christians are to deal with teachers that oppose and contradict Christ. He says we are to stop at nothing short of destroying those speculations and ungodly thoughts. Why is it then that we extend an olive branch to deceitful messengers, servants of Satan, and rather than obliterating their vile doctrines, we treat their teachings with some sort of respect, courtesy, dignity if you will? No one is suggesting that we burn people at the stake here. But at a minimum, they must be put out of the community and refused a seat at any table so long as their goal is to talk about accepting those things that God clearly damns and condemns. We have no right to do otherwise.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Religious Bigotry in the South & Open Racism in the North

Once more, we see American culture moving in the direction of a distinctly hostile, secular vantage point where Christian theism is concerned. I don’t know if we have simply lost our minds or if leaders in major US cities are just as wicked and pernicious and they appear to be. Two mayors from prominent American cities have created serious controversies in recent weeks.

Atlanta mayor, Kasim Reed has fired long time firefighter and recent fire chief, Kelvin Cochran because he wrote a book expressing his agreement with historic Christian beliefs concerning sexual morality. Specifically, in one small section in his book, Cochran agreed with the Christian value that asserts that all sexual activity should be between a husband and a wife and that all sexual behavior outside of those parameters is immoral and sinful. Apparently, a militant lesbian complained to the militant LBGT group that imposes its will on weak-minded politicians like Reed, and this led to Cochran losing his job. I hope the good people of Atlanta respond with a firing of their own when the elections come around. These are precisely the kind of spineless and godless leaders that sink a culture into the sewers of immorality.

In the north, the contrast could not be more glaring. The Syracuse mayor has appointed Mark Muhammad to the school board. The only problem with Mr. Muhammad is that he is representative of the Nation of Islam. There is hardly a more biased, hate-filled, racially divisive and polarizing organization in the country than the Nation of Islam. It is impossible to be a rep for the Nation of Islam without at the same time being an overt racist. I hope the good people of the city of Syracuse, NY come to their senses in the next election and choose a better, more sensible, reasonable leader than mayor Stephanie Miner.

In one city in America, we are firing a good man on the ground that someone does not like that he is a Christian and dared to express Christian beliefs in a book he authored, while in another city we are placing a man who is a representative of one of the most racist groups in American culture in a position to influence the education system. Indeed, the standard deviation for good sound judgment among American leaders is exceptionally high.

What is a Christian living in America to do? How should we think about these things? What should we say about these things? First of all, we most certainly should not be anxious about any of the persecution or ungodly judgment we experience and observe in American culture. Our God is King over all the Earth and nothing happens that He has not decreed. Scripture informs us not to fear their intimidation (1 Peter 1:14. We are to prepare ourselves for moments like these so that we may offer up a readied response, providing a reason for the hope that is in us. We must always remember that all humans are cut from the same cloth. We were once enemies of God as well, hardened in our hearts, and filled with lust, deceit, arrogance, and idolatry. But God graciously reconciled us to Himself through the work of Christ at the cross.

Jesus commanded us to rejoice and take great joy and comfort in the fact that we are persecuted unjustly for His name’s sake (Matt. 5:11). He did not instruct us to take over the culture, to fix it or to put together some ingenious strategy to correct it somehow. He did instruct us to faithfully confront the sin of our culture with the gospel of repentance. We are to go along making disciples and proclaiming the gospel. Christ should be shining forth from our lives daily, both in how we live, and in what we say. American culture is clearly becoming more hostile to Christ. But so too is the pseudo-church of American culture. The pseudo-church promotes human autonomy, denies biblical authority, mocks divine revelation, and promotes fleshly values from top to bottom, and adopts and embraces godless American ideologies.

We must take aim at sin and at error wherever it exists and speak the truth boldly, lovingly, sternly, and without compromise. God does not offer Christ to the world as a wonderful choice or as an alternative that will make life richer, fuller, and more meaningful. God demands that His creation repent and submit to His Lordship without question or hesitation. And our God will not be mocked. Truly, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

How are you interacting with American culture, with your local community, in your local church? Are you diligent in your search for truth? Are you passionate in your defense of truth? Are you unapologetic in your communication of the truth? Or, like so many others, are you lethargic in your relationship with truth? Would you rather wear shorts, flip flops, and a t-shirt, sit back, relax your brain, take in some Christian rock, and have a pastor with more flare than faith tell you how awesome you are every week?

Does Ephesians Five Really Tell Wives to Submit to their Husbands? Responding to DTS Professor, Darrell Bock and Sandra Gahn

With all the rage over feminist issues going on as a result of the #MeToo movement, it isn’t shocking that pastors and professors holdi...