Dec 23 2010

One Gospel — it’s what Christmas is all about

From a Reformation Day sermon, as posted by Paul McCain:

The different ways people read God’s Word are not merely variations on a theme but radically different Gospels.  The Reformation of Luther is not about competing interpretations but about the one Gospel which is true and others which are false.  If you read St. Paul’s letters, you hear him warn the people against departing from the truth that He delivered to them.  He was not offering one version of the truth but the only truth that saves — the truth of Jesus Christ. We face exactly the same challenge today.

Christianity is not the domain of differing but equally true ideas about God.  Christianity is not some umbrella religion of many different truths that all claim to be right.  Christianity is about the one, true Gospel that has the power to forgive, save, and give eternal life.  The other gospels are false gospels that are powerless to do anything for you.  Luther’s battle was not with a pope or a council but with a false gospel which had robbed the Church of the Word that does what it says, delivers what it promises, and bestows what it speaks.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 24 2009

There are stupid questions (my Christmas post)

I know I said I would be ignoring atheist blogs, but I ran across this post and I felt that it met the criteria to warrant a mention here, and as I said, sometimes I just can’t help myself, even on Christmas morning (at 1am).

I once had a lot of hope for Common Sense Atheism, but aside from a few thought-provoking posts some time ago, I’ve been greatly disappointed.  This post is a good example, where he repeats a question he read elsewhere, “Can you prove to me that God exists in a way that will also show that Zeus does not?

Basically, what we have here is a case of GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out.  If you want intelligent answers, you have to ask intelligent questions.  We’ve all heard the example of, “Do you still beat your wife?”, in which no answer is the right answer.  The question asked above has a similar problem, in that no answer will be sufficient, because the question is flawed. It seems like an intelligent question, but looks can be deceiving. What he has done in his short discussion is confuse two issues:

  1. Does a Supernatural Being exist?
  2. Assuming a Supernatural Being exists, which Being is the true God?

Now, I tend to believe that the existence of God cannot be proven using deductive logic.  That is, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.  You can make inductive arguments, but the best you can do is create the possibility – or probability – of a God.  As I have said before, I would tend to agree with the notion of a Kierkegaardian leap to faith.  At some point, we all choose what we believe, based on the evidence – in which I would also include subjective and emotional evidence – that we have.  We do this every day, about any number of things; as has been said, the only sure thing is that there is no sure thing.  Certainty, which I believe we can have, is a matter of faith.  Not until we sit in a chair are we certain that the chair will not fail.

I think Hume may have had one of the best discussions about this in his analysis of miracles, which falls within his thinking on cause and effect.  We can never be sure of causality; even though A has caused B a thousand times doesn’t mean that A will result in B the 1oo1th time.  We can be reasonably sure, but we won’t arrive at certainty even through one more experiment.  What about the next time?

We can discuss possibilities, probabilities, and evidence, both for the existence of a Supreme Being, and also make a strong case that the Christian God is the One True God. I believe the evidence on both issues is overwhelming and compelling.  However, in the end, what we choose to believe is up to us.  I suspect that many atheists (not all) take some comfort in flawed reasoning, as it provides an illusion of evidence in support of atheism.  However, philosophers and scientists alike know that it is important to ask the right questions.  That is, if they want to really find truth.

Christmas is one of those holidays when people tend to at least think about spiritual things; no matter what you do to the season, it is hard to avoid the spiritual dimension of the season.  However, I believe that even atheists can appreciate many elements of Christmas, like family, giving, serving others, and even egg nog.   Whatever your inclination, I hope you’ll allow me to wish you a very Merry Christmas, and continue to ask good questions.

Dec 3 2009

Historical evidence for the Bethlehem census story

Weekend Fisher writes today concerning some historical evidence for the story – often written off as mere myth – that Jesus was born in Bethlehem as a result of a census.   Apparently, as no Roman documents exist from that period, that there is no record of such a census.  However, some interesting documents exist from the 2nd and early 3rd centuries that refer to such tax/census documents.  He writes:

Justin Martyr, attempting to persuade the Roman government to stop persecuting Christians, refers the Romans to their own tax registers to verify Jesus’ birth. After mentioning the prophecy of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem he continues:

Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judæa.– Justin Martyr, First Apology XXXIV (circa 150-155 A.D.)

Tertullian makes a similar reference approx. 50 years later, indicating that Jesus’ birth was recorded in the documents kept in the archives in Rome, essentially challenging doubters to go look it up.

Of course, naysayers will respond that these 2 could simply have been bluffing, although I doubt they could provide any proof that either Tertullian or Justin Martyr had a tendency to make stuff up.  Historically, these references – if related to nearly any other issue – would be given serious consideration.

At this point, it would seem that there is no reason whatsoever to doubt this portion of the story.  And, this provides another example of why it is important to pay attention to the writings of the early church.

Dec 25 2008

So this is Christmas…

Well, as I write this it’s 1 a.m. Christmas morning, and I’m waiting for my kids to go to bed so I can do the stocking thing and go to bed, too.  The living room is filled with opened gifts (our family tradition is to open most gifts on Christmas Eve), and a few saved for tomorrow.  I received some new photography equipment, which at the moment is kind of intimidating, as I really don’t know what I’m doing.

For many years, my standard line about Christmas was that I didn’t like to mix my religion with my holidays; I guess you could call that my “iconoclast” period.  That has changed, however neither do I need to reach to find some spirituality within the food, family and gifts.  My fresh appreciation for the Incarnation has changed all that.

Some of my friends don’t share my particular worldview, and I confess that this saddens me, as the reality of the Incarnation – the birth of Jesus, the “God-man” – offers so much.  It’s not just the non-believers I’m speaking about, but also the many Christians who have fallen for various versions of dualism that sees only the spiritual as good, and what is Earthly as evil. To them, the extravagance and commercialism stands as “anti-Christian,” although I only know of one person who claims not to buy Christmas gifts (who also is not a parent). Some people buy moderately (there’s nothing wrong with that), compromising high ideals with reality, and giving in to the expectations that Christmas brings. They try to resolve this by imposing some sense of spirituality to Christmas by doing things like wearing buttons reminding us to “keep the Christ in Christmas.” However, if you have to reach for it, you’ve missed it.

The reality of Christmas in some respects stands apart from all of the trimmings; it doesn’t matter, for example, that Jesus was probably born at some other time of the year, or that various non-Christian traditions have merged with this particular holy-day. What matter is that Jesus was, indeed, born as a man and that God indeed got “down and dirty” to become one with man, so that we could become one with Him.

Giving gifts to those we love (and perhaps to a few we don’t), giving to the poor, celebrating with feasts and fun, are – or could be – all incarnational activities, and besides, they’re just great fun. And, if it helps boost the economy, so much the better.  I should mention that receiving doesn’t suck, either.

Receiving is also what Christmas is about. This season, I encourage you to receive life, and truth, and “peace on Earth, good will toward men.”  The reality of Christmas is always here; we just focus on it one month out of the year. Everything we do this Christmas should be a reminder that God indwells his creation; in a manner of speaking, He is present in the presents, or at least the giving of them. He is here, Immanuel, God With Us, not just at Christmas, but certainly during Christmas.

Well, most of my family are having sugar plum dreams, and it’s time for another long winter’s nap.  Norad shows Santa has been here and gone, and is now somewhere over Hawaii. Tomorrow there will be more food, more time with family, more fun, and even a few more gifts.  Bring it on!

Have a very merry Christmas!