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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes

Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Who is God? Infinite, Personal, Transcendent

In his masterful book The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, James Sire begins by explaining Christian theism, and there he starts with the basic attributes of God. As Sire notes, it used to be that everyone knew what the concept of God was within the western world, but that cannot be taken as true any more. People think they know what the concept of the Christian God entails, but they either misunderstand or leave out key characteristics. In the passage below, Sire offers a definition of the God of the Bible and then unpacks it:
Prime reality is the infinite, personal God revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This God is triune, transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good.

Let's break this proposition down into its parts.

God is infinite. This means that he is beyond scope, beyond measure, as far as we are concerned. No other being in the universe can challenge him in his nature. All else is secondary. He has no twin but is alone the be-all and end-all of existence. He is, in fact, the only self-existent being," as he spoke to Moses out of the burning bush: "I AM WHO I AM" (Ex 3:14). He is in a way that none else is. As Moses proclaimed, "Hear, 0 Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD" (Deut 6:4 KJV). SO God is the one prime existent, the one prime reality and, as will be discussed at some length later, the one source of all other reality.

God is personal. This means God is not mere force or energy or existent "substance." God is personal. Personality requires two basic characteristics: self-reflection and self-determination. In other words, God is personal in that he knows himself to be (he is self-conscious) and he possesses the characteristics of self-determination (he "thinks" and "acts").

One implication of the personality of God is that he is like us. In a way, this puts the cart before the horse. Actually, we are like him, but it is helpful to put it the other way around at least for a brief comment. He is like us. That means there is Someone ultimate who is there to ground our highest aspirations, our most precious possession-personality. But more on this under proposition 3.

Another implication of the personality of God is that God is not a simple unity, an integer. He has attributes, characteristics. He is a unity, yes, but a unity of complexity.

Actually, in Christian theism (not Judaism or Islam) God is not only personal but triune. That is, "within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three 'persons' who are neither three gods on the one side, not three parts or modes of God on the other, but coequally and coeternally God." The Trinity is certainly a great mystery, and I cannot even begin to elucidate it now. What is important here is to note that the Trinity confirms the communal, "personal" nature of ultimate being. God is not only there-an actually existent being; he is personal and we can relate to him in a personal way. To know God, therefore, means knowing more than that he exists. It means knowing him as we know a brother or, better, our own father.

God is transcendent. This means God is beyond us and our world. He is otherly. Look at a stone: God is not it; God is beyond it Look at a man: God is not he; God is beyond him. Yet God is not so beyond that he bears no relation to us and our world. It is likewise true that God is immanent, and this means that he is with us. Look at a stone: God is present. Look at a person: God is present. Is this, then, a contradiction? Is theism nonsense at this point? I think not.

My daughter Carol, when she was five years old, taught me a lot here. She and her mother were in the kitchen, and her mother was teaching her about God's being everywhere. So Carol asked, "Is God in the living room?"

"Yes," her mother replied.

"Is he in the kitchen?"

God's goodness means then, first, that there is an absolute and personal standard of righteousness (it is found in God's character) and, second, that there is hope for humanity (because God is love and will not abandon his creation). These twin observations will become especially significant as we trace the results of rejecting the theistic worldview.1
One point that Sire makes in his summation at the top that he didn't draw out beneath is that God is the prime reality of all things. So many people today make the mistake of including God within some larger reality of existence. That's what fosters questions like "If God is the answer to 'who made the universe' then who made God?" That's a category error. God is the starting point. Without God, existence doesn't even make sense.

I highly recommend Sire's book. It's a great way to understand how worldviews affect not only how one views God, but how it changes the way one interprets all of reality.


Sire, James W. The Universe next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. Print. 28-30.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Make Your Thanksgiving Meaningful: A Collection of Writings

Thanksgiving is a unique holiday in the United States. It recognizes and promotes religious observance in the form of thanking God for His provision not only for our personal lives but for our nation as a whole. In reality, the United States is still a nation of people who hold the spiritual in high regard. You can see that by reviewing some of the past proclamations by our elected representatives as well as how Thanksgiving came to be a recognized holiday in America.

While I'm sure some atheist factions have complained about the supposed conflict between church and state on this one, none have been able to effectively challenge the holiday in a meaningful manner. However, what the atheists have not been able to accomplish, the merchants very well may.

Below, I've collected many of the Thanksgiving observations, quotes, and reflections to help you find the true meaning of the holiday. I personally make sure I reflect and thank God for all he has done for me and blessed me with in the past years and in the years to come.

Reflecting on the Meaning of Thanksgiving

Past Thanksgiving Proclamations

How We're Losing the Thanksgiving Tradition

From all of us at Come Reason, have a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

William Bradford on the Spirit of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and across the nation, people will be gathering and reflecting on the blessings they've had over the year. Such a tradition goes all the way back to the very first Pilgrims who had far less to be thankful for. William Bradford, the leader of the Plymouth Colony, wrote in his diary just how large the toll was upon the settlers at Plymouth. Reflecting on the hardships of that first year, he writes:
But here I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand half amazed at this poor people's present condition; and so I think will the reader too, when he well considers the same. Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembered by that which went before), they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor. It is recorded in scripture as a mercy to the apostle and his shipwrecked company, that the barbarians showed no small kindness in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians, when they met with them (as after will appear) were readier to fill their sides full of arrows then otherwise. And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men? …

Let it also be considered what weak hopes of supply and succor they left behind them, that might bear up their minds in this sad condition and trials they were under; and they could not but be very small. It is true, indeed, the affections and love of their brethren at Leyden was cordial and entire towards them, but they had little power to help them, or themselves; and how the case stood between them and the merchants at their coming away, hath already been declared. What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace?

May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: "Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity, etc. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry, and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men.1
Of the 102 passengers that boarded the Mayflower for the new world, 51 died prior to that first Thanksgiving. 2 There were only seven dwellings erected the first year3, meaning the Pilgrims dug seven times more graves than built houses, yet they give thanks to God for "his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men." Something to remember as you give thanks.


1. Bradford, William. "Of Plymouth Plantation: 1620-1647." The Plymouth Colony Archive Project. Patricia Scott Deetz and Christopher Fennell, 26 April 2003. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
2. "List of Mayflower Passengers Who Died in the Winter of 1620–21." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
3. Gale, Nahum. The Pilgrims' First Year in New England. Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, 1857. Print. 145.
Image courtesy and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is There Such a Thing as Rational Faith?

 A woman once told me "It doesn't really matter which religion you follow; if you're sincere, your beliefs are just as valid as mine." She struck me as a very genuine person in her view, but she was dead wrong. Sincerity never makes a belief true. Sincerity has merit, but one can be sincerely wrong. Her beliefs clashed with logic, and what she needed was a logical faith.

What is a logical faith? Is it possible to even reconcile those ideas? Society views people who can be rational in difficult situations as heroic, intelligent and in control. However, in matters of faith we seem to put up a wall, segregating the virtue of logical thought from the earnestness of religion. We tend to hold a view that reason and faith are much like oil and water and can't be mixed. But that is only because people think that logical reasoning will undermine their beliefs. If this is so, it's possible they might not have a good reason for their faith. 

I maintain there is no good reason for holding any belief system, save one. A person should believe something only if it's true. What good does it do someone to hold a belief if it's not the way things really are? A person can't be proud of believing what doesn't correspond with reality. If I told you I still believe in Santa Claus you might smile, pat me on the head and say, "Dear boy, that's nice" but you'd never take me seriously. If I refuse to let go of a belief even though it doesn't match reality, then you'd rightly conclude I'm deluding myself.

At this point some may say "Yes, but you don't understand that truth is relative. My truth is different from your truth, and these things are true for me." This kind of statement sounds good on the surface but when you really examine it, it makes no sense. For one thing, people cannot hold this view consistently. They still have to look both ways before they cross the street. Their reality may not include the car that's barreling toward them, but they're going to get hit nonetheless. That's what reality does—it affects our lives whether we want it to or not.

Now all religions are in the business of making truth-claims. Religion seeks to accurately describe God, the world, and our relationship to them. If each religion is about truth, then we should be able to examine their claims and see which ones hold up. Good belief systems tend to make good sense and have good evidence, and they can withstand thoughtful, honest examination. If a belief system falls apart under scrutiny, then it probably wasn't true.

For instance, some people believe all faiths are equally valid and they all are using different labels for the same God. Is this statement true? Hinduism believes in millions of gods while Judaism and Christianity believe in only one God. Both beliefs can't be true. One denies the other and therefore at least one must be wrong. That means all faiths cannot lead to the same God. If some people still maintain they do, they might as well still believe in Santa Claus. That's why the woman I told you about was wrong in her opinion. She hadn't thought through what she believed.

Christianity is a faith that has always been very uncompromising in its demand for truth. In writing to the Thessalonian church, the Apostle Paul admonished the believers there to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good (1Thess 5:21)." He also wrote "If Christ be not raised [from the dead], your faith is vain." These two verses demonstrate that reason and faith aren't necessarily contradictory but complimentary toward each other. Paul expected believers in the Christian religion to believe only what's true.

One of our primary goals at Come Reason Ministries is to get the Christian church thinking about what they believe and why. We feel that in examining the claims of historic Christianity, along with those of other faiths, Christianity can be shown to be the most plausible. However, we also engage questions and opinions from people of all worldviews. We feel that discussion is healthy and when done honestly and openly it will bring all the participants closer to the truth.

So is there such a thing as a rational faith? Yes, there is. A faith that is true is rational. In matters of faith, what one believes can influence life decisions, actions, emotions, and even destinies. No belief system is above inquiry, and in matters of faith the only belief worth having is a true one.

Image courtesy innoxiuss [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 23, 2015

Did the New Testament Authors Know They Were Writing Scripture?

The New Testament is crucial to Christianity. It provides the basis of knowledge not simply for Jesus's life and ministry, but also for how we are to relate to God and order our lives. Of course, one of the primary drivers of the Protestant Reformation was sola scriptura or the authority of scripture alone. However, all Christian traditions look to scripture as authoritative in matters of faith and practice. All of Christendom shares this idea; it is only on the question of whether additional centers of authority exist where we differ.

Another point of agreement within Christianity is the make-up of the scriptures that form the New Testament canon. Those twenty seven books are also universally recognized as scripture. They were shared between churches to be rad to the congregations as instructive from the earliest days of the Christian faith. Even if a letter was addressed to a specific congregation and written to answer specific questions, such as 1 Corinthians, or specific problems like Galatians, all the churches would look to these writings as scriptural.

That brings up a question, though. Did the writes of these texts realize the would be used in such a broad way? Would Paul be horrified that a specific letter he sent to a specific group in Asia would also be applied by those in Rome? What about the 21st century church in America leveraging a text written for a first century middle-eastern culture? Just how aware were the writers of the New Testament that the letters and history they were composing would be looked to with the same authority as the Old Testament?

According to Peter Balla, the evidence shows they actually expected their writings to be used in this way. In his essay "Evidence for an Early Christian Canon (Second and Third Century)," Balla notes that not only did the early church immediately apply the apostles' writings to their lives, but the apostles themselves instructed them to do so:
At some time in the first century Paul's letters were collected. We do not know when and who collected them first, but it is possible that at least some of them were collected and edited for publication by Paul himself. Perhaps the collecting occurred decades later, we do not know. It is known, however, that either in the first century, or in the second (when many scholars argue 2 Peter was written), the collection was held to be authoritative as it was put alongside other "scriptures," i.e., sacred writings of the Old Testament. In 2 Pet 3: 15– 16 we read: "So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures."

Paul clearly distinguishes between Jesus' authority and his own. However, through that very distinction we can see not only that he regarded Jesus' message as authoritative, but that he claimed authority for himself as well. In 1 Cor 7, this distinction appears repeatedly. In 1 Cor 7: 12 we read: "To the rest I say, not the Lord, . . ." but in verse 17 we learn that Paul himself had the authority to give instructions for the congregations: "This is my rule in all the churches." Even when Paul does not give rulings, just advice, he expects that because of God's grace and Spirit given to him the congregation will obey him. Verses 25 and 40 can be cited as examples: "Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy . . . and I think that I have the Spirit of God."

We can suppose that similar authority was claimed for all the epistles that were circulated as written by apostles. The authority of apostles stood behind those gospels which the early church held were written by apostles (Matthew and John) or by companions of apostles (Mark as Peter's companion, and Luke as Paul's). The Gospels were accorded authority not only because of their supposed authorship, but because of their content: they claimed to have reported events related to the coming of the Messiah, and his words and deeds.1
Balla explains that given the internal evidence and the way the texts were so quickly distributed among the early churches, the apostles absolutely knew they were writing scripture.

I think that knowledge actually lends credibility to their use. The Jewish background of the apostles means they held the Old Testament in very high regard. If their writings were being misappropriated as scripture while they were still alive, it seems implausible that they wouldn't take steps to stop the abuse, much in the way Paul sought to stop the Jewish rituals that the Galatian church sought to require. Instead, the apostles placed their writings on par with the Old Testament. This means they may have been trying to intentionally deceive the church, they may have been earnestly wring that they were wring scripture, or they were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit to produce scripture. But the claim that the churches took as authoritative what was only meant as a local interaction is not open to us.


1. Balla, Peter. "Evidence for an Early Christian Canon (Second and Third Century)." The Canon Debate. By Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002. Kindle. Kindle Locations 8382-8398

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