Wednesday, June 21, 2017

CWG (Chapter 18)

Chapter 18: A Question of Divine Culpability

In this chapter Boyd wishes to respond to 4 anticipated rejections to his principal of redemptive withdrawal.

The first objection suggests that withdrawal is not enough to secure an outcome. In other words, if God wants to accomplish at outcome (like judge one nation via another nation) it is necessary that God meticulously controls the details (micro-manages the attacking nation). Boyd rebuts this supposed necessity. It doesn't align with the character of God (since God would be the one doing the violence). What's more, it isn't even necessary since God can essentially secure outcomes by recognizing what Boyd calls the 'solidified character' of certain agents. Besides, it is clear that these agents, in Scripture, are not meticulously controlled (for they sometimes over or under perform compared to God's intention).

The second and third objections are philosophical in nature. Isn't withdrawing protection akin to unleashing a rabid pit bull? Boyd thinks the analogy is flawed insofar as 1) Those being judged WANTED God to withdraw 2) Are not innocent bystanders 3) God withdraws out of love and grieves the results. But isn't God being involved at any level a denial of genuine freedom? Again, Boyd rebuts by reminding us that freedom doesn't (in fact, cannot) mean that freedom is absolute in every sense. Other factors (and other agents, including God) affect the choices available to us and the consequences of our choices.

The fourth objection is that this view lends itself to the idea that every time something bad happens it is the result of God's decision to withdraw from a person or a people (like 9/11... or the Holocaust). But Boyd says we may only speak confidently when we've received revelation from God. Many agents (like the Nazi's) go against God's will. Bottom line: One simply cannot know (given the number of factors) why bad things happen unless we are given direct revelation.

Reaction
The objections mentioned in this chapter were well-anticipated (some of them were forming in me as I read the previous pages). Boyd responds to them well (I found his rebuttals satisfying). Surely his answers won't be satisfying to those who believe in meticulous sovereignty (though it should make them re-think their position). And sometimes Boyd seems to try to have his cake and eat it too (some agents are solidified in their character, but also under or over perform vs. God's expectations?). Additionally, I'm not sure on what grounds Boyd would find it 'dubious' to believe that God STILL (to this day) sometimes withdraws protection from a given nation (maybe because God no longer is working through a particular nation?). But, overall, I think Boyd has defended his position well from possible objections.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

CWG (Chapter 17)

Chapter 17: Doing and Allowing

In this chapter, Boyd points out that the Old Testament literature often contains a 'duel speech pattern' insofar as any given text can suggest both that God perpetrated violence AND that God simply withdrew and allowed violence to take place.

Exegetical considerations may help explain this phenomenon. Greg reminds us that in the ANE, everything that happened under the authority of the king could be applied to the king. In the case of God (the King of kings), this would apply to everything. Further still, God gave His people His name (authority) and they sometimes used it for evil.

But Greg doesn't find such considerations to be capable of getting us around the fact that the OT authors genuinely believed Yahweh was capable of violence. The cruciform hermeneutic is necessarily employed here. In cases where the exegetical considerations don't eliminate the issue, we must remember the first two principles of Greg's thesis.

Over and over in the Old Testament we find God being depicted as violent, but upon closer examination we see many hints that it was not actually God 'doing' the violence (He was merely 'allowing' it). Thus, when it appears that God is 'doing' the violence, we must recognize that as God's willingness to accommodate the fallen views of His covenant people (principle #1). When we get glimpses that God merely 'allowed' the violence, it is often clearly stated that God actually withdrew (principle #2).

Reaction
Boyd is piling on biblical evidence, at this point, for his position. I sense that he suspects this will be a point of tension for those evaluating his thesis (a sense confirmed by the next chapter). I, however, don't personally find the point difficult to accept. To me, this is just a matter of reading carefully. I believe the ancient Israelites, like their neighbors, so emphasized God's sovereignty that (in a sense) everything was attributable to their God. But even from that perspective, we are given hints that God wasn't the source of violent acts.

The chapter did make me wonder, though, if any 'duel speech patterns' can be found in other ANE literature. It would seemingly be damaging to Boyd's overall thesis if other ANE literature contains similar patterns (would Boyd argue that those were moments when God's Spirit broke through the hearts of Israel's neighbors as well?).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

CWG (Chapter 16)

Chapter 16: Crime and Punishment

Boyd continues to develop the principle of redemptive withdrawal with a chapter cataloging biblical examples where divine wrath equals divine withdrawal. In its most extreme form, this happens in hell (where, Boyd believes, annihilation occurs since there is no surviving once the source of life is pushed so far away).

Greg sees examples of this sort of withdrawal in Jesus' ministry, in New Testament church disciplinary practices, and throughout the Old Testament. God doesn't need to (nor would He) utilize violence to punish evil because sin carries its own punishment. We reap what we sow. This connection between sin and punishment is built into the fabric of creation.

Even though the Old Testament (especially) sometimes conveys God as the source of the 'wrath'... "The fact of the matter is that biblical authors very frequently speak as though Yahweh did what their own writings make clear he merely allowed." This quote prepares us for the next chapter which will tackle the thorny relationship being 'doing' and 'allowing'.

Reaction
It was necessary for Boyd to show evidence from Scripture to support his claim that wrath equals divine withdrawal. The chapter was quite repetitive in making the point, but I appreciate that he took the time to provide a foundation and that he anticipates the potential problems with this view (isn't God still responsible if He knows divine withdrawal will equal violence)?

Friday, June 09, 2017

CWG (Chapter 15)

Chapter 15: Divide Aikido

Greg Boyd doesn't believe in redemptive violence, but he does believe in redemptive withdrawal. The second principle of his cruciform thesis is that the withdrawal of God (allowing evil to self-destruct) is the judgment and wrath of God (as opposed to judgment/wrath being a non-enemy-loving side of God's character). On the cross, the Father withdrew from the Son (experientially), but did so with a grieving heart and for the purpose of redemption. This cross perspective is the lens through which we must view judgment and wrath as they are found throughout the Bible.

At the heart of the revelation, according to Boyd, is the Cry of Dereliction. He wants to find a balance between dismissing the genuineness of Jesus' cry and confessing an actual break in the Trinity. Boyd attempts to avoid both extremes by suggesting that 1) This plan was agreed, out of love, by the members of the Trinity before it happened and 2) distinguishing between the divine essence and the divine experience. On the cross, the experience of their relationship was broken, but the essence of the Trinity was not (since that essence IS love and love was what led to the cross).

Boyd believes the cross teaches us four aspects of God's wrath that we can apply to all texts of Scripture. First, God's wrath is not an act of violence. It is withdrawal. Second, God only withdraws in an attempt to redeem (as a last resort). Third, God grieves when withdrawal is the only remaining option. Fourth, when God withdraws, evil ultimately self-destructs. This is why the power of Satan was broken by the cross and why any wicked who persist in their wickedness will ultimately cease to exist.

Reaction
Frankly, I thought this chapter was a brilliant exposition of divine wrath. Interestingly, it seems that Boyd is getting a lot of push-back on this chapter. Some people think Boyd's view breaks apart the unity of the trinity. I disagree. He seemed to go out of his way to show how this is not the case. In the end, he's just taking the cry of dereliction seriously. Boyd's view of divine wrath is seemingly identical with my own view as expressed here.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

CWG (Chapter 14)

Chapter 14: The Heavenly Missionary

Missionary work often requires a great deal of patience and flexibility. Missionaries must sometimes put up with beliefs and practices they may find abhorrent in order to gain the right to be heard. This is never more true than in God's mission to the world. Boyd believes that God accommodated some violent beliefs and practices of the Israelites in order to develop the relationship necessary to bring about change in them and the world.

The Old Testament contains laws, nationalism, and flat-out violence that, according to Boyd, cannot be reconciled to Christ's enemy-love. This shouldn't be surprising since the Bible itself is clear that the Israelites (including biblical authors) were as mistaken in their theology as their Ancient Near Eastern neighbors.

So God revealed the medicine of truth in doses mixed with accommodation to fit the tastes of the people. Occasionally a burst of light would break through the darkness, but more often God revealed only a flicker at a time (slightly improving that status quo). Meanwhile, God was willing to take on the appearance of one who accepted (or even supported) the false beliefs and practices of the people.

Reaction
I think it is inarguable that God is accommodating and that there is evidence for this in what the Old Testament seems to advocate for. I liked the analogy from Gregory of Nazianzus of a physician who blends medicine with what tastes good to the patient. God, being non-coercive, had to work with the tastes of his people in order to give them even small doses of medicine (truth). Sometimes we don't have a 'taste' for what we actually need. The chapter contained many interesting insights into Scripture. I do think many of the Old Testament laws were given because of the hardness of hearts.

There were some points that left me less impressed. Greg seemed to suggest that 'tests' are inherently bad (if so, I disagree). He also seems to take some biblical statements in absolute ways that I think might better be interpreted less absolutely. For example, I don't think the fact that we are called to intimate relationship with God forbids the analogy that we are also servants of God (but Greg seems to think the servant role is left behind).

The strength of the chapter, though, was yet again proving that the Old Testament contains shadowy revelation that must be carefully thought-through.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Athenagoras' Plea for the Christians

ATHENAGORAS’ PLEA FOR THE CHRISTIANS

To the Emperor Marcus Aurelius,

Throughout your Empire, people worship all manner of gods and goddesses in all manner of ways. You grant this freedom on pragmatic grounds, believing it to be preferable for people to fear deities and, therefore, avoid wrong-doing as opposed to being atheists with no moral compass. Why, then, are Christians not granted this same freedom? What is the case against Christianity? On what grounds are we persecuted? A label (“Christian”) is not a crime. Nor should an accusation be a conviction. They accuse us of atheism, incest and cannibalism. Let’s investigate these charges!

It is absurd to call us atheists since we believe in the uncreated Creator. This monotheism is, in fact, much in line with the best words of your poets and thoughts of your philosophers. Even in polytheism, there has to be a unifying principle. The only difference is that the best among you have arrived at God’s unity by reason and we by revelation. How can we deny what’s been made known? And what’s been made known to us is that God is one in unity and three in distinction (Father, Son & Spirit). How can such a belief be called atheism? And what issue could one take with our brand of theism? Does one object that we are too loving (we love even our enemies)?

The real reason we are charged with atheism is that we don’t make sacrifices to the gods of our accusers. Nor do we make sacrifices to the One True God. Why would we? God is in no NEED of sacrifices. God is neither hungry for meat nor thirsty for blood. We respond to God’s goodness by giving our lives rather than trying to appease God through death. So it is true that we don’t believe in the same God (or gods) as our accusers (not that they even agree with each other about the gods), but this is not a matter of shame! In regards to such gods as they believe in, shouldn’t we ALL be atheists? Such gods were created by Orpheus and Homer and Hesiod. What good is a god that was created by humans and acts like humans? “God” must be the source of creation, not part of it.

At this point you may object to my argument by pointing out that there does seem to be power connected to the worship of these gods. I do not deny it. God created angels, gifted them with authority and freedom, and does not force them to use either wisely. Some angels chose to rebel against God, created false gods (using the names of ancients) and religions, and prop said religions up with shows of power in order to keep the blood flowing (via sacrifices). Thus, when there IS power connected to Greek mythology, it is the power of demons.

What of the charges that we, Christians, are incestuous? Vice has always resorted to slander in its attempt to defeat virtue. Truth be told, we Christians live lives more virtuous than their gods and it seems absurd that we would have to defend our chastity against the charges of our persecutors whose sexual ethic could only be called sickening. But to clear the matter up…we are accused of being incestuous because we call each other family and greet one another with a kiss. That is all.

Finally, on the charge of cannibalism, is anyone actually willing to testify to having seen such a thing among us? How could we eat someone if we refuse to kill anyone? We can’t even stomach seeing someone put to death justly, let alone desire to put the flesh of a human in our stomachs! Those who believe in resurrection would never make their body a tomb for another! [this accusation likely was connected to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper].

You are a learned and wise man, Emperor. Our presence in the Empire benefits you. Let us live.

Monday, June 05, 2017

CWG (Chapter 13)

Chapter 13: The Masks of God

In this chapter, Greg Boyd lays down the foundational principle for his cruciform thesis: In some God-breathed Scripture, there was a divine accommodation of the cultural depravity of the covenant people. Insofar as this occurs (as in the violent texts of the Old Testament), it is revelatory in the sense that it shows God has always been inherently willing to stoop to our level in order to stay in relationship with us.

Boyd believes classical theism was essentially inherited from Greek philosophy and prioritizes human reason over divine revelation. Aquinas played a major role in shaping the classic theistic belief that God is, essentially, the unmoved mover. Boyd thinks this approach is littered with problems. Particular germane to his area of interest is the fact that classical theism must assume that when Scripture speaks of God changing His mind, or responding to humans, or other intensely relational terms, these depictions must be instances of accommodations (since God doesn't really do those things. Boyd this this view missed out on the most beautiful aspects of God's nature.

When we start with Christ (revelation over reason), however, we come to very different conclusions (absolute love over absolute power). What doesn't 'change' in God is His moral goodness, but for that very reason God is very open to change insofar as that is the most loving thing to do in a given relationship. In fact, God is willing to put on ugly 'masks' (to use Luther's idea in a very different way) in order to relate to us (even to the point of appearing as a warrior God). The revelation of the cross must cause us to look differently at Old Testament texts in which God appears violent. In such texts, according to Boyd, God was simply stooping to the level of His people and allowing them to put on Him a violent mask and it is that willingness (in order to stay in relationship with His people) that is revelatory.

Reaction
Boyd's project is really starting to take shape here. As a personal aside, after reading this chapter I was feeling comfortable enough with Boyd's overall approach to these texts to attempt to explain his position to my wife in my own words. She's smart and open minded. And I could see questions forming in her mind as I explain Boyd's approach. She was satisfied that he anticipated her concerns and seemed generally favorable to his thesis. I feel about the same way.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Early Christian Apologetics

Below are links to concise versions of early Christian apologetic works. I have greatly abbreviated them and modernized the language while attempting to retain their overall message and tone.

Justin's 2nd Apology

THE SECOND APOLOGY OF JUSTIN MARTYR

To the Roman Senate: I, Justin, am compelled to write to you in response to the persecution of Christians.

Let me start with a story (it’s a true story). Once upon a time there was a very wicked married couple. One day, the wife became a Christian. She wanted to separate, but was persuaded to remain in the marriage in hopes that her husband might be led to faith in Christ as well. But his revelries only increased and she did, in fact, file for divorce. His revenge was to accuse her (officially) of being a Christian. But the husband didn’t stop there. He went after her disciple (a man named Ptolemaeus) and officially accused him of being a Christian as well (a point that he, of course, refused to deny). Upon seeing that Ptolemaeus was found guilty simply for being a Christian, another man (named Lucius) made his objections to this unjust condemnation known to the Emperor. In response, the Emperor asked if he, too, was a Christian (which he was and did not deny). Lucius was also sent to death. WHEN WILL IT END? Why is merely confessing oneself to be a Christian an act worthy of death? I’m sure my time, too, is short (it only takes one enemy to be officially accused!). I’ll likely be accused by someone who knows next to nothing about what it is I actually believe.

Some of you, in fact, don’t understand why we Christians don’t simply commit suicide. If we’re willing to die for our faith because we know we’ll pass on to God, then why not just speed that process up by killing ourselves? There are 2 reasons why: First, we believe that we have a purpose in the world. We live for others… to help them discover the truth. Second, we believe that to take our own lives would be to disobey the will of God. When we are accused, however, we will not deny our faith and we will suffer the consequences.

Some of you insist that if God really were on our side, we would be protected from persecution. This insistence assumes that God is in absolute control of all that comes to pass. In reality, God has delegated much authority to both angels and humans… both of which sometimes make terrible decisions. Fallen angels, in fact, have led the world astray (creating the very kind of world where persecutions take place) and are responsible for the existence of these (false) gods.

All such gods have names. That should be a give-away that they’re not really gods. For any god with a name, was named by someone preceding them. In Christianity, God does not have a name. Terms like Father, God, Creator, Lord, Master (Etc.), are not names, but titles. This is also true of the Son (the Word, the Christ, etc.), who only has a name (Jesus) in regards to His role as human and Savior. He was conceived (and given a name) for our sake (and to be the destroyer of the gods, which are actually demons). And His name, and His name alone, still exorcises these demons that your best exorcists, doctors, and drugs can’t even touch.

Ironically, the only reason God doesn’t put an end to all evil (like the persecution of His people) immediately, is because God desires to use His persecuted people to save their persecutors. For as long as the earth endures, there is hope for wicked men (since they have free will). There is no pre-determined fate. We choose between vice and virtue. The best of your philosophers agree on this point. It is no surprise that many of them were persecuted too (since demons rage against the truth). And it is no wonder that we are persecuted even more, since we have even more of the truth.

Some say that we use fear (of punishment) to force others into the way of Christ. It is true that we speak of judgment. The truth of a coming judgment flows from the reality of a good God. Wouldn’t a good God care how people live? Wouldn’t a good God provide people with laws? And must there not be consequences to breaking these laws? Our whole society is founded on these principles.

And anyone who argues that truth is relative is absolutely wrong. Lies have been promoted, by demons, as competing truth claims… but that doesn’t make them true. Truth is not relative, but it is sometimes partial. Socrates possessed the truth in part (and was persecuted for it), but no one was willing to die for his doctrines. We die for Christ because, in Him, the fullness of truth has come. We die because we’d rather choose the truth… virtue… which has ever-lasting rewards than falsity dressed up as the truth… vice… which has ever-lasting punishment.

Even before I became a Christian, I could tell that the rumors against the Christians were simply slander. They were accused of loose sexual ethics, cannibalism, and the like… but why would such people show no fear of death (where opportunity for such things is removed)? The more I looked into the matter, the more I became convinced of the truth of Christianity. In becoming a Christian, I did not have to forsake all that I had previously believed (for there were kernels of truth in many such teachings). But all truth is God’s truth. Seeds of the truth give way to The Truth (Jesus).

So I request that you publish this little book. Let the conversation on these matters be public. Let’s discuss the ‘justice’ of putting our people to death simply for being Christians. Let’s not make decisions in the darkness of ignorance. When we make such judgments, we subject ourselves to the One True Judge.

I wrote this treatise for the good of all. We’re not ashamed of our beliefs. They stand up to sober scrutiny. Indeed, they are of surpassing worth to all other worldviews (most of which have un-persecuted adherents).

I have made my case and shall now be silent. My only role now is to pray for all… including you.

Justin's 1st Apology

THE FIRST APOLOGY OF JUSTIN MARTYR

To the Emperor, Senate, and all Romans: I, Justin, native of Palestine, present this address and petition on behalf of those of all nations who are unjustly hated and abused, myself being one of them… a Christian. Those who are truly pious and philosophical should love what is true, not necessarily what is popularly stated. I write this that you may consider whether or not we Christians are what we are accused of being. Investigate us for yourselves. Punish us only if it is just.

First off, by no means should a group of people be condemned merely for their name. Why should the mere accusation that we are ‘Christians’ be enough to find us guilty? Innocence or guilt should be determined by actions! Of course, we could just deny that we are Christians when accused. But we refuse to live by telling a lie. Besides, we are proud to be labeled Christians.

Second, we are sometimes accused of atheism. It is true we do not participate in idol worship (why worship things we make?). Such idols are, at best, nothing and, at worst, representatives of demons. We make no apologies for not worshiping these virtue-less ‘gods’ (consider their lives!). We agree with Socrates (who was also accused of atheism for exposing the falsity of these gods). Reason (Logos) must prevail. And it has prevailed in Jesus Christ (who IS the logos)! We are monotheists, not atheists. And the one true God does not require the kinds of sacrifices these idols ‘ask’ for.

Third, we are sometimes accused of trying to set up a human kingdom in opposition to Rome. But our kingdom is of a different nature (otherwise, why would we be so willing to die?). Indeed, it is actually in Rome’s best interest that people become Christians. For those who believe in an all-seeing God who calls us to virtue will undoubtedly be good citizens of this earth (Jesus even commanded us to pay our taxes!). The only people who should be concerned about our existence, then, are the executioners (for their job security will be at stake if all become good!).

Here’s what we believe:

We believe there that there is one God, that Jesus (crucified under Pontius Pilate) is the Son of God, and that God has a prophetic Spirit. Many can’t fathom why we worship a man who was crucified. Let me tell you why… His word was the power of God and has transformed us into better people (there are countless examples!). We become pure of heart, even to the point of loving our enemies. We help those in need (even the children you leave exposed). Any who claim to be Christian and give no evidence of this transformation… do to them what you must.

We believe that God cares for people. In fact, the reason why God has not yet eliminated all evil has to do with this. He wants more people to be saved and knows they may yet be because He made us with freedom (otherwise we would not be accountable). When people reject the truth that God cares for His creation and grants genuine freedom, they end up either not believing in God at all or believing in a very immoral or inactive God. A good God cares by giving genuine freedom.

We believe in the virgin birth. You have similar tales. We believe Jesus is the Son of God. You believe the gods have many sons and daughters. We believe He was crucified. Your gods suffered too. We believe He did miracles. You believe your gods can do miracles. We believe in resurrection. The best of your philosophers have believed in life after death as well. Whole industries depend on the existence of a spiritual realm. We simply take this all one step further.

We believe the dead will get their bodies back. If this seems ridiculous, consider that fact that we all believe that our complex bodies come from a small drop of seed. The only difference between us and some of your best poets and philosophers is that we believe God is capable of more and we actually have evidence (Jesus’ resurrection) on our side. Given these many parallels, how are we alone guilty? Our beliefs are even more anciently rooted and presently attested. In fact, some of your best writers were Christians--in a sense--before Christ in that they absorbed the beliefs of the ancient prophets).

We believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. The timing of His coming, the virgin birth, and His miracle-ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension were foretold over many millennia by various prophets (Moses, David, Isaiah, etc.) as they were moved by the Spirit. It was also predicted that many of the Jews would reject their Messiah and that many of the Gentiles would be included into God’s family. And we are that Church—a body of believers made up of every nation on earth! It becomes more than reasonable to put one’s life in the hands of a crucified man if that man’s crucifixion was foretold and came to pass as predicted.

If all of these prophecies have come to pass in Christ’s first coming, then we have good reason to believe the prophesies of His second coming may be relied upon. We believe there will be eternal life for those in Christ Jesus. The demons knew that Christ was coming (from the Prophets) and, therefore, influenced less ancient writers to conjure up mythical tales so that the story of Christ could be said to be just one among many. The part not even the demons could imagine, though, was the suffering of the Messiah. But even after this surprise, the demons did not give up in trying to lead the world astray through false teachings (even some masquerading as Christianity—men like Simon, Meander, Marcion— I’ve written against their heresies already).

And here’s what we practice:

We practice baptism. When someone has been made new in Christ (as many have been), we pray and fast with them. They are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. By dying and rising again, Christ has conquered death. Baptism shows the new believer shares in this victory. We proceed to pray for this new believer and salute each other with a kiss.

We share the Eucharist together (our leader saying thanks to God on our behalves before the deacons distribute the bread and wine) as a family of faith. We share our possessions and lives.

We assemble in a special way on Sundays, for it is the first day of creation and the first day of new creation (Jesus’ resurrection!). We hear the Scriptures together. Our leader will challenge us with the truth of its words. We pray together. We have the bread and wine together. We make offerings to be disbursed to those in need via our leader.

I have shown that the accusations made against us are false. I have clearly stated our beliefs. I have made known our practices. What, in all this, is worthy of persecution and death? And yet, if you insist (which only brings about your own judgment), we are willing to die. If Roman soldiers are willing to die for their allegiance to Rome (which can promise them nothing beyond death), is it any wonder that we Christians will die for our allegiance to Christ (who promises everything!)?

Justin's Dialogue with Trypho

JUSTIN MARTYR’S DIALOGUE WITH TRYPHO

Upon seeing my philosophers’ garb, a Jewish man named Trypho introduced himself to me. I was surprised that he was interested in philosophy since the Jews have their own lawgiver and prophets, but he insisted that he was interested in my opinion of matters of theism, providence, and life after death.

First, I told him that philosophy is a noble task and one that leads to God. Unfortunately, in practice, it has led to many different conclusions because some philosophers have been more interested in pursuing affirmation and prestige than the truth itself (such happens in religion too!).

Second, I told him my story… How I had moved from one school to another until I landed among the Platonists and began to think of myself as quite wise and spent my time pondering invisible things… How, one day, as I was off the beaten path (a place of contemplation), I came across an older man. We had a conversation about (my) philosophy, whether it had practical benefits, and how it related to the concept of God (I believed that the term ‘God’ referred to the unchanging source of all things). Slowly and carefully, the old man spoke with me… about how it is that I believe we perceive God and what happens after death. He pointed out some of the holes in my philosophical assumptions. He then shared with me about the revelation of truth that had come through the Jewish prophets of old and encouraged me to pursue Christ (to whom those revelations pointed). From that time on, though I never saw that man again, I did pursue these truths and had since become a Christian-philosopher.

But upon telling him that I was a Christian… I was laughed at (albeit politely). Trypho suggested that it’d be far better to be a ritually observant Jewish-philosopher than a Christian-philosopher. He denied that the Christ had come. Therefore, I told Trypho that he had been wrongly informed about Christ and that I would, presently, make the case for Jesus Christ (which provoked more—less polite—laughter). I was going to leave, but Trypho proved willing to dialogue more about the subject of Jesus.

I began by asking Trypho what it was, in particular, that he found objectionable about Christianity. He said it wasn’t the (false) rumors about Christians (cannibalism, promiscuity, etc.) that he found objectionable (he knew they were false). Nor was it even the moral content of our teaching (which he considered wonderful even if impossible to actually obey). What he truly found objectionable was twofold. First, that we didn’t ritually separate ourselves from the world (keep the Old Testament Law). And, second, that we put our hopes in a crucified man, believing that through Jesus we are accepted by God despite our dismissal of His laws contained in the Jewish Scriptures!

Trypho was very eager to hear my responses to these objections. My response was as follows:

The ancient Jewish law itself predicted the coming of a new covenant. That covenant was initiated by Christ (replacing the previous covenant) and made available to all without regard for ethnicity and/or ritual observance. Christians (both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ) are the new spiritual Israel… the people of God. Those who insist on living under the old covenant are, in essence, living in the shadows unnecessarily (for the light has come!). Forgiveness is available through Christ alone… not religious ritual observance. Those things were merely symbols of what was to come and, in and of themselves, had no power to change the heart or save the soul.

I reminded Trypho that there were plenty of God-pleasing people before the law came. The old laws were given specifically to the Jews because of the hardness of their hearts (this much was made clear in the very words of his own prophets). God never has needed such things that the Jewish religion offers Him. The purpose of those laws was not to save you, but to point to Christ (who can save us all). He alone is pure and offers to us a purity of heart (a much more excellent purity). It’s time to come to Christ, not live in the law of the past. The very fact that the Jews no longer had a King or Temple or Prophets (the prophetic gift had been transferred to the Church) demonstrated that the Jewish dispensation had ended and something new had begun with Jesus.

Trypho reiterated his objection that Jesus had suffered and inglorious death (unbecoming of a would-be Messiah), but I replied that this, too, was predicted in the Scriptures and that Jesus was going to come again in glory to fulfill other prophecies. Christ, I argued, was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Scriptures (I wasn’t just cherry-picking). For He is King, and Priest, and God, and Lord, and angel, and man, and captain, and stone, and a Son. I knew that much of what I was saying (especially about the suffering Messiah) was hard to hear and paradoxical to Trypho, but I also knew he needed to hear it to be saved. This is why I was so willing to share (thankfully, since he had been instructed by his teachers not to dialogue with Christians).

Trypho kept stumbling over the apparent foolishness of the incarnation/cross. How could anyone be born of a virgin? How could the Messiah suffer on a cross (and be cursed)? How could the Messiah also be God? But I showed from the Scriptures (otherwise, he would not have stayed) that even in the Old Testament there are hints of a plurality within God (‘Let us make’, the 3 men who visited Abraham, the burning bush experience, etc.). Trypho found my arguments for a plurality within the godhead persuasive, but needed more evidence in order to believe that one member of this plurality became flesh in Jesus Christ. I questioned him on this (having already provided such evidence… like the virgin birth passage in Isaiah)… was he genuinely open to being persuaded?

At this point Trypho stopped me and asked if I felt the Jews were going to miss out entirely on their assumed inheritance from God. I replied that not all Jews will miss out… only those who continue to persecute Christ and fail to repent of their ways. Only those who believe in Jesus and live for Him will inherit God’s promises (also, those who genuinely pursued God in former times are saved by Christ retroactively). Trypho also wondered if someone who did believe and follow Christ could be saved if they simultaneously kept the Jewish Law (where possible). I replied that they could indeed be saved, but that they must not insist that others do likewise.

After more lengthy conversations about the virgin birth passage and suffering servant passage in Isaiah, the Messianic prophecies in Psalm 22, and a host of other texts that foreshadowed the reality that is Christ (there was a lot of necessary repetition), we ended our dialogue (it had taken nearly 2 days)! Trypho was pleasantly surprised that I had been so prepared to discuss the nuances of ‘his’ Scriptures.

I had presented Trypho with an entirely new way to read the Old Testament (through the lens of Jesus Christ). We left on good terms (both thankful for the dialogue and saddened that it could not continue). Whether he ever learned to read Scripture in this way or, even more importantly, began himself to follow Christ… I do not know. But I pray that it is so.

Epistle to Diognetus

Epistle to Diognetus

Since I see, most excellent Diognetus, that you are extremely interested in learning about Christianity and are asking very clear and careful questions about Christians -- specifically: 1) What God do they believe in? 2) How do they worship him? 3) Why did this new race of men begin now and not before? -- I am glad to respond by the empowerment of God. I ask, though, that you will clear your mind of all its prejudices and read what I have to say with an open mind.

First, you wonder why Christians don’t worship all the gods that you worship. Stop and think about your gods! Is not one of them stone, like that which we walk upon, and another bronze, no better than the utensils that have been forged for our use, and another wood, already rotted away, and another silver, which needs a watchmen to guard it lest it be stolen, and another iron, corroded by rust, and another pottery, not a bit more attractive than that made for the most unmentionable use? Couldn’t we, right now, make some more? Do they have souls? Do they have feelings? Do they move on their own? I think, deep down, you know the foolishness of worshipping such gods! And if you don’t, there’s no point in reading any further!

Second, you wonder why Christians don’t worship like the Jews. Well, Jews rightly claim to worship the one God, but insomuch as they offer this worship in the same way as described above, they are altogether mistaken! Do they really think that God is pleased with the blood and fat of animals? Is God really concerned with kinds of food, specific days of the week, physical circumcision, and holidays? They fell in love with the shadow instead of the light. No wonder that Christians keep their distance from such a darkness as a man-made religion. Instead, Christians rely on a God who speaks for Himself and needs nothing.

Third, let’s take a closer look at Christianity. Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. They live where they are born, but only as aliens. They are ‘in the flesh,’ but don’t live ‘according to the flesh.’ They love everyone even though they are persecuted by all. When some are killed, the others seem to become livelier. And those that hate them are unable to give reason for their hostility.

What the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world. The soul is dispersed through all the parts of the body, and Christians are dispersed throughout the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body without being part of the body, and Christians dwell in the world without being part of the world. The flesh hates the soul because it hinders its indulgences, and the world hates the church since it serves as a conscience. The soul loves the flesh even though the flesh hates the soul, and Christians love the world even though the world hates the church. The soul is a prisoner to the body, yet holds the body together. In the same way, Christians are prisoners in the world, yet hold the world together.

Christians, as I said, get ‘Christianity’ from God Himself, not from man. For God revealed Himself to men in Jesus Christ. God sent him in gentleness and meekness. He sent him as God. He sent him as man to men. He sent him as one who saves by persuasion, not compulsion, for compulsion is no attribute of God. He sent him as one loving, not judging, for the Day of Judgment is yet future. No one has either seen or recognized him, but he has revealed himself. And he revealed himself through faith, which is the only means by which it is permitted to see God.

With great patience, God permitted us in the former time to be carried away by undisciplined impulses, as we desired. Once we clearly demonstrated our inability to enter the Kingdom on our own, God enabled us to do so by His power. When our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and its wages made known, then the season arrived during which God had decided to reveal at last his goodness and power. For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? Oh, the sweet exchange, Oh, the incomprehensible work of God, Oh, the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners.

If this faith is what you long for, then first of all you must acquire this knowledge of the Father: God so loved men that He made the world, made them rulers, gave them reason, permitted them alone to yearn for perfection, sent to them alone His one and only Son, and promised them the Kingdom which He will give to those who love Him.

Once you have accepted this truth, you will be so overwhelmed with joy that you will respond by imitating His goodness. You will no longer fear the transitory death, but the true death, which is reserved for the wicked.

Apology of Aristides

Apology of Aristides

For Hadrian (Caesar),

I am Aristides, an Athenian Philosopher. When I considered the existence of the world and considered its beauty, I concluded that there must be a Creator behind creation (one worthy of our worship). This Creator must be eternal, perfect, incomprehensible, formless, indivisible, unequaled, all-good, all-knowing, all-wise, and all-powerful. He (though He is neither male nor female) requires nothing, but all else depends on Him. Such is God.

Of men, there are 4 types: Barbarians, Greeks, Jews, and Christians. Each has a set of stories and beliefs. Let us compare them objectively…

The Barbarians worship the elements. They have to guard their gods, lest they be stolen! If their gods are too feeble to save themselves, how can they save the Barbarians? They worship the earth (where we bury the dead!), the waters (where we pee!), fire (which we humans quench!), the wind (which strengthens and weakens!), and the sun (which is moved by a greater power!). How foolish they are. Some of them worship ancient men, who are made of these elements (and soul/spirit) and can thus be divided (and, thus, cannot be god) and, in any case, suffer from various defects. It is rather obvious that the Barbarians are in error in what and who they worship.

The Greeks are more subtle, but their beliefs are actually even more ridiculous! They have simply made up their gods! Some of them are male and some are female. Most, if not all, of them are quite immoral (and the Greek people, of course, mimic their gods in these ways). Some of their gods even die! The story of every one of their gods is a sad one! You’d think if you were going to invent gods, you’d make them more impressive!

(As a brief aside, we should mention the Egyptians. They are even more stupid than the Greeks! In addition to having their own fleet of helpless gods, they worship animals and plants too! Praise to garlic and onions!?!? Never worship a god that regularly gets eaten!).

Back to the Greeks, it is curious that cultures that were able to accomplish so much in terms of advancement are not able to perceive the ridiculousness of their religious thoughts. Even their philosophers cannot rescue this foolish network of gods by claiming that it all represents 1 true God (for God cannot be well represented by competing, back-stabbing deities). In the end, the laws of the Greeks judge their gods as guilty. Reality judges them as fake.

Now Jews do believe in 1 God. They believe that God is the all-powerful Creator. They are much closer to the truth and their behavior is commendable (they are kind to the needy). In the end, though, they too have erred from true knowledge. They focus too much on their rules, which is a never-winning-battle (because even they don’t keep all of them).

But the Christians have sought the truth and found it (or at least come nearer than any others). They know and trust God the Creator. They received commandments from the Messiah and keep them. The love even their enemies. They invite all into their family. The care for their widows, orphans, strangers, the poor, the imprisoned, and even the dead. They share their possessions so that none of them goes without basic necessities. They give thanks to God for all things. They pray to God and receive great blessings (to my mind there is no doubt but that the earth abides through the supplication of the Christians). They’re a new kind of people. You can learn all about them from their writings. Read and see for yourself!

People may say bad things about Christians, but this is just a form of persecution. Christians are good. For the most part, they truly are people of great compassion. They pray that those who are against them will repent and come into their faith. The persecution of this people should cease. The light of their truth must continue to spread around the world!

Tatian's Address to the Greeks

TATIAN'S ADDRESS TO THE GREEKS.

Greeks… you owe to the many people whom you label ‘Barbarians’ most of what you are. You’ve not invented, but collected your qualities. And the qualities you’ve gathered, you’ve corrupted. You brag about and fight over dogmatic philosophies and arrogant philosophers, but both are a joke. Why reject Christians for rejecting this ridiculousness?

All that we are guilty of is worshiping the one true God who was before all things. I will unapologetically worship the Creator over creation. God is one, but as one torch may light another without being diminished itself, so the Logos (Word) was begotten by the Father. And this Word became flesh in Jesus Christ. Because of Him, we believe in resurrection. History is not an endless cycle of repetition. I once was not. Now I am. I will someday die. But my flesh, visible to God alone, will be restored by Him.

Resurrection is where we are headed, but what has happened between creation and consummation is that God endowed men and angels with free will and they have used it to sin against God. The Cunning One convinced the Image-Bearers to rebel. He and his minions substituted false-gods (corrupt and contradictory) and fate (as if the stars seal our futures) for our Heavenly Father. Our rebellion leads to death unless we die to our rebellion. We’ve become slaves to our own freedom. Fate is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let me teach, to you, the truth in contrast to the errors you have believed. Souls are not immortal. A soul is dependent on God’s Spirit for eternal life. Without the Spirit, it descends to death when the body dies. With the Spirit, it ascends to God. So we must align ourselves with the Spirit of God if we desire to live forever. Our situation is grave, but death itself has been conquered.

Your gladiator games are grotesque. Your philosophers are just out for money. You play around with the characters of the alphabet, but have no character yourselves! Your laws differ from state to state as if truth is relative. Why should Christians be persecuted merely for being Christians when you all get away with such dreadful behavior? You act like the gods you worship.

Seeing all this first hand, I grew frustrated and sought the truth until I found the more ancient (for Moses came before Homer) truth. In it, I found integrity, truth, prophecy, and freedom from my enslavement to sin through the one true God. And this good news is offered to all (men and women, young and old, rich and poor, weak or strong) who will listen. Ask away…

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Introduction (Volume 2)

Introduction: Something Else is Going On

In this brief introduction to volume 2, Boyd creates a fictitious analogy and outlines the 4 principles of his cruciform thesis.

The analogy, which will be referred to throughout the book, involves Boyd seeing his good wife behaving badly. Rather than dismissing that it's her (clearly it is) or believing that she's changed (how could that be?), he believes his only viable option would be to hold fast to the faith he has in his wife and try to find some reinterpretation (what else is going on?) of what he has seen. Boyd acknowledges that analogies all break down, but he believes this one may prove helpful throughout volume 2.

The 4 principles Boyd will put forward are 1) The Principle of Cruciform Accmmodation (if God stooped and appeared ugly on the cross, then perhaps God stooped and became ugly in the Old Testament literature too). 2) The Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal (The Father didn't act violently toward Jesus, but simply withdrew His protective presence, so maybe in the OT we're not seeing actual divine violence but withdrawal). 3) The Principle of Cosmic Conflict (the violence carried out against Jesus was more than just human-- it was demonic-- so maybe there was demonic activity in the violent texts of the OT as well). 4) The Principle of Semi-autonomous Power (If, when God entrusts agents with authority, He doesn't meticulously control their use of that authority, this might explain some of the supernatural violence found in the OT text).

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I look forward to volume 2!