Archive for the ‘Question’ Category

Question for My Muslim Readers

March 6, 2009

Today I stumbled across an interesting question for my Muslim readers. The question is, how can Mohamed be called the greatest prophet? The question provides evidence from the Koran itself to document the idea that, even based solely on the Koran, Jesus was a greater prophet than any other prophet. Please consider reading and thinking about this question before you answer (link).

I should be quick to point out that the reason why I believe that Jesus was greater than Mohamed was not only the sorts of things laid out in the linked question, but specifically the fact that Jesus was (and is) both God and man, in two distinct natures and one person.

In terms of specific evidence, I direct you to the fact that not only did Jesus himself raise the dead, but on the third day after the crucifixion of the Messiah, God raised Jesus from the dead.


Response to the Latest Gabcast of Godismyjudge

July 12, 2008

I apologize to any readers who are getting tired of the back-and-forth betwixt Godismyjudge (Dan) and myself. Dan has a new 43 minute audio response (link) to my latest blog post (link). I really don’t like that format of response for several reasons: it takes longer to listen to him speak than to read what he writes, going back to find something is easier when scanning through text, and putting it in writing makes it easier to locate using Internet search engines, for the edification of others.

I didn’t really appreciate Dan’s suggestions that I am “shifting the question.” I’m simply looking for clarification from Dan about what he means by “absolutely impossible.” I also didn’t really agree with Dan’s characterizations of Edwards’ discussion of the will, and I didn’t particularly agree with his attempted three-fold division of Calvinistic thought on the subject.

Frankly, all those things are tangents, and I’d rather get past them to the meat of the matter. Here’s my proposal going forward. To be clear, I’m not trying to “shift [any] question[s]” but simply to clarify.

For the sake of discussion, let’s take the following model of God from my previous post (which, unless I missed it in the 3/4 hour presentation, Dan failed to address):

1. God exists;
2. God has a nature/attributes;
3. God acts based on his nature/attributes;
4. Among God’s timeless acts, God decrees to create;
5. God, logically subsequent to the decree to act, knows that (and what) he will create; and
6. Among God’s acts, and as the first temporal act, and logically subsequent to the decree and knowledge, God creates.

Question of clarification: What is the reference point that Dan has in mind for his question about absolute impossibility?

My best guess based on listening to his gabcast is between (2) and (3).

But perhaps Dan has some other point in the logical order in mind. Thus, I will respectfully request that he just point out what he has in mind, in terms of the order above, or to explain why that order is unacceptable etc., rather than try to provide a comprehensive answer for each question.

I also want to again direct Dan to consider what Turretin himself has to say about this topic, which can be found at pages 218-220 of the English printed edition of Volume 1 of Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Pars Prima, Locus Tertia, Quae. XIV).

Finally, I have a question for Dan, is God loving himself and/or his creation an action of God’s in terms of the question that Dan is trying to ask? In other words, is Dan asking me to answer the question about absolute impossibility without reference to the Love of God for Himself and/or his creation?


Thoughts on the Will’s Freedom

May 24, 2008

I was listening to an interesting discussion on the will’s freedom, in which the compatibilist noted the following:

1) The standard contemporary definition for Libertarian Free Will is the ability to do otherwise, given all preceding causal factors.

2) Thus, to take an example, if we choose to pull a trigger – we could have chosen NOT to pull the trigger.

3) If we give any reason, or set of reasons, for why we pulled the trigger – it must be that if we had NOT chosen to pull the trigger, the reasons would be the same.

4) But this is absurd.

I hope I’ve summarized the argument well – but perhaps not. Here’s my source (link), which has some interesting further discussion on the topic.

I see some weaknesses with this argument – but exposing them actually demonstrates a slightly stronger argument.

As to (3), it’s rather absurd to imagine that our desire for venison would be BOTH a reason why we chose to pull the trigger and the reason why did not choose to pull the trigger. Instead, we’d probably filter our the “favorable” and “unfavorable” reasons. Perhaps our sympathies stirred up by the movie Bambi would be the reason why we did not choose to pull the trigger – but not our love of venison.

Ultimately, though, we have to realize that in doing so – in filtering the preceding causes based on the actual choice – we are not really giving an explanation for the choice at all. Our love of venison does not explain the choice – it simply relates favorably to the outcome. The goes for our love of Bambi if we do not choose to pull the trigger: we only pick it as a “reason” after the fact.

To think about it another way, if we did not love venison, would we not have chosen to pull the trigger? If the choice is explained by the love of venison, then the answer would seem to be yes. But then, it would appear that our love of venison in some sense determined the outcome. The consistent LFW advocate must say that if the preceding causes had been different, the choice still could have gone either way.

This seems to close any loophole for the person to claim that there are reasons for human choices.

But perhaps the LFW advocate will seek refuge in the idea that there is no reason or explanation for human choices. The choice just exists. There are two responses:

1) Our intuitions strongly oppose such an idea. Every young heart in (as yet) unrequited love has believed that it is possible to influence the decisions of love’s object. Every hyponist (and most of those watching) believe it is possible for the hypnotist to influence his subject’s decisions. Every advertiser thinks its a good investment to advertize, because it will influence human decisions. Every crook who has tried to bribe a judge has thought he could influence human decisions. Is all that collective intuition wrong? It certainly could be. I don’t mean to suggest that human intuition is always right – the fall has corrupted men’s minds. But isn’t it worthy of careful consideration?

2) And when we turn to a standard that we trust, Scripture, don’t ‘we see the same thing? Doesn’t Scripture explain human choices? Doesn’t Scripture specifically warn judges NOT to take bribes? If it does, can we reject that?

I suppose a third option is to insist on partial, or incomplete libertarianism. That is to say, choices are determined, but only partially. But what on earth does that mean? How is something being partially determined work? How’s partial determination different from no determination?

The argument here seems to be, give 10 judges a dollar and 9 out of 10 will render you a favorable decisions – but there is that 10th guy who still renders just judgment. Isn’t this more easily explained though as the gift having a different effect on different people – and not by the people’s choices being only partially determined?

In other words, isn’t it the case that we can more easily explain the matter as any given cause being only a partial explanation, but the sum of all the causes (including the condition of the preson’s own heart) being the full explanation? After all – that’s what we’d do with the case of a pharmaceutical. Ten people take, nine recover, but one does not. Does that mean that the recovery was not caused in the 9 cases? Or does that mean that somehow the body itself has free will to accept the effects of the drug? Surely not. It means that some people’s bodies (or diseases) are different. The drug has an effect, but the sum of the effects is different in different people, so the drug doesn’t always cure.

These arguments seem to leave no room for “Libertarian” Free Will. Nevertheless, I invite my firends who insist that men have the “ability to do otherwise” (regardless of all preceding causes) to consider the matter with a few questions:

1) Is it the LFW position that the sum (or product) of all preceding causes (including the state of man’s heart) does not determine the choice, but that given that same exact set of preceding causes (both external and internal) man could have chosen otherwise? This question is important, because otherwise the argument is just so much straw-man-defeating, in which we shouldn’t be investing any time.

2) Can we meaningfully speak of reasons for choices, reasons that explain the choices?

3) If we can, how can we do so consistently with the concept of libertarian free will?

4) So why not just define Free Will as Calvinists typically do, as man choosing in accordance with his desires?


Tradition Distinguished – Abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Thwarted

April 1, 2008

Those who wish to oppose the doctrine of Sola Scriptura typically run to 2 Thessalonians 2:15 as one of the first passages to discuss. As will be demonstrated below, this verse does not support such abuse, and – in fact – demonstrates the eisegetical mindset of those who seek to use it to oppose a doctrine that our only infallible rule of faith is Scripture.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

The usual way this verse is abused is to make a loose claim, such as:

a) See, tradition according to Scripture includes both written and oral components; and

b) See, oral tradition is also as binding as written tradition.

There are several reasons why these are abuses, and there are several reasons why even these abuses are not particularly helpful to those who usually attempt them.

Reasons why such loose statements are abuses of the text or unhelpful to those trying to use them.

1(a). We do not know precisely the content of the traditions mentioned is. The significance of this fact will become apparent shortly.

1(b). We know from the context that the general content of these traditions is the gospel:

2Th 2:13-15
13But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

2. The “brethren” (not simply the bishops/elders) are those who received the “traditions” mentioned.

3. The “traditions” mentioned are a combination of the things preached to those brethren and “our epistle” and not between the things preached and Scripture generally.

Impacts of the facts above.

Why are these three/four facts significant to stop abuse of the verse?

A) The verse is not saying to hold anything taught outside of Scripture, as such.
B) The verse is not saying to hold fast to something other than the gospel.
C) The verse is not saying making a general statement about all teachings by every apostle.
D) The verse is not saying that Scripture generally fails to contain the gospel to which Paul required the Thessalonians to hold fast.

Specific Abuse 1
If someone is trying to say that we need to permit some “tradition,” because this verse says so, we need to ask ourselves (and them, if they’ll answer) three questions:

1) Is the tradition that they want us to permit the gospel preached by Paul to the Thessalonians, or something else?

2) Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate Paul taught to the Thessalonians at all?

3) Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate that any of the apostles or prophets of the apostolic age taught to the Thessalonians?

If the answers are “something else,” “no,” and “no” (as is usally the case) then it should be apparent that their reliance on this verse is completely in appropriate.

Specific Abuse 2
Likewise, if someone is trying to use this verse to suggest that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture, we need to ask ourselves (and them, if possible) three questions:

1) Does the verse contrast Scripture and oral traditions or “our epistle” and other “things preached”?

2) Does the verse say that the Thessalonians had been preached extrascriptural doctrines?

3) Does the verse explain anything about the “things preached” beyond that they were the “truth” and “the gospel”?

If the answers are “the latter,” “no,” and “no” then it should be apparent that the verse cannot stand for the proposition for which they are attempting to use it.

Specific Abuse 3
Finally, if the verse is provided as an argument that the magesterium of the church has been entrusted with oral teachings that are passed down orally for long periods of time, but which must be accepted when finally revealed to the public, we must ask the following questions:

1) Is there any reason to think that Paul taught things in secret, especially from this verse?

2) Is the verse directed to the leaders of the Thessalonian church or to the brethren?

3) Does the verse specify that the “things taught” were not things that were committed to writing?

If the answer is “no,” “brethren,” and “no,” then it should be apparent that the verse is being abused by the person citing it.


As demonstrated above, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 does not defeat Sola Scriptura, nor does it establish the “traditionist” positions. It’s important, of course, to recall that those two things are separate issues. The “traditionist” position that we have to have an infallible magesterium in addition to Scripture is not proved simply by attacking Sola Scriptura. For example, the “traditionist” claims for their tradition are not simply that there is a body of inspired knowledge that is additional to Scripture that was taught by the apostles. Instead, the claim is usually a claim to be able to – in essence – add to the base of inspired knowledge additional infallible teaching that was not the teaching (by word or letter) of Paul to the Thessalonians. In short, to make assertions that 2 Thessalonians 2:15, because it uses the words “traditions” is supportive of a “traditionist” position such as Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, is simply to demonstrate one’s unfamiliarity with the text, and one’s inability to consider what the text itself has to say.

May God give us wisdom to hold fast to the gospel that Paul preached to the Thessalonians,


Redundancy in James?

February 23, 2008

In the King James Version, the James 5:16 seems to contain a little redundancy and/or truism:

James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

The redundancy is “effectual” and “availeth much.” If it is effectual (in modern usage) then it means it works.

The apparent redundancy is a result of a slight semantic shift and an attempt to convey a Greek word in English.

The underlying Greek is:

Jas 5:16 εξομολογεισθε αλληλοις τα παραπτωματα και ευχεσθε υπερ αλληλων οπως ιαθητε πολυ ισχυει δεησις δικαιου ενεργουμενη

In this, the phrase in question is: “πολυ ισχυει δεησις δικαιου ενεργουμενη”

πολυ => greatly
ισχυει => enables/has force
δεησις => (a / the) prayer
δικαιου => righteous
ενεργουμενη => [(the thing that) is (itself) empowering]

The tricky word, as you can guess, is the last one – it is a present middle participle, which is a bit challenging to express in English. The KJV translators tried to express its meaning using the phrase “effectual fervent.” The point of the passage is that we should pray for one another, and that we should have confidence to pray for one another on the basis that an empowered prayer by a righteous man can accomplish great things, both as to physical healing and also conversion: with Elias’ prayers for and against rain provided as an example.

Pray to God and pray boldly, for if God gives your prayer power, you may save a soul by prayer!


Followup to the Holy Water Debate

February 10, 2008

Gene Bridges has provided a rebuttal (link) to the response (which I addressed at item 2 here) to his previous comments hosted on his own blog. I don’t know whether PhatCatholic will continue that dialog. Obviously, the official portion of the Holy Water Debate is complete, but that doesn’t mean that we have to stop discussing the matter.


Exclusive Psalmody – What about Jesus?

February 3, 2008

Very often, when I discuss the issue of exclusive psalmody with people, once we are past: “But would that mean wouldn’t be able to sing ‘Amazing Grace’?” The next question is something to the effect of “What about Jesus? His name is not mentioned in the Psalms!”

Sometimes this question is even phrased as an argument, something to the effect that singing only the Psalms is somehow wrong or anti-trinitarian.

Pastor Ian Campbell provides an excellent answer to this question/objection (link).

To give you a taste of the article, here is it’s opening paragraph:

I detect an increasing interest in the Psalms. Paul. S. Jones, in the essay, ‘Hymnody in a post-hymnody world’ says that “Singing psalms in worship is a biblical mandate — not an optional activity’ (Give Praise to God, p255). In the same volume Terry Johnson, in ‘Restoring Psalm Singing to our Worship’, asks: “What are the implications of a psalter in the canon of Scripture?” (p259), and concludes that “Our ancestors were psalm singers! The Psalter gave to their faith the bold, robust quality that we still admire today. A revival of their use has begun in our time… may they become a fixed element in the worship of evangelical Christians once more” (p286).

May the God of David and Asaph shine his blessings on us,


Last Chance for Audience Questions

January 30, 2008

The Holy Water Debate has mostly finished. My sparring partner, PhatCatholic, has posted his concluding argument, and consequently it is time for audience questions. I’ve received several questions so far. If you have a question that you would like to ask PhatCatholic or myself, please submit it for possible inclusion.

Thanks to everyone who followed the debate.


P.S. I do have some thoughts of my own about the debate, but I plan to reserve those thoughts until after the audience questions.

Why Should I Believe that?

January 19, 2008

Every apologist is bound to get the question, “Why should I believe that?”

Sometimes the answer is as simple as: “Because the Bible says it,” or “Because it follows logically.”

But not everyone one meets shares one’s common epistemic foundation. Not everyone accepts that logical deduction provides truth. Not everyone believes the Bible. What can we do then?

1. In some cases we can find some other common foundation.

For example, suppose we are addressing someone who accepts only the gospels, and not the other parts of the Bible. In that case, we may be able to prove our doctrine to them out of the gospels. If someone is unwilling to accept the Bible as true, we may be able to prove our point from shared intuition or some other aspect of creation.

2. In some cases we can present our case in a different way.

If a lack of common foundation prohibits strictly logical dialog, we can still discuss the matter using some other mode of discussion. For example, if a person refuses to accept absolute truth, one can appeal to their conscience, to their common sense, etc.

Bottom Line: Some Things are not Arguable

You cannot prove logic’s validity logically. You cannot prove to people that the Gospel is true. You cannot cure congenital blindness, you cannot heal leprosy, and you cannot raise the dead. That’s God’s turf.

You cannot argue anyone to Christ. You can present the truth to them. You can defend the truth against their attacks, but you cannot force someone to believe, whether by sword, by love, by deceit, or by logic. We have to present the truth to people as best we can, and pray to God to open their eyes and hearts and minds to the truth.

May God do so!


Shorter Catechism Explained – 1

January 12, 2008

Q. What is the chief end of man?

By “chief end” we refer to the highest goal or purpose. When we speak of “man,” of course, we speak of human beings generally.

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Two answers are provided, one objective and one subjective. Objectively man’s principle goal is to glorify God. Man will do this. Man will achieve this end, whether man so intends and designs, or not. God sees to it that He himself is glorified. This is the same chief end of all of creation: to glorify God.

But there is something that sets man apart from the lower creation, and that is the subjective goal of man: namely to enjoy God forever. That is the best end for a man, to enjoy God forever. Unlike the objective purpose of man, this subjective purpose is not achieved by all men. No all men will enjoy God forever, even though all will glorify God one way or another.

Before we leave this question, we should note that subjectively as well as objectively, man ought first to seek the glorify of God, even without regard to the end of enjoying God forever. In other words, man ought consciously to seek the glory of God. The glory of God should be behind what we do.

Keeping the glory of God in mind as our principle objective (our “mission statement” to borrow from modern management terminology) can help steer us away from sin. Before we act we ought to think whether our action will glorify God. It’s easy to say (or to write) such instructions, but it is much harder to live them.

God is Great, let us worship Him, forever and ever,


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