Thursday, December 27, 2007


Eschatology is the study of last things. It is a very important subject, which people rarely study.

I am only going to consider two rival eschatolgies, Christian and materialist/atheist. I'm not going to differentiate between rival Christian theories.

The materialist asserts that nothing exists except what we can observe in the material universe (or that anything outside the universe does not matter). That means the end of humankind is bounded by the end of the universe (probably well before half of all protons degenerate, 10e36 years - most of the stars in our neighborhood will have run down in 1e10 years...). There is no hope here. That's kind of depressing (at least it was to me).

Christians believe that Jesus will come again (because He said He would). At that time, He will restore life to the universe. That is where our hope comes from.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Book Review

"In the Shadow of the Ark" (Anne Provoost) - This is a fictional retelling of the Genesis Flood, from the point of view of a girl outside Noah's family.

I found the theology to be very muddled (not that it claims to be theologically sound), I couldn't tell if it was describing a local or global Flood, or whether God was supposed to be real or not:
  1. It wasn't clear, but it seemed as if all species were preserved on the Ark (Flood scholars hold that only "kinds" [precursors of modern species] were preserved).
  2. It wasn't clear at all if the Flood covered the whole world. But it had "pre-flooding" which was driving people out of their homes.
  3. It makes some bold statements about the morality of Noah and his sons (not that I believe they were perfect, but to make statements this bold, there should be some message).
    1. Noah has some sort of disease, the symptoms resemble a common STD.
    2. Ham has sexual relations with the main character, before he marries another.
    3. Shem and Japheth rape the main character.
    4. One of the sons' wives is an idolater.
    5. Many of the animals on the Ark are killed (for sacrifices to the idols, and in a fire that breaks out).
  4. Noah commissions a large group of people to build the Ark. When the Flood comes, the people are kept off the Ark (with deadly force when necessary). The numbers I've seen show that the Ark would of had plenty of room for people. Noah had 120 years to build the Ark. He likely finished it alone (with the help of his sons, although he may of help early on). People ignored Noah's warnings (Matthew 24:37).
  5. The rain lasts 40 days and 40 nights (one point for the author!). However, the main character is pregnant (by Ham) at the start of the Flood. She gives birth after the landing at Ararat. It may be artistic license. The author does say that there was not enough food on the Ark.
  6. Minor points:
    1. There was rain before the Flood (most Flood scholars interpret Genesis 2:5 to mean that there was no rain at all before the Flood [and no rainbows]).
    2. There were mountains before the Flood (most Flood scholars hold to relatively even terrain before the Flood, to account for enough water to flood the whole earth).
    3. Noah is circumcised, and circumcises the new baby after the Flood (circumcision wasn't given until Abraham).
This does segue nicely into Biblical timelines. If you run the numbers, no patriarch (except Noah, of course) lives from before the Flood until after the Flood. In fact, (by my calculations) the Flood was in 1656 AA (after Adam). Methuselah (oldest person ever) died in 1656 (possibly in the Flood)!

Noah was born in 1056. His father (Lamech) was born in 874. Adam died in 930. Think about that. Adam, who spoke with God, lived for the first sixty years of Noah's father's life. Does first- hand knowledge of God seem so shrouded in mist now?

Finally, Enoch was "taken" into Heaven at the early age of about 300 (most of the partriachs were living 800 years or more). Enoch was one generation before Methusaleh (about 60 years). If he had not been taken, he likely could of lived until the Flood (and died in it). Enoch was (very possibly) the first person saved from the Flood.

Absolute final point, vocabulary. The Ark was sealed (made waterproof) with "pitch" (tar). The Hebrew word translated "pitch" is "kopher". Kopher properly means "covering" (in that tar is used as a covering). The verb "to pitch" is "kaphar", which can also mean "to cover" or "atonement".

Noah and his family were saved by "atonement"! Just as we are! The atonement (covering) of our sins by the righteousness of Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


The previous two posts were to emphasize a point, that Jesus is fully God and fully man. At Christmas we celebrate the time when God became a man (stop for a second and consider that! Wow!). Interestingly, it is commonly agreed that Jesus could not of been born in December (the shepherds would not of been in the fields). I have seen compelling evidence for a September date, that would put conception sometime in December...

Sometimes people ask, "Isn't 100% God and 100% man equal to 200%?"

So time for some more code. This using some advanced C++ stuff, so I'll probably need to explain it.

I love the Trinity. It is so basic to proper Christian doctrine. Yet, it is nearly impossible to wrap your brain around. Should we be able to understand an infinite God? At any level?

So God has attributes or properties. In C++, that is a "class":

class God
//God(void); // no constructor, God simply "is"

bool isLove_; // God is love
bool isJust_;

In C++, we say that one thing is a specialized version of some more general thing using "inheritance" (class Specific : public General, for example class Rectangle : public Shape). So:

class Father : public God // the Father is God

class HolySpirit : public God // the Holy Spirit is God

class Jesus : public God, public Man // Jesus is both fully God and fully Man
// Java lacks multiple inheritance, evidence that it is the language of the devil! :)

So far so good. Now how do we resolve conflicts between being God and being a man? For example:

God does not change (Malachi 3:6).
Men do change (and Jesus grew, Luke 1:80)

The programming term is "adapter". A class which resolves one group of calls into other calls.

For example, there is no function God::change().


God is omniscient, but men are not.

return God::isOmniscient();


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Know Your Heresies: Gnosticism

Gnosticism can be hard to pin down to a specific set of beliefs. It tends to be "syncretic" (merging the beliefs of multiple groups). It also is highly dualistic, expressing a sort of battle between the material and immaterial.

The "Gospel" of Judas is believed to be a Gnostic work. It is certainly typical of the beliefs ascribed to Gnosticism. That is, the material world is evil, and the immaterial (or spirit) is good. There is also (usually) an emphasis on the obtaining of knowledge as necessary for salvation (especially secret knowledge). The roots of many modern cults and "new age" fads are in Gnosticism.

The root ideas of Gnosticism were around during the writing of the Bible (and remain today). In 1 John 4:3b, John says "And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God". This is because some would say that Jesus, being God and good, cannot be flesh (which they assume is evil).

Jesus is 100% God, 100% man.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Know Your Heretics: Arius

Arianism in general refers to any teaching that denies that Jesus is (fully, 100%) God.

Arius grappled with the notion of the trinity, a notably difficult doctrine (as is any doctrine dealing with the nature of an infinite God, difficult for our finite minds :).

His false teachings led to the Council of Nicaea (and Nicene Creed, which actually came from the Council of Constantinople). The Nicene Creed remains today the fundamental point of agreement for orthodox Christians.

The notion that Jesus is not God creates several theological problems:
  1. Messianic prophecies attribute to the Messiah God-like properties (Isaiah 9:6)
  2. If Jesus is only a man, how is it He is without sin? (Romans 3:23)
  3. If Jesus is not God, but somehow a truly "good" man; how does His death demonstrate God's love?
  4. Why does Jesus refer to Himself as eternal, and "I AM" (God's name)? (John 8:58)
  5. Why does Jesus take the authority of God to Himself (forgiveness of sins)? (Matthew 9:2, etc.)
There are many attempts to answer these questions, but none that are fully satisfying. I will touch on a few.

"Jesus was specially created" - If Jesus was specially created without sin (but not as God incarnate), why aren't we all?

"Jesus wasn't meant to die like that, it was just a misunderstanding" - This is a really poisonous idea to hold. I know, I used to believe it! (Thanks "Slaughterhouse Five", not!)

"Jesus referred to Himself as God, because we can all be God" - This is really scary. Mostly because it is so prevalent...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bad Theology

Growing up, I went to Catholic CCD class most every week. When I went to Catholic school (for six years), I had a religion class every day. But it didn't "take". It just didn't seem real. It didn't seem to make a difference in the lives of my parents or the people I knew. I didn't "get" the theology.

Perhaps the biggest influence on my theology growing up was the "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever" (Stephen R. Donaldson).

Now, these are not books on theology. They are fantasy adventure books (not unlike "The Lord of the Rings"). The main character (Thomas Covenant) is an average man in our world (kind of a loner/loser, one of the last cases of leprosy in the modern world). But (once per book), he is transported to a fantasy world where he is a hero. He rallies the forces of good to fight an epic struggle against evil.

In one of the books, Thomas meets the "god" of the fantasy world (while in our world), a weak old man. Thomas asks why the fantasy world is so dominated by one particularly powerful evil guy (Lord Foul). The old man tells him that the fantasy world is a prison for Lord Foul. The old man defeated him earlier, and for him to interfere directly now would release Lord Foul to ravage other worlds (ours included).

For some reason this "stuck" with me. I figured our world was a prison for Satan, and God was unable to do much to help us. Not particularly good theology, kind of a recipe for disaster. But there it is.

Note: I had read "The Lord of the Rings" earlier. It wasn't obvious to me that Tolkien was a Christian. I didn't learn that until recently (when the movies came out). I find Tolkien to be a weaker story teller. His is credited with "world building" (creating a compelling fantasy system of peoples) more than writing compelling characterization and plot.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Book Review

"Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls" (Hershel Shanks ed.) - Whenever people start talking about "copy errors" in the Bible, I'm quick to mention the Isaiah scroll from the Dead Sea.

For those who aren't familiar with the story, before the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered (in 1947), the oldest copy of Isaiah was from about 800 CE (in other words, after the Catholic Church came to hold substantial political power).

Isaiah is a good book to use, because it contains so many (and so many popular) Messianic prophecies. Skeptics could assert that the Church had changed Isaiah to match the New Testament, and there was no hard proof otherwise.

Until a nearly intact scroll of Isaiah (twenty-two feet long!) was found in the Dead Sea caverns. This copy of Isaiah matched (with only small copy errors) our copy. And is dated to before 70 CE (destruction of the temple in Jerusalem). Nearly 800 years of copying with no (significant) errors!

Given how often I retell this story, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the Dead Sea scrolls. This book is a collection of articles from the "Biblical Archaeology Review", and covers many aspects of the story; including a lot of the political intrigue of obtaining the scrolls, and infighting among scroll scholars.

For me, the most interesting part was a description of how a new science of scroll reconstruction has been created by the find. In one cave, there were thousands and thousands of tiny pieces of scrolls. A scientist (Hartmut Stegemann) proposed a method for aligning the pieces based on the repetition of (usually damage, but also scribe mark and stitch) patterns through the rolled layers of the scroll. There is a picture of the aligned pieces, with notes showing the water damage or chew marks. It is really quite remarkable!

Perhaps the saddest part has been the pride of the scholars trusted with publishing the scroll information. Forty years had passed (the book is from 1992), and many scrolls were still unpublished. There has been a lot of academic machinations (tenure, attracting students, publishing glory) driving these delays. There is an interesting story about how an early computer was used to convert a (grudgingly) published concordance into a full reconstruction of an unpublished text! Oh, the outrage! :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Global Warmingism

Or maybe "Global Climate Changeology" (rhymes with scientology).

I was watching the poster apocalyptic movie for Global Warming recently (not the Al Gore movie, the "Three Weeks before a Month from Now, Minus Five Days" one). I couldn't help but think of Al Gore's Nobel peace prize, and all the clamor over "carbon credits".

I suddenly realized, that the environmental movement of the 60's and 70's was more like modern evangelicalism. You know "sex, drugs, and rock n' roll", freedom, individuality (me-centered) and all that.

But what is modern environmentalism?

It's a lot closer to medieval Catholicism.

You see, the coming global disaster is Purgatory. And carbon credits are indulgences. And Al Gore is the pope of Global Warmingism.

Don't believe me?

Here is a quote from a speech by Tetzel, the villain of Papal Indulgences:
"Don't you hear the voices of your wailing dead parents and others who say, 'Have mercy upon me, have mercy upon me, because we are in severe punishment and pain. From this you could redeem us with a small alms and yet you do not want to do so.' Open your ears as the father says to the son and the mother to the daughter . . ., 'We have created you, fed you, cared for you, and left you our temporal goods. Why then are you so cruel and harsh that you do not want to save us, though it only takes a little? You let us lie in flames so that we only slowly come to the promised glory.'"

Just sed out "dead parents" for "children to come". And "punishment" for rising sea levels, killer hurricanes, drought, flood, famine, etc.

This is an even better marketing scheme! You can remember your parents, and they might not of been likable. But who doesn't want to "think of the children"?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Book Review

"The Bondage of the Will" (Martin Luther) - You know about Calvin and Arminius. You might remember Augustine and Pelagius. But do you know about Luther and Erasmus? Apparently, Luther was a Calvinist! At least when it comes to double predestination. This book is a (somewhat gruelling) presentation of Luther's argument against the notion of "free will" and in favor of God's sovereignty. Luther tends to repeat himself at length, and is rather sarcastic. But it is a good treatment of the topic. Reading it will either turn you off Calvinism altogether (I felt it, and I am a Calvinist!) or make you pretty solid.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mitt Romney's Speech

So Mitt Romney has given his speech on his religion. There has been a fair amount of commentary about the content. And even some criticism that such a speech should be necessary.

Are people small-minded and bigoted for thinking twice about supporting a Mormon for president?

Well, I'm certain some small-minded and bigoted people are against Romney. But that is not the same thing...

It's not about Mormon theology. I think a lot of people would be more comfortable if Romney would just come out and say that he believes Mormon theology (and everything it implies) or that he is a "cultural" Mormon. He says "I believe in my Mormon faith", but other things he says are not consistent with that...

It's statements like, "My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths" that makes people worry.

Mormons do not have different beliefs about Christ. They have a different God the Father (and therefore, Christ) altogether. They believe that orthodox (small 'o') Christians are false, and they are the only true Church. They believe that we can be like God, and that God the Father was like us once.

It's these odd statements that try and ignore fundamental, logical differences that makes people uncomfortable.

Update: Mike Huckabee felt he needed to apologize to Romney for saying, "
Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" That is a true statement. Of course, Mormons don't like to say it that way. They say, "all beings were created by God and are his spirit children." If we're all the children of God (including Jesus and Satan), then we are all brothers - including Jesus and Satan. You can wrap it with terms like "Christ, however, was the only begotten in the flesh" (which is Mormon-speak for God the Father having sexual relations with Mary...) but there it is...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Embyonic Stem Cells

Recently scientists found a way of using adult stem cells for research normally using embryonic stem cells. I mentioned how the scientists destroying human embryos are unfazed by this development ("we are not going to slow down to do that, not at this point").

Rallying cries have started to come out in favor of the destruction of human embryos.

What are the stunning, logical arguments made?
"It's important to remember, though, that we're at square one, uncertain at this early stage whether souped-up skin cells hold the same promise as their embryonic cousins do."
Remind me, again, where we are in the application of embryonic to treating human diseases? Oh yea, there are no treatments of any kind, at any stage. Some scientists have managed to form some heart cells which resemble adult heart cells. Others have used human cells to repair damaged mice skulls.

What noble causes! How our lives are being improved and science advanced!

What other arguments can be made?
"At a time when nearly 60 percent of Americans support human embryonic stem cell research, U.S. stem cell policy runs counter to both scientific and public opinion."
Well! Popular opinion must surely make it right! Well said!

Surely you can say something logical about such a vital line of research!
"Discomfort with the notion of extracting stem cells from embryos is understandable. But many of the life-changing medical advances of recent history, including heart transplantation, have provoked discomfort. Struggling with bioethical questions remains a critical step in any scientific advancement."
Discomfort? I am not uncomfortable. I am outraged that people believe murdering other people for their own good is acceptable. I am outraged that people would accept the murder of the smallest, least able to defend themselves, least spoken for members of our species.

That people would harden their hearts, and deny science and logic, not even for a real cure - for a "promise" of a cure.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

What is Love?

Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more... duh, duh, duh, deh, dih, duh

Sadly, English is a terrible language. We have one word for "love". Whether it is you love ice cream (mmm, ice cream), lolcats, God, your neighbor, or your wife. We even say "make love" and say its "lovely" (pretty).

Fortunately, the ancient Greeks had three words for "love" - eros, phileo, and agape.

"Eros" is the sexual attraction kind of love. I can't find it in my concordance (It's not used in the Bible). This is a message to all the Christian singers with the songs about how "Jesus is my boyfriend". It's not that type of love. The old time hymn writers had a much better understanding of this, and we play fast and loose with it today...

"Phileo" is the type of love we are most familiar with. It is the sort of feeling for friends and people you like. It is a feeling of good will and "wanting the best". Happiness and warmth from thinking about them and being with them. It is not the kind of love God has for us. (God does not have our picture on His refrigerator).

"Agape" is God's love for us. It is a concept almost entirely foreign to us. It is a love of choice. To choose to love when the object of love does not (necessarily) deserve it. To give sacrificially ("give until it hurts") to the one loved.

How does God show us this love?

The greatest example of God's love is the life and death of Jesus. Without the life and death of Jesus, no one could be saved. It is through Jesus that we come to know the Father.

God also shows love to the unsaved (Matthew 5:45). Instead of striking them dead instantly, He allows them to live. He even allows them to thrive and prosper. This in no way indicates His pleasure with their behavior! It is an expression of His love for those who are not deserving.

What lesson can we learn from God's love?

Some people are in the difficult position where someone they love (be it phileo or agape) is hurtful. I've found the book "Love Must Be Tough" (James Dobson) to be very helpful in this matter.

The Biblical stance must be to leave that situation.

Maybe the person will see the error of their way, maybe not.

But their is a theology lesson here as well. Some day, God will "leave the situation" for every unsaved person.