August 2012

While dialoguing with a friend on the topic of abortion, I was asked how I define abortion.  After communicating my own definition of abortion, I thought it would be interesting to see how various dictionaries define it.  Needless to say, I was amazed at how inaccurate and politically correct the definitions were.  Here are a few:

  1. The removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus in order to end a pregnancy.
  2. Any of various surgical methods for terminating a pregnancy, especially during the first six months.

Interestingly, there is no mention of the fate of the unborn baby.  Instead, the focus is on the “pregnancy” and terminating that pregnancy.  

The first six months?  How is that relevant to the definition?  If a child is killed in utero at seven months, that is also called an abortion.  


I am an Arminian, but much of my theological training has been received from the hands of Reformed theologians.  Indeed, many of the thinkers I read/follow are Reformed in their theology.  My exposure to Reformed thinkers has broadened my understanding of Calvinism, corrected many of my misconceptions about Calvinism, and produced in me a real sense of appreciation for its exegetical basis.  Indeed, sometimes I jokingly refer to myself as a “Calminian.”  And yet, for all its strengths, I think there are fatal flaws in Calvinistic theology (which is part of the reason I remain relatively Arminian—I also see some real strengths in the Molinist explanation, so perhaps I am an “Cal-mol-inian”).  In this post I will present what I believe to be one of the most fundamental challenges to Calvinistic theology.  


Tim Keller on why apologetics is essential:

Apologetics is an answer to the “why” question after you’ve already answered the “what” question. The what question, of course, is, “What is the gospel?” But when you call people to believe in the gospel and they ask, “Why should I believe that?”—then you need apologetics.

I’ve heard plenty of Christians try to answer the why question by going back to the what. “You have to believe because Jesus is the Son of God.” But that’s answering the why with more what. Increasingly we live in a time when you can’t avoid the why question. Just giving the what (for example, a vivid gospel presentation) worked in the days when the cultural institutions created an environment in which Christianity just felt true or at least honorable. But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it.

One of the arguments Arminians level against Calvinism is that it makes evangelism superfluous.  After all, if your neighbor is part of the elect God will ensure that he comes to faith whether you preach the Gospel to him or not.  As part of God’s elect, it would be impossible for him not to come to faith.  Likewise, if your neighbor is not part of the elect, no amount of evangelism will be effective for his conversion.  So why evangelize if Calvinism is true?  What’s the point? 

Calvinists typically respond by saying God doesn’t just predestine the ends, but also the means.  While God may have predestined your neighbor’s salvation (the ends), He also predestined that your neighbor would receive that salvation in response to your evangelism (the means).  

While I can appreciate this response in principle, how exactly is God using your evangelism to bring about your neighbor’s salvation?  To speak of God using evangelism to bring about salvation implies that evangelism contributes to the desired end in some way.  I fail to see how this is so, given the strict monergism of Calvinism.  Let me explain. 


One of the hot button issues in our culture is homosexuality and the related issue of same-sex marriage.  I have offered a non-religious argument against both (here and here).  As I have continued to reflect on these issues, however, I am persuaded that a non-religious case against homosexuality is much more difficult to make than the case against same-sex marriage.  One reason for this is the fact that the case against same-sex marriage can be made purely on policy grounds without any recourse to moral judgments.  One could believe homosex is morally irrelevant and still be opposed to the government regulating same-sex relationships.  Moral judgments, however, are not so easily divorced from one’s view on homosex.

Take for example the argument from natural law.  We argue that the natural purpose of our sexual organs requires heterosexual sex.  To use our sex organs in such a way that their natural purpose cannot be realized is morally wrong.  There are a few reasons why this will not be convincing to many who think homosex should not be opposed.


Tim Keller had this to say about the relationship between immorality and irrationality:

Every one of our sinful actions has a suicidal power on the faculties that put that action forth. When you sin with the mind, that sin shrivels the rationality. When you sin with the heart or the emotions, that sin shrivels the emotions. When you sin with the will, that sin destroys and dissolves your willpower and your self-control. Sin is the suicidal action of the self against itself. Sin destroys freedom because sin is an enslaving power.

In other words, sin has a powerful effect in which your own freedom, your freedom to want the good, to will the good, and to think or understand the good, is all being undermined. By sin, you are more and more losing your freedom. Sin undermines your mind, it undermines your emotions, and it undermines your will.[1]

See also What I’ve Been Reading: The Making of an Atheist, Part I


Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. [25] So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” [26] Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” [27] Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” [28] Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” [29] Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29 ESV) 

This passage of Scripture is often appealed to by those who see Christian apologetics as irrelevant to evangelism, or even contrary to Scripture.  On its face, it does seem to present an anti-evidence, anti-rational approach to the Christian faith: Jesus appears to berate Thomas for requiring evidence of His resurrection while pronouncing a blessing on those who believe without the need for evidence.  A closer examination of the passage in its context, however, reveals this reading of the text to be mistaken. 


The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; 3 but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’ … 6 When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:2-3, 6, NET)

It’s often said on the basis of Genesis 3:6 that Adam was with Eve when the serpent tempted her, and stood by idly, doing nothing (bad Adam!).  If you read the context closely, however, this is not the picture being painted.  The temptation and the Fall were separated in time, and Adam was not present with Eve during her temptation.  As Charles Powell has pointed out, when Eve was speaking to the serpent regarding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (TKGE), she describes it as being “in the middle of the orchard” (Genesis 3:3).  This geographical referent is telling, for if the temptation had taken place at the same point in time and same location as the Fall, then Eve would have been standing near the TKGE and should have described it as “this tree” in the same way I would describe my computer (which is obviously right in front of me) as being “here” rather than “there.”  By referring to the TKGE as being in the middle of the garden, it’s clear that Eve was not in the midst of the garden when the serpent tempted her, and thus not by the TKGE.  

There is a gap in time between Genesis 3:5 and Genesis 3:6.  Only later, when Adam and Eve were together again and journeyed to the middle of the garden, did Eve behold the fruit of the TKGE and see that it was good for food, attractive, and would make her wise as the serpent said.  Then she ate the fruit, gave some to her husband, and the rest is sad history.

In the context of the moral realism vs. moral subjectivism and theism vs. atheism debates the question of moral semantics is often raised: How do we define goodness?  Some are under the mistaken impression that if we cannot define goodness (a question of moral semantics) then we cannot claim to know goodness exists (a question of moral ontology) or identify what is good (a question of moral epistemology).  

I do not want to focus on whether it is possible to provide an adequate account of moral semantics, but rather to point out that even if we are unable to do so, it does not follow that there are no objective moral goods or that we are incapable of knowing them.  Greg Koukl illustrates this point beautifully.  He notes how our experience of goodness is similar to our experience of color.  We recognize color as color when we see it.  If someone were to ask us how we know what green is, we would respond, “I just see it.”  We don’t need to define green to know it when we encounter it.  Similarly, we do not need to define goodness to know that we have encountered it.  God has given us moral intuitions to recognize good and discern between good and evil. 


Scott McKnight alerted me to a couple of posts by philosopher Jeff Cook on the topic of desire and reason in evangelism (1,2).  Cook contends that “the debate about God today is not about what’s reasonable—it is almost entirely about preferences and desire.”  That doesn’t mean he is opposed to using reason or providing evidence for Christianity in our evangelism of the lost.  He simply believes that this alone will not persuade most people because it is not rationality alone that causes them to reject Christianity. 

Cook proposes that if people are going to be persuaded by our reasons for Christianity, they must first want there to be a God.  In his words, “Wanting God to exist is more important than believing in God.  By ‘more important,’ I mean desire is more crucial to the transformation of a person’s heart, more helpful in moving them toward faith in Christ, and more instrumental in one’s ‘salvation’ than right thinking. … It seems then that enticing the passions and wills of those who do not follow Christ is far more important than targeting their intellect with arguments for God’s existence. Showing that God is desirable will be the primary target of the successful 21st century apologist, for wanting God to exist opens highways for subpar apologetics; yet a closed heart will not here [sic] the voice of wisdom.” 


Wesley J. Smith wrote about the most recent statistics available on the number of deaths caused by euthanasia in the Netherlands.  The official report as reported in the Lancet notes that only 2.8% of all deaths in the Netherlands were the result of euthanasia.  The truth is about a decimal point off, however, and Smith explains why.

First, the report also notes that only 77% of all cases of euthanasia were reported to a review committee.  That means 23% of deaths by euthanasia were not reported, raising the total number to 3.5%.  But this leaves out the deaths involving terminal sedation, which is nothing more than “slow motion euthanasia.”  The practice of terminal sedation involves sedating a person to the point of unconsciousness, and then depriving them of food and water until they die.  In 2012 a full 12.3% of people were killed this way!  Since approximately 2% of people are so close to death when they receive terminal sedation that they die of their disease before they die of dehydration, we can reduce this number to approximately 10%.  That means that nearly 14% of deaths in the Netherlands are caused by doctors actively killing the patients.

It gets worse.  The 14% figure is based on the total number of deaths.  Given the fact that approximately half of all deaths do not involve end-of-life medical decisions (accidents, heart attacks), the reality is that approximately 28% of all deaths involving end-of-life decision making are the result of intentional killing by the medical community!  Of course, the headline “28% of deaths involving end-of-life medical care caused by suicide at the hands of doctors!” doesn’t sound nearly as good as “Only 2.8% of Dutch die by euthanasia.”  You’ve got to be careful when it comes to stats.  If you’re not careful, they (stats and Dutch doctors) will kill you.

That’s the claim anyway. Michael Shermer is fond of using this kind of argument in debates.  He reasons that God’s existence is irrelevant to morality because even if God didn’t exist, people would still think killing, stealing, and lying were wrong.  Want proof?  If it could be proven to you today that God doesn’t exist, would you go out and kill/steal tomorrow (particularly if you knew you could do so without getting caught and punished by the authorities)?  No.  There are still good reasons to act morally even in the absence of God.  Therefore, it follows, claims Shermer, that God is not necessary for morality.

While this has great rhetorical force in a debate, Shermer misses the point completely.  The question isn’t whether one needs to believe in God to know and do good, but whether God’s existence is necessary for the good that we know to actually be “good.”