Monday, December 27, 2010

Don't Ask, Do Tell

On December 15th of this year the House of Representatives voted 250 to 175 to repeal the Military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy of handling homosexual behavior in the armed services. On December 18th the Senate paved the way for repeal voting 65 to 31 and the repeal was signed by President Barack Obama on December 22nd, thus fulfilling one of his campaign promises.

Many Christians are dismayed over such a blatant expression of immorality being officially sanctioned by the U.S. government. For the first time in the history of the country openly homosexual people will be allowed to serve honorably in the military. As you can imagine over the past week I have heard a lot of discussion about this and there are a few common themes in these conversations that are worthy of deeper consideration because they are (consciously or unconsciously) based upon certain unstated theological premises.

The major concern that I hear from brothers and sisters seems to be that this decision will bring God’s judgment upon the nation. To be sure our Lord is sovereign and does indeed judge nations. The question that is often not asked, however, is upon what basis he judges them and how this decision plays into that.

Some American Christians believe that God’s dealings with the United States are analogous to His dealings with Israel in the Old Testament. They observe that when Israel was faithful God blessed them and when they were not God cursed them. They then apply this logic to the United States. There are two problems with this line of thinking. First, it is a bit of an oversimplification regarding God’s dealings with Israel. Secondly, and more importantly, Israel was a national covenant people. Although many American’s act as though God has enacted some special relationship with the U.S. the fact is that He has not. America as a country has no special covenant relationship with God and we therefore should not assume that God will deal with us in the same way He dealt with historical Israel.

Most people I have met who fear coming judgment as a result of this decision, however, do so not on the basis of any perceived special relationship between America and God but rather on the basis of a more general assumption about how God deals with all nations. They point to the tremendous blessings we have received, conclude that those are the result of America’s godliness and Christian heritage, and then assume that as we turn our back on that heritage that God will remove his hedge of protection from us.

I do not disagree that judgment will come (more on that later) but I also think that the reasoning given above needs to be examined a bit more closely. If you think carefully about the argument above you will realize that what is being claimed is that God has blessed our country because of how “good” we were and that if we cease being “good” then punishment will follow. Does God give his blessings in response to the goodness of those who receive them? Most of the people who have made the kind of statement I included above would passionately disagree with that same logic if it was applied to individuals but they seem comfortable for some reason applying it to the nation as a whole. Are God’s blessings to nations somehow reciprocal while His blessings to individuals are wholly on the basis of grace? What level of goodness or godliness must a nation display to remain in a position to receive God’s blessings? How good does a country have to be to merit or earn God’s rewards?

 It seems to me that this line of thinking rests upon some very big assumptions, chief of which is that the Unites States has been blessed in the past because it has been such a godly nation. There are many brothers and sisters who speak as though we can look back to some kind of golden age where all things American were pure and Christ honoring. Where exactly would such a golden age of Christian virtue be found in our history? Perhaps they mean the post WWII years, when in the “interests of the state” we funded rebellions, orchestrated assassinations, injected people with syphilis and other diseases without consent, lied boldly, and set aside various liberties at our convenience. Or maybe they are referring to the 1920’s, an era of speakeasies, rampant prostitution, bootlegging, and crime. Or could it be the turn of the last century when we used our might to impose our imperial ambition upon weaker neighbors and social Darwinism and theological liberalism were beginning to take hold within our social and educational institutions? Maybe it was after the Civil War when cronyism and corruption were openly displayed and when the robber barons and captains of industry prospered while the crushing weight of poverty settled upon most working men and women and whole populations were forcibly and brutally relocated to less valuable land. Perhaps it was before the Civil war, when it was legal for one man to own another and large sections of our national economy were propped up by chattel slavery. Then again maybe the great Christian age was that first generation of founders, who enshrined into our governmental structures racist presuppositions that have polluted virtually our entire history and were the first in the world to create a wholly secular state that purposefully avoided any foundation of the government upon expressed theological support (although we were once a nation primarily of Christians we were never a Christian nation).

Please do not misunderstand me, I love my country and I believe it has been a blessing to the world in many ways but isn’t it presumptuous to assume that we have ever merited the blessings of God? It is perhaps more accurate to say that by God’s grace we have both blessed and been blessed. There is plenty of depravity to be found in any era and there has never been any golden age of pure Christian virtue. Read the sermons and letters of pastors from any era and you will find much despair about what is going on around them. True Christian’s of every age share the same burden which we now carry, that of being surrounded by a fallen world hurtling to hell and refusing to heed the warning. What we are losing as a nation is not holiness, it is rather the cultural influence of Christian morality (we must be careful to not confuse the two).

Rather than assuming that we are somehow blessed for the strength of our faith I often fear that the Lord may have put us here in this land of ease because perhaps our faith is too weak to withstand the persecution that brothers and sisters in other parts of the world endure. After all, isn’t it just as likely that America has been blessed out of God’s mercy for our weakness rather than out of recognition of our strength? Or more likely yet, that God has his own purposes in how He has used and is using our nation?

There is no question that we have been blessed and would like that to continue but aren’t righteousness and holiness sufficient desires for the people of God to wish them to be pursued in their own right? Rather than expect any kind of quid pro quo should we not pursue those things which are glorifying to God though we may suffer in doing so? Cannot we, like Job cry out “Though He slay me, I will yet trust in Him”? The decision to repeal this policy is clearly an ungodly one and we know that all such wickedness will be judged.  Our primary concern, however, should not be the temporal loss of blessings for American’s but rather the glory of God. We should be focused upon the preaching of the Gospel that others might understand and be saved. As the culture becomes bolder in its sinfulness our concern should be that the Church becomes bolder in its distinction from the world. Of far greater consequence for us as teachers and preachers than the erosion of godly influence in the broader culture is the erosion of godly knowledge and influence in our own churches. Let’s spend less time lamenting the loss of our privileged position among men and let us instead preach the Truth, not being ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power for salvation to everyone who believes. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Ancient Meditation On Christmas

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you.  I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened ‘to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: Let him who glories glory in the Lord.

Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of the Virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this new-born child, man is justified not by himself but by God.

Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.

Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.

Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory”, but of God’s glory: for justice has not come out of us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of good will.

For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity.

Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head. For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become son of God?

Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.

-Augustine of Hippo (excerpt from sermon 185 on the Mystery of the Incarnation)

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Since the blog has launched I have received a number of questions about the name of the site. After a recent conversation where the subject came up again I thought it might make sense to post a brief explanation.

Technically speaking the word mathaytes does not mean anything because it does not really exist spelled as it is. I did not, however, simply make it up. It is the phonetic spelling of the Greek word maqhthς which means disciple or learner. Normally this word is transliterated into English as mathetes but rather than use the “proper” spelling I decided to use the phonetic spelling (it is actually pronounced ma – thay – tays).

I chose to do this for a couple of reasons. First, by using a less common spelling the site has better search optimization. If you type mathetes into a browser you will get many links to articles or sites having to do with the Greek word, its definition, usage, etc. If, however, you search for mathaytes this site usually comes up first (although not on Bing… I suspect that perhaps corporate subterfuge is the reason). Secondly, most of the people who were initially interested in reading the blog had no exposure to New Testament Greek and it is easier to remember how to pronounce the word when it is spelled phonetically.

Some have criticized me for the spelling, particularly with regard to my second reason. All I can say is that the purpose of the site isn’t to teach Greek nor is the word even being used functionally within the site. It is simply a name used to identify a particular corner of the web. Think of it like a brand name (many of which intentionally use variant spellings for effect). I have never heard anyone complain that “Krispy Kreme”, “Froot loops”, or “blu-ray” are not spelled correctly.

The thing that is important to me is that the content of the site be helpful to fellow Christians and that it gives them cause to think about issues or matters that they may not have thought about before or to revisit issues that deserve further study.

If you have been wondering about the meaning of the name of the site or if it has been bugging you that it isn’t spelled the way you are used to seeing it I hope this helps to clear it up J

*BTW… from time to time I do publish posts that contain Greek words  (like this one and the Merry CHRISTmas post from last week) but if you do not have the Greek fonts installed on your computer those words will not display properly for you. If, for example, you see the string of letters after this sentence as w’s, x’s, and  f’s then some of the words in certain posts will not display properly for you. qQqQ  xXxX  fFfF.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


One of the most amazing pieces of music ever composed is Handel’s Messiah. Any Christian who has a love of music or melody should, at least once in their life, see this performed by accomplished vocalists and musicians. Its beauty as a piece of music is surpassed only by the truth that it boldly proclaims.

The most powerful and beautiful part of the composition is the famous halleluiah chorus. I was blessed recently to see the following video of a flash mob performing the chorus at the Welland Seaway Mall in Ontario. It is an amazing enough composition when heard in the confines of a performance hall when you know it is coming but to see people unexpectedly encountering such beautiful praise of our Savior as they go about their daily lives is just awesome.

The flash mob was organized by Alphabet Photography of Niagara Falls Ontario. Very cool… I hope you are as blessed by this as I was.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Let Us Pray

Recently I was listening to a series of recorded lectures by a Christian teacher and I noticed that there was something in particular that was distracting me and bothering me about the recordings. Like many other teachers he always began his courses with a prayer but after listening to a few of the sessions I began to see a pattern in those prayers that made me uncomfortable. In the course of each of those prayers the teacher would explain various elements of the doctrines that he was preparing to teach. It was unmistakable that at least some portion of the prayer was intended for the instruction of his listeners. He would seemingly include information that he wanted to convey that might not be emphasized in the lesson. As I thought about this I began to recall various times in my past where I had heard prayers of this sort. They never really seemed to bother me much before but as I reflected upon this I began feeling somewhat unsettled. The main reason I was unsettled is because it seemed a bit disingenuous to me to begin addressing God and yet be speaking to those around you. Another reason why it bothered me is because I feared that perhaps as a teacher I had given such a prayer at some point or another.

It is not my place to judge the sincerity of the prayer of any brother or sister let alone one who is laboring in The Word for the benefit of the body. It seems to me though that prayer should be addressed to God and that there is something inappropriate in using prayer time to consciously address those around you as the primary audience rather than God. It is perhaps analogous to calling someone on the telephone but then carrying on a conversation with the person next to you as the one you called waits for you to finish. I recognize, of course, that this analogy cannot be pushed too far but still it seems that it is not uncommon for us to sneak into a prayer some kind of message to those who are around us rather than focusing on God during that time and it just feels disrespectful.

Of course all of this is, however, not that simple now is it? We recognize that there is a distinct difference between public prayer and private prayer and that indeed one of the most important elements of a proper public prayer is that it is edifying to those who both hear it and participate in it. Public prayer must always consider the occasion and audience and be appropriately fit for them. Reconciling these observations in a balanced way that provides a basis for building appropriate public prayers is not easy(at least for me). The best that I can come up with is that the prayer should be sincere. Everything that is said should be truly addressed to God though it also encompasses the concerns of the group. For example, it seems appropriate to me to ask the Lord to help us to remember what we heard in a sermon or class so that it might be applied in our lives or to ask Him to prepare our hearts to receive a particular teaching etc. It would seem though that this is a pretty wide grey zone.

There are undoubtedly a number of issues of personal preference that will influence how a person will balance these objectives in public prayer but in addition to the theological foundation for what we do we must also recognize that public prayer is also a form of public speech. In addition to being sincere in bringing our praise and petitions before the Lord we must also do our best that our words are intelligible, well ordered, and meaningful to those who are in our hearing. I began to think about how I might improve my own public prayers so that they were not a distraction to anyone in the way that I experienced with the recordings mentioned above. There are lots of suggestions out there but I found this list to be particularly helpful (#11 addresses the issue that led to this post). As I read it I was convicted of a number of opportunities to improve. I pray that it might be a benefit to you as well.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Merry CHRISTmas

Now that Thanksgiving is past we have entered officially into the Christmas season. Most of the stores and homes that will be decorated for the season are already finished and some people already have wrapped presents under their trees. Over the coming weeks we Christians will be certain to distinguish “our” holiday from most of what is celebrated in the culture around us. We will inevitably hear about someone who is forced to remove a Christmas display and become agitated by it (even though quite often the display itself will have little biblical justification). We will be sure to wish a hearty MERRY CHRISTMAS to anyone who dares wish us a happy holiday or seasons greetings. All year long we feel the influence of our faith waning in the culture around us and we sense that at this time of the year there is something at stake, something to be defended.

With that in mind I would like to respond to one particular thing that often provokes irritation among my brothers and sisters this time of year. Many Christians are disturbed when they see Christmas abbreviated as Xmas. The feeling is that both literally and symbolically Christ is X’ed out when this is done. This attitude is understandable considering the fact that so often there is an effort to remove Christ from Christmas on the part of many who prefer to retain the holiday without any sense of its religious significance. We must be careful, however, to not make too many assumptions regarding the motives of those who use the Xmas abbreviation. We do not want to be so sensitive to enemies on all sides that we begin jumping at our own shadows.

The “X” in Xmas did not originate as any secular attempt to blot out Christ from the celebration. The “X” is actually derived from the Greek letter chi which looks exactly like an English letter X and is the first letter in the Greek word cristos (christos) which is translated into English as “Christ”. It is the messianic title of our Lord and literally means The Anointed One. It is similar to other common abbreviations that signify our Lord such as “IHS” which represent a transliteration of the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek (ihsuos) or the chi-rho which is a combination of the first two letters of cristos (Christos) and like the X in Xmas is a shorthand symbol for “Christ”. It is reasonable to prefer that this shorthand not be used but it is not necessarily an attempt to remove Christ from CHRISTmas.

It is quite true that there is much at stake and much to be defended this time of year (and always) but our passion for the trappings of late December really have little to do with it. The timing of the celebration is the result of the early church’s attempt to redeem a pagan celebration. The evergreens, lights, snowmen, Santa, and the rest have no direct connection to the bible or Christ’s birth either. There is not a biblical precedent for celebrating the Lords birth and the early church knew of no such celebration until the 4th century. In fact, many early Protestants considered the celebration of Christmas to be sinful and idolatrous. Scripture, however, neither mandates nor precludes such celebrations so long as they are observed in due honor to the Lord. We do well to keep in mind what Paul instructed the Romans regarding sacred days:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. … For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.
(Romans 14:5-8 ESV)

There have always been various celebrations that have occurred during this time of year. There are those who in faith set aside a day to recall the birth of our Savior and then there are many others who are either celebrating some other non-Christian holiday, worshiping at the altar of materialism, or simply celebrating their friends and family. It seems that it has always been this way. We have been spoiled because for many centuries during the late December festivities the broader culture has recognized the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ as primary but it was not always so.

As I said, there is much at stake regarding the Christmas message and I pray that we, as Christians, keep in mind the wonder and glory of Christ’s coming to the earth to save us every day of the year. It is only if we (by God’s grace) ensure that the message of Christ is not lost among ourselves that we can hope influence the culture around us. That there would be confusion in the world about what we celebrate is not surprising. I pray, however, that there would be no such confusion in our churches and homes this Christmas season and throughout the year.

May the Lord bless all of you this CHRISTmas season!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

British Royal Wedding... Which Liturgy?

I just stumbled upon this post over at Cranmer’s Curate, which brings up the interesting question of which liturgy is likely to be used in the British royal wedding ceremony of Prince William and his fiancé Catherine. The author points out that if the royal couple ends up with the liturgy taken from the older Book of Common Prayer the observers of the ceremony will be in for a dose of old time conservative Christian doctrine. It will be interesting to see if they choose to go this route and if so what the response will be from many of those more progressive Anglicans who no longer accept the truth of those words.

BTW… In the interest of full disclosure I would like to point out that I was not familiar with the Cranmer site and stumbled upon it while looking for something else. I saw the link to this site on another unfamiliar site: Reasonable Christian.  I haven’t had time to read too much on either site yet but both look like potentially interesting sites. I intend to check them out in more depth and wanted to share. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Offensive Art

An image with Jesus covered in ants from the video “A Fire in My Belly,” part of the ‘Hide/Seek’ exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

just read an article posted by the Wall Street Journal (you can read it here) explaining that the Smithsonian has removed an offensive video that shows a crucifix of Christ with ants crawling all over it. The image above is a still shot from the video. The video was removed after complaints from some Catholics that it was offensive to them.

One cannot help but wonder what kind of outcry would be coming from the media and various liberal groups had this been some other religious symbol such as a Koran. Why is it that offensive expression are acceptable if it a Christian target? Individuals in the U.S. have the right to express themselves and that includes the right to insensitivity and poor taste. What is curious, however, is why such expressions would be displayed in a public repository such as the Smithsonian. I would think that such a prestigious public museum would be focused on the display of objects that have cultural or historical significance for the country rather than being used to promote expressive artistic exhibits that any rational person would see are offensive to a major portion of the population.

The crucifix is not an artistic representation that I, as a conservative Protestant, would be particularly excited about but in the broader cultural context it is clearly understood to be a Christian symbol. The artist claims that the message was that we were all created in the image of Christ and were returning to the earth. Whatever the intention the result is quite offensive but what bothers me the most is that Christians seem to be fair game for this kind of thing in a way that virtually no other group is. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

"The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”           
                                                                                                                                (Psalm 50:23 ESV)

Brothers and sisters today is a day set apart for thanksgiving. As believers we are to offer thanks every day but particularly on this day we often have an opportunity to express our thanks to the Lord in the company of others who may not share our blessed hope. Many people who do not believe or have no personal commitment to the Lord will give thanks today for family, friends, and various material blessings. To be sure, we as Christians are thankful for these things as well but as God’s children we have Him which is the greatest thing we could ever be thankful for.  It is important today (as every day) that when giving thanks to our Lord that we do so not out of any kind of circular logic that emphasizes ourselves but rather in a way that emphasizes Him as the gracious giver of blessings. In doing so we properly offer our thanksgiving as a form of worship as is appropriate.

As Jonathan Edwards explains in his essay on Religious Affections:

“True gratitude or thankfulness to God for his kindness to us, arises from a foundation laid before, of love to God for what he is in himself, whereas a natural gratitude has no such antecedent foundation. The gracious stirrings of grateful affection to God, for kindness received, always are from a stock of love already in the heart, established in  the first place on other grounds, viz., God's own excellency; and hence the affections are disposed to flow out on occasions of God's kindness. The saint, having seen the glory of God, and his heart being overcome by it, and captivated with love to him on that account, his heart hereby becomes tender, and easily affected with kindnesses received. If a man has no love to another, yet gratitude be moved by some extraordinary kindness; as in Saul towards David: but this is not the same kind of thing, as a man's gratitude to a dear friend, that his heart was before possessed with a high esteem of, and love to; whose heart by this means became tender towards him, and more easily affected with gratitude, and affected in another manner. Self-love is not excluded from a gracious gratitude; the saints love God for his kindness to them: Psal. 116:1, "I love the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplication." But something else is included; and another love prepares the way, and lays the foundation for these grateful affections.

In a gracious gratitude men are affected with the attribute of God's goodness and free grace not only as they are concerned in it, or as it affects their interest, but as a part of the glory and beauty of God's nature. That wonderful and unparalleled grace of God, which is manifested in the work of redemption, and shines forth in the face of Jesus Christ, is infinitely glorious in itself, and appears so to the angels; it is a great part of the moral perfection and beauty of God's nature. This would be glorious, whether it were exercised towards us or no; and the saint who exercises a gracious thankfulness for it, sees it to be so, and delights in it as such: though his concern in it serves the more to engage his mind and raise the attention and affection; and self-love here assists as a handmaid, being subservient to higher principles, to lead forth the mind to the view and contemplation, and engage and fix the attention, and heighten the joy and love.--God's kindness to them is a glass that God sets before them, wherein to behold the beauty of the attribute of God's goodness: the exercises and displays of this attribute, by this means, are brought near to them, and set right before them. So that in a holy thankfulness to God, the concern our interest has in God's goodness is not the first foundation of our being affected with it; that was laid in the heart before, in that stock of love which was to God, for his excellency in himself, that makes the heart tender and susceptive of such impressions from his goodness to us. Poor is our own interest, or the benefits we have received, the only, or the chief objective ground of the present   exercises of the affection, but God's goodness, as part of the beauty of his nature; although the manifestations of that lovely attribute, set immediately before our eyes, in the exercises of it for us, be the special occasion of the mind's attention to that beauty, at that time, and serves to fix the attention, and heighten the affection.” … “The first foundation of the delight a true saint has in God, is his own perfection; and the first foundation of the delight he has in Christ, is his own beauty; he appears in himself the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely. The way of salvation by Christ is a delightful way to him, for the sweet and admirable manifestations of the divine perfections in it: the holy doctrines of the gospel, by which God is exalted and man abased, holiness honored and promoted, and sin greatly disgraced and discouraged, and free and sovereign love manifested, are glorious doctrines in his eyes, and sweet to his taste, prior to any conception of his interest in these things. Indeed the saints rejoice in their interest in God, and that Christ is theirs: and so they have great reason, but this is not the first spring of their joy. They first rejoice in God as glorious and excellent in himself, and then secondarily rejoice in it, that so glorious a God is theirs.”

Happy Thanksgiving

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Which is it? The Translation of Acts 13:48

All of God’s word is powerful and useful without exception but naturally there are certain passages and verses that will have a huge impact on our understanding of particular doctrines or positions. Few doctrinal arguments have resulted in the proliferation of collections of such verses on each side as the Calvinist Arminian debate. Over the years supporters of each side have stockpiled proof-texts like so many missiles at the ready to be launched at any potential challenger.  In addition to these missile texts there are also what I call grenade texts; proof-text that get lobbed over where if the person on the receiving end is quick enough, they can be hurled right back. These “grenade” texts can really be confusing because the argument regarding them often revolves around nuanced grammatical or contextual issues. One such text is Acts 13:48.

The ESV renders this verse the following way:

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

Calvinists often quote this verse because it seems to be clear support for their view of predestination. In addition they often quote from traditional translations such as the KJV that give the verse a strong predestinarian emphasis.

”And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

Arminians, however, argue that this verse may not be as clear an example as the Calvinists believe it to be. Dr. Jack Cottrell, who is one of the most capable contemporary advocates for the Arminian view, says the following when discussing this verse:

The verse is “almost uniformly translated in a way that pleases Calvinists: ‘As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.’ How can this be reconciled with the Arminian view? There is no need to invoke an implied foreknowledge here, nor to seek some esoteric meaning for the verb tasso. The key is to understand that the verb form (tetagmenoi) should be taken as middle (reflexive) voice, not passive. (Grammatically the form can be either.) Using the common connotation “to place, set, order, or arrange in a certain position,” we can see that the statement can quite validly be taken thus: “As many as arranged themselves unto (eis) eternal life believed,” or “As many as turned themselves toward eternal life believed.” This agrees with the context, where the Jews’ response to the gospel is being contrasted with that of the Gentiles. Whereas the Jews rejected the gospel and judged themselves to be unworthy of eternal life (v. 46), the Gentiles received it gladly and embraced the message of eternal life (v. 48). In both cases the decision was a matter of free choice.

This Arminian interpretation of Acts 13:48 is essentially the opposite of the usual translation. We therefore have two possible translations of the same Greek text which are worlds apart in their theological implications. The obvious question is based upon the plain understanding of the language itself, apart from preconceived theological convictions, which of these translations is more accurate?

As expected, answering this question is not simple and I certainly am not qualified to give any final or definitive opinion on the matter. My purpose in this post is rather to describe the debate and to use it as a template to highlight the need for working through these kinds of issues with a commitment to let the text drive our conclusions rather than imposing our theology upon it.

The verse in Greek is:

ἀκούοντα δὲ τὰ ἔθνη ἔχαιρον καὶ ἐδόξαζον τὸν λόγον τοῦ κυρίου, καὶ ἐπίστευσανὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον: 

The primary argument revolves around the word τεταγμένοι (tetagmenoi) which is a form of the Greek verb tassw (tasso). The verb tasso means to draw up in order, to arrange, assign, fix, determine, appoint, or position. It is a word that is derived from the positioning of units in military order. The verb form in this verse, Tetagmenoi, is in the perfect tense meaning that it implies past action that has ongoing consequences (at least to the time of the writing). It is also part of a phrase that can be taken to be a past perfect (pluperfect) construction. This simply means that it establishes some point in the past (the time of the events in the narrative) and then describe some action prior to that time (tetagmenoi).

This brings us to the crucial part of the argument. If the verb is taken to be in the passive voice, meaning that the subject is receiving rather than doing the action of the verb, then the common translation is preferred. If, however, we understand the verb to be in the middle or reflexive voice, meaning that the subject acts upon themselves and both gives and receives the action of the verb, then Dr. Cottrell’s translation would be preferable. The problem is that τεταγμένοι, could be either middle or passive since the form of the verb would be the same in both cases. Since both the middle and passive renderings of the word are grammatically indistinguishable the decision on which is being used has to be made based upon its usage and context.

Arminians make a contextual argument from the overall passage in Acts that the middle voice makes more sense (see Olsen etc.) and of course, Calvinists argue for the passive voice (see Wallace etc.). There have been other scholars such as Alford who have argued based upon context and grammar that the verse should be interpreted “as many as were disposed believed”If this is correct it would essentially remove the argument at least one step from this particular verse because whether it was human or divine agency that produced such a disposition cannot be determined conclusively from this verse.

There is the question of why, if this is such a contested verse, the preferred Arminian rendering is so rare. Many Arminians argue that the traditional translation is popular as a result of tradition but I find it difficult to believe that virtually every translator would be loyal to traditional renderings. In any case, regardless of which side of the theological argument we happen to be on we must always be honest in our approach to the text. It seems to me, despite my Reformed theological commitments, that the word τεταγμένοι should not be translated as “were ordained” or “were destined” as some older translations render it. It seems that the word more accurately means “were appointed” or “were arranged” as the ESV translates it. Based upon the context I do not think that these people arranged themselves for eternal life therefore understanding the verb in the passive voice makes more sense to me.

The goal of looking into these matters should never be to win arguments. We must always faithfully follow the scriptures wherever they lead us. No major doctrine ever rests upon any single verse. The flinging of proof-texts back and forth in argument is generally unproductive and can be dishonoring to God who has revealed a unified truth to us in His word. This does not, however, mean that we should not wrestle over the meanings of these verses. We must always be willing to sit in subjection to scripture and carefully investigate, understand, and consider the biblical arguments of brothers and sisters who disagree with us so that we may grow in our understanding and our pride may be kept in check. May the Lord who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing grant us a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

God Doesn't Make Mistakes...But I Do.

I was attending a business conference earlier this week and between meetings I went to my hotel room to check my email and get some work done. As I came into the room I decided to turn on the television so I could listen to the news as I worked. I turned on CNN and walked across the room to the desk and settled in to get started. At the time I turned it on there was a commercial on so I did not realize that the scheduled program was Larry King Live. Although I normally do not watch Larry King I had left the remote over by the television and it didn’t seem worth the effort to change it. It did not take me long to regret leaving the remote control on the other side of the room because King’s guest was singer Ricky Martin whom he was interviewing regarding his “coming out” and his advocacy for homosexual marriage rights.

I tried to ignore it and focus on my work but it was too distracting. As I got up to change the channel King asked the following question. “As you look retrospectively now, should you have come out sooner?” to which Martin answered “Like I've said, Larry, I wish I knew how good it was going to feel, I would have done it 10 years ago. But I guess I had to go through my spiritual search, my spiritual path to get to conclusions and be able to be comfortable enough to look at myself in the mirror and say, everything is going to be fine. You're a good person. And God doesn't make mistakes.” This is very similar to other statements that he has made recently. Previously on another show while discussing his public disclosure of his homosexuality Martin said "My faith back then was telling me that what I was feeling was bad, was evil," …"I am a very spiritual man and my god doesn't make mistakes. I have a really cool connection with that beautiful light up there that is constantly reassuring who I am and telling me, 'You are an awesome person.”

While it may be easy for those of us within conservative or evangelical Christian circles to dismiss this kind of rationalization it represents a trend that is becoming more prevalent. There are many people who wish to retain a sense of communion with the divine while rejecting any demands upon themselves. This kind of theology would probably not be too concerning if it were not for the fact that so many are sympathetic to its logic.

Just about anyone who knows me has heard me say that everyone is a theologian, it is just a matter of whether they are a good theologian or not and ideas have consequences. For various reasons people do not want to be confronted with the truth about what God says. The biblical standard of holiness is too onerous for us and so often we prefer to create in our own mind a vision of God that selects a la carte from the things He has revealed so that we may have a comfortable and reaffirming view of ourselves. This isn’t just something that happens within the homosexual community, in fact, we all do it. Every one of us prefers not to see ourselves in the same light as God sees us apart from Christ. To face this terrible truth is something that (by God’s grace) those of us who believe are able to do in the knowledge that despite our sinfulness we are accepted through His sacrifice on our behalf.
The kind of argument that Martin gave is wrong for a few reasons. First, it ignores the fact that all of us are depraved sinners that, apart from God’s grace, are incapable of doing anything pleasing in God’s sight. Secondly, it completely misses the holy character of God which is an attribute that He has gone to great lengths to reveal to us in His word. And finally, from an ethical standpoint it is completely arbitrary.

It is important for us to always keep in mind that we possess a fallen nature and that each of us has various proclivities and natural tendencies that are opposed to God and are rebellious. To argue that any particular action or desire is good because it is natural misses an important theological truth. A man may have a natural tendency to anger and violence, drug or alcohol use, or various impure sexual desires and many other sinful proclivities that we could list but the fact that he has them and that they come from “who he is” does not validate the behaviors or the nature from which they proceed. Rather, they confirm the testimony of scripture that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; No one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; No one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV) Christ did not come here to tell us how awesome we are; rather he came to put our old nature (and its natural desires) to death and to grant us a new life so that we could have a restored relationship with the Father. God may not make mistakes but we all do.

The holiness of God is such an important part of the biblical teaching in both testaments that to ignore it would be to ignore one of the most emphasized attributes revealed to us about Him. In fact, the Hebrew language often emphasizes things through repetition (as opposed to our use of bold font, underlining, and exclamatory punctuation) and anything repeated three times is said to be in the superlative degree, meaning it is being emphasized beyond anything of a comparable class. As far as I know, God’s holiness is the only attribute of God that is ever repeated to the superlative degree in the bible. In Isaiah chapter 6 the prophet sees a vision that many believe to be heaven itself and in this vision Isaiah explains that the angels surrounding the throne were chanting “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”.  This holiness consists in complete separation from anything defiled and anything sinful. Scripture teaches us repeatedly that the reaction of a person who encounters God is immediate humility; typically face down on the ground pleading for mercy, if indeed they can speak at all. To see the face of God would mean death for any human. It is only when we are “in Christ” and have Him as our advocate can we expect to come into the presence of God with anything like the affirmation that Martin describes and that only because He has given to us a new life born of incorruptible seed.

Finally, this argument fails to make any distinctions regarding behavior. Given the amount of ethical teaching in both testaments it is fair to say that God has some expectations regarding our behavior but if our choices are affirmed simply as a result of the fact that they are natural to us and God doesn’t make mistakes then there would be virtually no limit to what could be justified. If a psychopath has a tendency to murder or a drunkard has a tendency to drink, or a pedophile has a disgusting proclivity toward children we would have to accept that all of these behaviors are justified because God made them that way would we not? This argument eliminates any standard by which a person’s behavior could be judged. It is a slippery slope argument to which there is virtually no end.

The Lord has revealed to us in scripture a standard for behavior and if we are to claim to have a relationship with God we must accept Christ and the standard He taught as well. ”Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.. (2 John 1:9 ESV) The good news is that Christ has made it possible for us to abide by that teaching and remain strong in it through what he has done. Regardless of if our struggles were with sexual sin (as Ricky Martin was proudly proclaiming), pride, addiction, or whatever else we know that Christ has won the victory over it. We are to pray for His healing and power and seek His strength. If we insist on confirming ourselves in our sinfulness rather than confessing it (whatever “it” may be) we contradict God and testify to the hardness of our own hearts. As Paul explained in Romans:

”…since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:28-32 ESV)

If we have sin in our lives that we have failed to battle and are trying to reconcile it with our relationship to God I pray we would take up the matter urgently. Let us admit that such things are inconsistent with our testimony and go to our knees. Let us pray together for God’s provision and strength remembering what our brother Paul has taught us: For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

It is God, not I that is awesome and it is only through His grace poured out upon me, a sinner, that I have any affirmation or hope in this life.  –Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book Review: Walter Kaiser Jr., Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament

026105: Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament: A Guide for the ChurchPreaching and Teaching from the Old Testament: A Guide for the Church

By Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. / Baker

Preaching from the Old Testament receives short shrift in many pulpits. Kaiser shows you why and how  you should preach from the OT. Emphasizing the relevance of the First Testament, this reliable guide offers practical insight into expository preaching and concrete suggestions on teaching the narrative texts, wisdom books, prophets, laments, and more. 222 pages, softcover from Baker.

I purchased this book assuming that it might offer some helpful perspectives on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament since it claims to be "a guide for the Church". I figured that in addition to helping me in my current study focus it might also contain some practical advice on presenting the Old Testament in teaching contexts. Although it didn't address my first expectation as deeply as it might have it provided much valuable information in other areas.
Over the years I have found Dr. Kaiser's work to be very helpful particularly in the areas of Old Testament study and hermeneutics. In this book he brings both of these expertise's to bear upon his subject. He points out that although there are many people who are using a biblical text as the basis of their sermons this isn't the same thing as delivering an exegetical sermon. He sees the lack of real expository preaching (and teaching) as one of the reasons for the significant disconnect between what many people who go to church claim to believe and how they often think and behave. In addition to the lack of expository preaching in general he points specifically to a lack of Old Testament teaching as leading to an anemic view of God and an incomplete understanding of the bible in general.
Unlike many other scholars and pundits, however, Dr. Kaiser isn't content to engage in a disconnected examination the problem. He continues in the book to describe the process of how to prepare expository sermons or exegetical class notes for each of the major literary forms found in the Old Testament. He does a great job of addressing important aspects of breaking down a text including the grammatical and literary forms etc. in a very accessible and understandable way. Although the book is written primarily for preachers and teachers I think it would be a valuable resource for any student planning to study in the Old Testament. The process that he describes in the book and the advice he gives include many of the same things that a student needs to take into consideration when studying Old Testament passages.I recommend the book for both teachers and students looking for an introduction in an inductive or expository approach to the Old Testament.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch

This post is a spin-off of a two part sermon on the reliability and Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch preached by Pastor Bill Connell at Grace Bible Church the past couple of weeks. The sermons are not necessary to an understanding of what is posted here but they provide support for the Mosaic authorship I am defending and can be heard here… part1, part2.

By far the most popular view of the authorship of the Pentateuch held outside of conservative circles over the past couple hundred years is known as the documentary or Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis. This is the view that what we now know as the Pentateuch, or first five books of the bible, are not the result of a single author such as Moses but rather they are an editorial compilation of works by a series of authors writing over a period of time. According to this theory these books; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in their current form date from many centuries after Moses lived and could not have been written by him as the text of the bible claims and are instead the work of a redactor, that is an editor that pieced together parts of other separate writings into a new form. There are many competing theories on the details of how and when this redaction was done and what the origin of his or her source material might have been but essentially the bottom line is that the claims for the date and authorship given in the text itself is unreliable.

This hypothesis developed as a result of applying source-criticism to those documents and identifying the fact that there are a number of different names used for God and that each of the names tended to be associated with a different view of God. Rather than seeing this as the work of a single author providing different emphasis to various aspects of God in a single literary work they saw this as evidence of separate authors. The most common delineation (though not always) was the identification of four separate sources known as J, E, D, and P respectively. The theory is that a series of later redactors (editors) known as R wove together documents written by JEDP to produce the Pentateuch we now have. The result is a quite cumbersome and sophisticated splicing of texts as the following illustration shows.

Once these scholars decided that Moses was not the author of the texts in questions and that a series of source documents were involved the next question became the question as to the date of the composition of those various documents and the final editing. As a result of various verses that they considered anachronistic, the scholars concluded that the source documents were written between 1,000 and 500 B.C. (depending upon the source) and that the final editing took place somewhere between 500 and 350 B.C.

To be sure there are a number of difficulties that those holding to a traditional view of Mosaic authorship have to contend with such as examples where cities are listed with names that, as far as we know, they did not have until later periods etc. Whatever those difficulties, however, there are plausible explanations for them that do not require jettisoning both the plain testimony of the books themselves as well as that of Christ and other biblical writers as to who wrote them. The various textual indicators supporting early authorship by Moses are strong and I would suggest that the development of these complex literary theories have more to do with a rejection of supernaturalism than with the historical or grammatical concerns of the text. Nevertheless, I would like to consider two of the passages that these scholars often point to as evidence that these books could not have been written by Moses.

Genesis 36:31

These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites.
(Genesis 36:31 ESV)

Critics point to this verse as evidence that Moses could not be the author of this text. The statement “before any king reigned over the Israelites” is seen to be conclusive evidence of late authorship because the monarchy was not established in Israel until the time of Saul (around 1,000 B.C.), between 300 and 500 years after the time of Moses. This verse does raise some interesting questions. How do those of us who believe that the predominance of the internal evidence of the text is in harmony with its own claims to have been written by Moses approach a text like this? Is this an unexplainable or irreconcilable problem for the traditional view?

Like any other verse of scripture we need to try and understand it through an analysis of its function in the broader context of the passage and book in which it appears being careful to ask appropriate observational questions pertaining to the historical, grammatical, and contextual elements that are included in it and surrounding it. In this case doing that leads to a conclusion that explains this seeming difficulty in a rather simple way.

God’s promise of redemption is the central theme developed in the Pentateuch and among the many developments of this promise in the text is that there would be a great king who would come and reign justly over his people. Moses, as a prophet looked forward to this coming king and as he recorded the development of an elective monarchy in the southern territory of Edom he no doubt had in mind the coming king who was promised for his own people. In the chapter just prior to the verse in question Moses recorded the promise given to his ancestor Jacob regarding this coming king.

And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.
(Genesis 35:11 ESV)

This was a reiteration of the earlier promise God had made to Abraham which Moses had recorded in chapter 17:

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
(Genesis 17:4-8 ESV)

The promise of a king coming out of Abraham, through Jacob, in the line of Judah (Gen. 49:10) was a promise that Moses was familiar with, recorded, and believed in. Although he did not witness the establishment of the monarchy in Israel it was an anticipated reality for him no less real than the promises of deliverance from Egyptian bondage for which he risked his life. Genesis 36:31 is simply a recognition that monarchy came to Edom before it was established (as it inevitably would be) in Israel.

Deuteronomy Chapter 34

Perhaps the most famous and obvious passage that critics use to support their view that Moses could not be the author of the Pentateuch is the 34th chapter of Deuteronomy which records the death of Moses. Even the most conservative scholars admit that that this chapter could not come from the hand of Moses but they do not believe that this implies that the claim of Mosaic authorship for the rest of the law is also questionable.

If it is true that here we have an undoubted example of a redaction then how can we, who believe the traditional view, make a case that this example is an exception and not a clear example of the rule? The chapter begins with the following words:

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. [8] And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.

(Deuteronomy 34:1-8 ESV)

Critics point out that not only did this have to be written at least 30 days after Moses died, thus clearly excluding him as the author since someone cannot record their own death, but also that the statement “no one knows the place of his burial to this day is another clue that this was written much later. What is often neglected is that the very next verse says And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses.. As you read on into the book of Joshua it is clear that Joshua is to continue as the successor of Moses and was gifted by God with the wisdom to fulfill that commission. We know from Joshua 8:32 and 24:26 that Joshua was literate and was familiar with the writings of Moses so it is entirely plausible that under inspiration it was he who recorded the events in the 34th chapter of Deuteronomy.


A person’s position on these issues will be essentially determined by the presuppositions that are brought to the text. If one believes that there can be no supernatural or prophetic utterances regarding future events then they will have difficulty with much of what appears in these first five books of the bible. There will be a natural desire to account for such statements by placing the author within later contexts where the events discussed are contemporary or at least more fully developed theologically in the contemporary writing or worship. If, however, we accept that certain allusions, such as Genesis 36:31, are consistent with prophetic wisdom bestowed by God then the number of difficulties diminishes quickly. If we maintain a supernatural outlook and accept the revelation of God as the foundation for our understanding of Truth then reconciling various textual emphases is much more straightforward and does not require complex literary theories.

We certainly agree that careful analysis of the text is an important discipline and some of what the critics have identified in the shifting vocabulary and focus of the various texts is valuable in that it helps us to identify shifts in the teaching segments within those works. We do not, however, have to assume that this is evidence of multiple authors that have been spliced together. Even many modern critics recognize that these texts function as coherent and complete literary units and the scattered sequencing of the documentary hypothesis is being challenged even by literary scholars who are unbelievers. Regarding stylistic shifts It is possible that Moses, like Luke, had access to other records and documents as he produced his inspired accounts but ultimately we accept the testimony of the books themselves and of Jesus that the first five books of the bible were the work of Moses.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

Perhaps the most substantial challenge to the Christian worldview over the past century and a half, at least in the west, has been atheistic materialism. According to this view nothing that exists is composed of anything that is not composed of physical material. The existence of non-material objects such as souls, spirits, or God is an impossibility. This view became more plausible after Charles Darwin introduced a theoretical framework that could potentially explain the diversity of the biological world. If there are natural processes working within the physical or material world that could explain the world around us then the theoretical need for a non-material agent such as God becomes unnecessary.

One of the most interesting developments, at least in my mind, over the past few years has been various challenges to that evolutionary framework such as irreducible complexity, the probability of anthropic “fine tuning” etc. Despite these assaults, however, the orthodoxy of evolution by natural selection is essentially unchallenged orthodoxy within the scientific community. In addition to the questions raised by a minority of scientists there are also certain philosophical challenges against materialism that are perhaps more significant. Many of those philosophical challenges are refinements of very old arguments, some dating back to ancient Greece. There is, however, a very interesting argument best articulated (in my mind) by Alvin Plantinga that actually uses evolution as an argument against materialism. It is a form of argument known as reduction ad absurdum where a debater assumes some premise of their opponent and then reasons from that position to demonstrate a contradiction in the system or some other conclusion that the opponent cannot accept. When done successfully it is a very effective way to argue.

Plantinga uses this approach in his evolutionary argument against naturalism (materialism). The full argument can get a bit complicated and I am only going to give a simplistic and basic overview so for those who are interested in learning more you can hear Dr. Plantinga explain it himself in a 5 part series here.

The argument is essentially that in order to have a naturalistic or materialistic view of the universe one is likely to accept evolution because it provides an important (almost necessary) explanation for biological life and diversity. Evolution, however, provides a defeater for the materialist, however, because, if true, it is likely to result in a low probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable. Therefore, if evolution is true, the materialist has no basis for being confident that his or her processes for coming to true conclusions are reliable (thus undermining their confidence in materialism).  I will try to explain a bit more.

Evolution holds that over time certain characteristics that give a creature a survival advantage will be “selected” for and those that reduce that advantage will be weeded out. The theory relies upon the ability of creatures to survive and reproduce and pass on those characteristics to their offspring so certain abilities such as feeding, fighting, fleeing, and reproduction are the determinative factors driving natural selection. Only those cognitive faculties that lead to advantages in those behaviors (such as a frog being able to determine the correct location of a fly it wanted to catch) will be selected for in the evolutionary process. Other cognitive faculties, such as the ability to perform abstract thinking, are not as likely to be reproduced. Since evolution is blind and unguided then cognitive faculties, such as human reason, which have developed via evolutionary processes have a low probability of being reliable because evolution is concerned only with behavior and not with belief.

Therefore, a Christian has within his or her system a rational basis for believing that our minds are trustworthy because of the assumption that we are created in the image of God, who is Truth. Naturalists, according to this argument, however, have no such rational basis for believing that their minds are trustworthy because their assumption is that the primary forces which formed them were focused not on producing a mind that has true beliefs but rather on producing an organism that is effective at feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing.

There have been many philosophers who have responded to Plantinga’s argument as it was first proposed in the early 1990’s and he has since reformulated it (as recently as 2008) but, as expected, the debate continues.