Bloviating from Irrationalism

When in an irrational state of mind, one cannot discern irrational thoughts and words. Such a stance makes it difficult to distinguish between truth and a lie.  A person suppresses such a means of making a distinction when one divorces the foundation of one’s thinking from the Creator.  We call speech from that foundation ranting or bloviating.  These expressions arise from irrationalism.  In the world of critical thinking, such irrationalism arises from logical fallacies or defective machinations based on falsehood.

Psalm 2 provides a perfect example of those who engage in bloviating from irrationalism.  Let us listen in on a conversation with such people,

The kings of the earth set themselves,

And the rulers take counsel together,

Against the LORD and against His

Anointed, saying,

“Let us break Their bonds in pieces

And cast away Their cords from us.” (NKJV)

Is there something wrong with this scene?  The irony is laughable.  In this scene these monarchs, powerful in their own defective thinking and self-aggrandizement, brandish arrogant words in their chains.  They spew out audacious curses toward the One who holds them captive with heavy chains [cords] while in complete denial of their imprisonment and the One who holds them.  They engage in futile conspiracy [counsel] in an attempt to strategize to break free.

While they recognize God’s personal name (Yahweh, [LORD]), they refuse to subject themselves to Him.  In their derangement and insanity, they believe in their own strength to free themselves.  They look at the cords wrapped tightly around them and lash out toward the LORD of all, thinking that they can break free from their bondage.  However, their strategy and counsel is futile, defective, and delirious while they believe they think from a sound mind.

The scene pivots from them to the LORD of hosts:

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;

The LORD shall hold them in derision.

Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,

And distress them in His deep displeasure:

“Yet I have set My King

On My holy hill of Zion.”

Their Creator and Sovereign laughs at them derisively.   He dictates to them and not they to Him.  He holds them in contempt because of their rebellion and arrogance, and informs them that their kingships were temporary fantasies based on their foolish pronouncements and not His.  The LORD then, distresses them by pointing to His Son and declares Him as King.  This act is indeed distressful for these self-appointed kings, because God’s King usurped their thrones.

Today, many make self-declarations concerning their rule.  History demonstrates that such dictators and tyrants eventually fall.  They fade into infamy after the sword or a bullet lands a fatal blow.  Individuals believe they rule their own lives and determine their fate.  They adopt the philosophy of Frank Sinatra,

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way.” [From “My Way” by Frank Sinatra]

Those who deny God fail to recognize that He alone appoints leaders throughout history.  These deniers who refuse to even admit God’s existence return to the dust of the earth and await judgment from the righteous God.  Individuals who also deny God, want to live their lives like Frank Sinatra, that is, “my way.”  Regardless of their ideology or belief systems, those who oppose God and refuse to acknowledge His Son will face the same fate as the kings depicted in Psalm 2.

This psalm offers a way out from judgment.  It declares that those who serve the LORD will find hope.  Atheists, agnostics, and polytheists alike can find that same hope by turning from their futile faith in themselves and materialism to faith in God the Deliverer.

Taking Counsel

Family, friends, political leaders, and professors all have counsel to give to us.  Much is wise learned from experience and wisdom gathered over the years.  We do well to listen to such tested counsel.  However, some counsel is just plain wrong and foolish.  If a person took you to the edge of the Grand Canyon and suggested that you jump, informing you that you would fly.  Would you do it?  Would you invest in a risky business enterprise without performing due diligence?

There is good and wise counsel and evil and foolish counsel.  Sometimes, it is difficult to separate them out due to circumstances, cultural setting, and many other variables.  The laws of many lands have good counsel and foolish counsel integrated.  One question we must asked to know the difference between the good and bad and wise and foolish is, “What is the basis or source?”  Is the source limited to culture or circumstance?  Or can it be applied universally with all cultures and peoples without exception?

The psalmist who penned Psalm 1 is very straight forward with absolute statements with counsel and the person giving and taking it.  He does not not mince words about what is wise and foolish, good or evil, or the nature of individuals giving counsel.  He identifies the blessings that come to people who take counsel he defines as godly, upright, or sound words by stating it in a negative,

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly

Nor stands in the path of sinners

Nor sits in the seat of the scornful”


Psalm 1

At the very beginning he speaks of the ungodly, sinners, and scornful intimating that the godly, upright, and people with sound words exist.  In doing so, he offers a polemic for the presence of God, the recognition of sin and sinners, and evil speech.  By giving attention to the ungodly, the psalmist immediately renounces atheism and its foolish philosophy or counsel.  Atheists, agnostics, and polytheists have written and published hundreds of thousands of books giving people the advice of their philosophy.  At the basis of this advice is to ignore God and His existence.  Live as though God does not exist and that all that exist is material.  Scorn those who believe in Him.  Stay away from God’s word but rather call it dangerous.  The psalmist has a message for such people.  They are like chaff without power, taken up by the winds, and scattered across the landscape.  They and their words do not last.

However, those who worship God, listen to Him, associate with His people, and speak words of wisdom receive blessings from God.  They find their place in the presence of God and prosper.  This psalm is an apologetic worthy of continued thoughtfulness over the span of a lifetime for gathering from it eternal wisdom that dwells with God and applies universally to all peoples for all times to eternity.  Its reading is a great way to begin a new year.

 

IS THE BASIS FOR OUR FAITH JUST A LEAP?

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.  If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God y that he has borne concerning his Son” (1 John 5:9).

Many years ago, a Christian told me,

Even if God and Christ never existed, we come out ahead by believing anyway.  We end up living a good life and doing what was right.  The important thing is that we believe.”

Those statements amount to no more than what many of us have heard as a leap of faith.  That is, the basis of true Christian living is a leap of faith.  There is no rationality for believing.  In fact, according to Soren Kierkegaard, faith and rationality are not on the same side of the ledger.  Rather they are distinct.  Reason requires evidence or empiricism.  With faith, no evidence or warrant for God needs to exist.  We just believe God without the requirements of clear evidence for His existence.  This is known as fideism: believing in God without the need for evidence.  We simply accept it.  With this in mind, we return to Kierkegaard and William Lane Craig’s assessment of his leap:

Kierkegaard believed that there is ultimately no warrant for Christian belief and you simply take a leap of faith to believe.  What he tried to do is to motivate this leap by showing how life lived apart from God ultimately degenerates into despair, boringness, and languishing in absurdity.  He tried to motivate the person to make the leap.  But ultimately for Kierkegaard it is a criterion-less leap of faith.  He thought that Christianity was indeed absurd because it says that God, who is timeless, entered into time in the Incarnation and that this is absurd – the presence of the eternal in the temporal.”[1]

The key to what Craig states is that a leap of faith requires “no warrant [evidence] for Christian belief.”

What does the discussion of a leap of faith have to do with what John claims about Jesus coming in the flesh in the passage we are studying?  It is easy to conclude that faith in God does not require evidence.  Where is He?  How do we really know He exists?  The Gnostics during John’s time took a similar rationality.  Jesus did not really exist.  Rather, He was a mirage, a ghost, an illusion, and not part of reality.  They rejected all evidence of Jesus’ actual existence in the flesh because of their false philosophy that God could not inhabit matter, and Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.  The Gnostics then concluded that Jesus and the Christ were separate entities.  The Christ came upon Jesus at His baptism and left Him before His crucifixion.  Therefore, they denied both the divinity of Christ and the historical reality of His physical death and resurrection.  They then held to a form of leap of faith for their religious and philosophical beliefs.  Their faith had no basis in historical reality.

The Apostle John refuted their claim.  He insisted on the physical presence of Jesus Christ in the world and on His physical resurrection.  He claimed that to deny this historical reality made God a liar (5:10).  He pointed to two key evidences for faith in Jesus: His baptism (water) and His physical death (blood) and resurrection from the dead (5:6).  John also pointed to God Himself, the Triune God, as the strongest evidence.  These sets of evidence coincide with one another.  If Jesus was the Son of God and came in the flesh as the word of God (John 1:1), then the evidence was very clear.  Jesus the Word took on human flesh and existed among men.  The Holy Spirit also gives evidence internally as the witness to the historical reality that Jesus came in the flesh.  In citing the Holy Spirit, John returns to the event of the new birth.  He gave us new birth and through it gives witness to us of the reality of the living Christ.  He writes,

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God…By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:2, 13).

In the above, John essentially makes the same claim as he does in the current passage: Jesus came in the flesh!  Why is this truth so important?  It is important for two reasons:

  1. Not believing this historical reality makes God a liar
  2. Eternal life depends on it

John ties the trustworthiness of God to the historical reality of Jesus coming in the flesh.  God sent Jesus to take on human flesh.  To deny what God did is to make Him a liar.  It is not circular to claim that if God said something, it must be true and fact.  Historical reality supports His word.  One can deny a claim all one wishes, but such a person cannot deny reality.  Many have attempted to deny that Jesus ever existed, but they supply no evidence to support their claim.  If a person makes a claim, that person must support it.

The Apostle John uses his evidential claims of Jesus’ historical existence, death, resurrection, and the testimony of God Himself to segue into the assurance of eternal life for those who believe Him.  Just as God gave testimony of His own Son coming in the flesh, He also gives firm testimony that He gives eternal life to those who believe Him.  We have no greater assurance of eternal life than the word of God Himself.  The basis of this eternal life is the new birth God created in us.  Earlier John connects the new birth to this eternal life when he states,

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”  (5:4)

John picks up this truth again in discussing the witness of the Holy Spirit within us,

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself” (5:10).

The same faith that arises from the new birth is the faith the Holy Spirit implanted in us for believing the reality and saving activity of Jesus Christ when He came in the flesh.  This new birth and corresponding faith grounds our assurance of salvation.  That is what God accomplished in us through the new birth can never be reversed.  God proclaimed and gave witness to it.  Jesus provided for it.  The Holy Spirit administered it through the new birth or internal regeneration.  If God did it all, nothing apart from Him can reverse it.  We have assurance of salvation because of God.

Is the basis of our faith just a leap?  No!  Enormous amount of evidence exists for the historical reality of Jesus and His resurrection, the two strongest platforms for our faith.  Faith is not a leap into some dark unknown chasm where no knowledge exists.  Knowledge and truth have their basis in reality.  John teaches us that Jesus did exist, died, and rose from the grave.  We do not rest our faith on something that may or may not have happened as a Christian once claimed many years ago when making the statement,

Even if God and Christ never existed, we come out ahead by believing anyway.  We end up living a good life and doing what was right.  The important thing is that we believe.”

That statement is a leap of faith in that it has no basis or evidence for it.  That is presumptuous faith; that is faith without anything on which to base it.  There are two types of hope.  One hope says, “I hope so.”  The other hope says, “I know and believe that knowledge to be true.”  The first hope is tenuous, vague, and unsubstantiated.  It draws from thin air.  The second hope has evidence from existence.  John teaches evidential faith substantiated by history and God’s word.  This means that every believer has utmost security in God’s hands.

[1] William Lane Craig, “Existence of God: Properly Basic Belief in God,” Reasonable Faith, Lecture 4, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s4-29.

Revisiting the New Birth

Everyone who believes that l Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1).

In an earlier article, we discussed major waves and undercurrents that occur in John’s letter.  One large wave that occurs regularly is the new birth.  The new birth connects a number of major currents throughout his letter.  The illustration below identifies these connections.

 

New Birth Passage Connecting Practice
1 John 2:29 Righteous/Righteousness
1 John 3:9 (2 times) Does not sin
1 John 4:7 Love
1 John 5:1 Believe
1 John 5:4 Overcomes
1 John 5:18 Does not sin

 

Notice that the sum of the Christian life in the family of God arises from the new birth.  Each time John begins a new line of thought, he starts out with the truth of the new birth.  Upon viewing how he discusses and applies the new birth, a pattern emerges.  The chiasmus defines this pattern.  A chiasmus defines the structure of a written work.  That written work can be in the form of a song or poem.  In the case of John, it appears in this letter.

The chiasmus refers to an inversion structure as shown in the illustration below:

 

1 John 2:29 – Righteous

            1 John 3:9 – Does not sin

                        1 John 4:7 – Love

                        1 John 5:1 – Believe

            1 John 5:4 – Overcomes (Righteousness implied)

1 John 5:18 – Does not sin

 

Notice two structural elements about John’s letter.  First, he reverses the beginning at the conclusion.  When he first addresses the new birth at the beginning, he highlights “righteousness” followed by “does not sin.”  At his conclusion, he reverses the order, placing “does not sin” at the conclusion at 1 John 5:18.  In arranging his message in such a manner, John emphasizes that living life pleasing to God is one in which one does not practice sin.  Not only does he make this statement twice but he also concludes his chiasmus with it for giving greater attention to the believer’s separation from sin.

In the middle of the chiasmus (1 John 4:7; 5:1) where he again refers to the new birth, John cites the two major themes in his letter: love and believe.  Righteousness and not sinning, in essence, refer to the same practice of the Christian life.  Love and the verb form of faith, believe, come as gifts from God through the new birth.  Their close proximity to one another in the letter illustrate that Christians cannot truly love without faith.  That faith gives evidence that one knows God (5:8-12).  Since both love and faith derive from the new birth (4:7; 5:1), they work together in demonstrating that one truly knows God.  That knowledge works its way out on the horizontal plane toward others.

We must realize that there were no chapter and verse divisions in the original letter.  These divisions did not arise until the 15th century.  Given this as the case, the flow of John’s thought process in his letter naturally followed from the various mentions of the new birth.  In other words, statements about the new birth acted as lynchpins for connecting the practices of life before God.  The new birth connects righteousness to love and love to faith.  Together the life of God shines through in the believer through the expressions of God’s nature and character.

Notice how John treats each practice.  They are always in reference to the character and nature of God.  In his first mention, John states,

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:29).

The reason we can practice righteousness in the first place is because God is righteous.  He showed His righteousness to us in Christ.  John just finished discussing another theme of abiding (2:24-28).  Righteousness is the practice of abiding or not practicing sin.  All three truths refer to the same way of living: abiding (2:24-28), righteousness (2:29), not continuing in sin (3:1-9).  The practice of abiding flows naturally into John’s thought of righteousness.  The practice of righteousness encompasses the practice of not continuing in sin.  All three focus on horizontal relationships within God’s family, leading to the practice of love (3:11-4:12).

This practice of love also arises from the character and nature of God just as righteousness does.  Notice how He points to God as the source of love.  He must necessarily reveal His love to us for us to learn how to practice it (4:7).  As creatures alienated from God, love is not natural to us nor do we truly know how to love.  Rather, we pervert it and make it into something it is not – a romantic or emotional notion or something predominately sexual.  Not only must He reveal love to us, He must teach us how to love.  Jesus revealed God’s love (4:9), and the Holy Spirit teaches us how to love (4:14-17).  For this reason, John makes love the core of the new birth.  Love reveals the nature and character of God in the new life He gave us.  It expresses itself in righteous living toward God and others.  It gives us confidence before Him, because it reflects back to Him the essence of who He is.

Although God reveals both righteousness and love, they do not come to fruition until one believes.  Knowing God’s righteousness and love arises from faith (5:1-3).  However, even this faith has its source in the new birth (5:1).  The grammatical tense John uses with his mention of the new birth is the same for every occurrence.  He writes with the perfect tense each time he refers to the new birth.  The perfect tense in both the Greek and English indicate a past action that continues into the present.  John indicates that this action is the new birth.  That is, the new birth gives rise not only to righteousness and love but also to faith.  We believe as a result of the new birth.  Therefore, all the expressions of living the Christian life come from God.

What we are and what we do must arise from God.  We would never know how to live life the way God ordained it unless He revealed the characteristics of that life to us.  The life of God in us through the provision of Christ’s death and the work of the Holy Spirit gives all we need to live righteously, to love God and others, and to have victory over the evil one.  As it works its way from us, the Holy Spirit gives assurance that we belong to God (5:6-8) and grants confidence when we see Him face to face when He comes again.  Think on these gifts of God and consider how they show up in your life.

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The Spirit of Truth Vs. the Spirit of Error

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:1-3).

I recently had two Jehovah Witnesses come to the door.  After answering the door, one of the men immediately drew out a pamphlet and began handing it to me.  I greeted them and then asked the question, “Do you believe in the Trinity?”  The reason for this question was twofold: I knew their answer would be “no,” and the Bible raises the Trinity as the basis for the identity and nature of God.  The man replied that the Bible does not mention the Trinity.  This reply is the spirit of error.  It is based on the logical fallacy of argument from absence.  That is, just because the Bible does not mention the word “Trinity” does not mean that it does not teach it.

He then surfaced an argument that the Bible says that the Father is greater than the Son without giving reference to or providing any knowledge of context.  This Jehovah Witness never even made an attempt to explain what he quoted out of context.  It was a statement devoid of reason or thoughtfulness.  If we were to arrange this man’s statement in an argument, we can see just how deceptive and unreasonable it is.  The below is an example of the reasoning underlying this Jehovah Witness’ statement:

Premise: There is only one God

Premise: He is greater than everything that exists.

Premise: God is greater than the Son

Premise: The Son exists

Conclusion:  Therefore, the Son could not be God since His Father, who is God, is greater than Him

Another argument shows how defective the above argument is:

Premise: All humans are of equal kind

Premise: A Catholic priest is human

Premise: A bishop is greater than a priest

Conclusion: Therefore, a bishop is not human

This argument turns on the use of the word “greater,” and assumes it has only a single meaning.  Since neither argument defines the term “greater,” both use it to arrive at a false conclusion.

Let us add another premise to the one about the priest:

Premise: All humans are of equal kind

Premise: A Catholic priest is human

Premise: A bishop is greater than a priest

Premise: The pope is greater than a bishop

Conclusion: Therefore, a bishop is not human

Conclusion: Therefore, the pope is neither human nor not non-human (double negative used for showing the irrationality of this type of argument)

Of what kind of existence would that make the pope?  A rock?  No.  Rocks are non-human.  A plant?  No.  Plants are also non-human.  This type of logic draws ridiculous and irrational conclusions.  Such arguments do not stop the spirit of error from deception.  The Jehovah Witnesses and other erroneous cults like them begin from a departure from the truth.  From that point they introduce deception in attempts to counter the truth.  They prepare their own sacred scriptures, indoctrinate initiates into these deceptions and fallacies, and place the fear of rejection on them if they depart from their teachings.

The spirit of error uses such tactics to draw unsuspecting people away from biblical faith by claiming they are Christian and believe the same Bible.  These two tactics actually reduce to the following: the use of logical fallacies for raising deception and twisting the Scriptures.  The Apostle John calls the spirit of error deception because it:

  • denies what the Bible teaches and twists the Scripture with deceptive arguments, using Scripture hopping, ignoring contexts, and disregarding the grammar and word meaning of the original languages
  • makes generalized statements without contexts and without interpretation
  • shows no knowledge of God and His word
  • accepts what false teachers proclaim without question
  • denies the identity and nature of God.

Those who hold to biblical faith  must be aware of such tactics and be prepared to handle them.  Fallacious arguments and simply quoting a passage, with or without citation, on the surface seem to offer sound replies.  The spirit of error always attempts to make a lie sound reasonable.  However, what seems reasonable coming from the spirit of error is far from truthful.

The Apostle John teaches believers how to discern between truth and error and how to counter the spirit of error.  He called upon the believers in Ephesus in his letter of 1 John to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (4:1).

John then identifies the truth by which to test the words of the spirit of error:  Jesus came in the flesh.  The incarnation identifies the truth of Jesus coming in the flesh.  The false teachers of John’s day did not believe He came in the flesh or rose bodily from the dead.  The Jehovah Witnesses today hold to a similar belief.  Rather, they believed He was an illusion and did not have a physical presence.  Of course, this test was not the only one believers can use to test false teachers.  They also separate Jesus from the Christ and view each as distinct entities.  In doing this, they misuse and misapply the term “Christ” as an equal name like Jesus rather than recognizing it as an office or title.  Consequently, they make Jesus an illusion and material being at the same time while identifying the “Christ” as a spiritual being separate and distinct from Jesus.  John claims that this spirit of error comes from Satan himself (2:13-14; 3:8-12; 5:18).

This error received the name of Docetism, which derives from the Greek word “dokien,” which means to appear or to seem.  The early representation of Gnosticism taught that Jesus did not have a real body, but He was a phantom or illusion.  He seemed to be real.  They held this position because they believed matter was evil, and Jesus could not have inhabited an evil substance as flesh.  Given this conclusion, there was no incarnation or bodily resurrection of Jesus.  For this reason, John continued to focus forcefully on the historical bodily appearance of Jesus (1 John 1:1; 2:28; 3:2, 8, 4:1-6) and His physical second coming (2:28; 3:2).  Yes, John does teach the second coming of Jesus Christ.

We must be careful when hearing people discuss God, Jesus, the human condition and its remedy.  If they raise teachings contrary to the Bible, they are of the evil one and antichrist.  If they deny the Trinity and do not hold the final authority of the Scriptures, they are of the evil one and antichrist.  If they deny Jesus came in the flesh (incarnation), they  are antichrist.  If they deny Jesus died for our sins and rose bodily from the grave, they are  antichrist.  Many from the cults or even among Evangelicals may sound biblical.  However, if they use strange or deceptive arguments and misuse the Scriptures to teach what the Bible does not claim, they are antichrist.  If they generalize with the Scriptures or engage in Scripture hopping (going from one passage to another without regard for context to prove their position), they are antichrist.  If they quote or cite the Scriptures to create new teachings, be careful and listen well.

People use the Scriptures to justify their way of life, behaviors, belief system, and for gaining a following for themselves.  The early Gnostics during John’s time did this.  Cults today also do this.  The best way to counter false teachers is to be knowledgeable of the Scriptures and grounded in sound doctrine.  If you  hear strange teachings, seek out the view of another you trust and whom you believe knows the Scriptures well.  Knowing the Scriptures act as a sound protection against false teachers.

Copyright 2016 Action Faith Books Press