Proud reason and systematic theology

Adrian Warnock, in a post about the doctrine of “double predestination”, quotes one of his heroes, the 19th century Cambridge preacher Charles Simeon, as follows:

But this is a perversion of the doctrine. It is a consequence which our proud reason is prone to draw from the decrees of God: but it is a consequence which the inspired volume totally disavows. There is not in the whole sacred writings one single word that fairly admits of such a construction.

Thus Simeon shows how wrong is the teaching of double predestination, that God predestines some people to be damned. Adrian agrees with him, and so do I.

But I want to take this a step further. It seems to me that any systematic theology or teaching derived from it needs to be judged according to this criterion, whether it actually consists of “the decrees of God”, or is “a consequence which our proud reason is prone to draw from [these] decrees”. This applies especially to the Reformed systematic theology based on the five points of Calvinism which Adrian is currently expounding in a mini-series. Among the tests which need to be applied here is whether the teaching is “a consequence which the inspired volume totally disavows”. And among the teachings which fail this test I find not only double predestination but indeed the whole system of election and predestination which is the basis of Calvinism. For these are based on the idea that God does not want all to be saved which “the inspired volume totally disavows”, in 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9.

In The Beginning, part 2

Continued from Part 1.

A hundred thousand years had passed since the Big Bang, and the Universe was now made up of atoms, hydrogen and helium, bathed in light the colour of sunlight. This gas was far more diffuse than any earthly gas, only about one atom per cubic metre. It was expanding and cooling fast, and continued to do so for a billion years. The light also cooled, which meant shifting towards red and infra-red. One can imagine angels watching and thinking that this Universe was a failure, as its bright Big Bang was fizzling out like a damp squib. But its Creator had something more in store.

The early Universe, even before atoms were formed, was not as chaotic as it may have looked. It had been remarkably uniform, at least since the end of the very short period of runaway inflation – the same all the way through and in every direction.1 And on the large scale it still is today.

If the Big Bang had been simply random, then the energy which streamed out from it would have been chaotic and lumpy. Also space and time would not have been the smooth continuum which we see today; they would have been twisted and mixed up, perhaps a bit like an attempt at a balloon model with parts twisted together randomly, blocking the expansion of the Universe. But the space and time we see is more like a normal balloon with a smooth surface, and the Universe can expand freely.

No one knows why the Universe is so smooth, when this in fact seems to be a very special and extremely improbable state of affairs. Maybe it is a result of the little understood early period of inflation. Some people invoke the “anthropic principle”, that the early Universe had to be like this because if it hadn’t been there would be no humans around now to observe it. But surely the hand of God is in this, even though we don’t know how.

For this uniformity of the Universe is of extreme importance today. If the early Universe had been chaotic, it would have remained so, and no kind of structure or order could ever have emerged, at least by natural processes. Either it would have broken up and disappeared into black holes, or it would simply have remained a chaotic mess.2

But the Universe did not remain uniform for ever on the smaller scale. Maybe a billion years after the Big Bang something new became evident. As the atoms continued to move apart and cool they very gradually started to clump together, the weak force of gravity acting on random density fluctuations. Huge masses of hydrogen and helium began to coalesce into the diffuse and swirling clouds which eventually became the galaxies we now observe. Within these clouds smaller regions of gas started to collapse under gravity into the much denser agglomerations which became stars. The original light had been fading for a billion years, but now the Universe was about to be filled again with light.

To be continued …

1. I.e. homogeneous and isotropic. The primary evidence for this is the very high degree of uniformity of the observed cosmic background radiation. This, amazingly enough, is the light released when atoms first formed after the first 100,000 years of the universe, now cooled to less than 3 degrees Kelvin. This evidence of course tells us only about the finite visible part of the infinite Universe, but it is hard to see how this part could be so uniform if the whole is not.

2. This is an attempt to explain how a high entropy Universe would have remained in a high entropy state, and so that the observed low entropy must imply a very special or improbably low entropy initial state.

The CIA edits Wikipedia …

… according to the BBC. So do the Vatican, political parties, and companies.

So what? Isn’t the whole point of Wikipedia that anyone can edit its entries? But they cannot do so completely anonymously, they can be traced through their IP addresses, which can often be linked to physical addresses. That is one of Wikipedia’s safeguards.

The only surprise here is that the CIA was so incompetent, or so deliberately open, as to do this editing through computers and IP addresses known to belong to it. It would have been rather easy for them to do this editing through proxy computers at anonymous residential or commercial locations.

The Translation of "My Name is Red"

I am in the middle of reading My Name is Red by the Nobel Prize winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk. This is a more highbrow type of novel than I usually read, but I admit to buying it because it was displayed at a bargain price at my local Tesco’s, which is more or less the UK equivalent of Walmart (although not to be confused with its rival Asda, which belongs to Walmart).

The display was presumably of books suggested for summer reading. But it was interesting in that The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins was in what otherwise looked like a fiction section. And then a few days later I saw a very similar display in Heffers, the major academic bookshop in Cambridge. Are the staff trying to tell us something about The God Delusion?

Back to My Name is Red. I have now read about half of it. And I am enjoying it, although finding it harder going than the kinds of thriller that I usually read – even though it is technically a thriller, based on murder among miniaturist artists. In some ways I regret not reading this book in the original Turkish, which I could more or less manage with some help from a dictionary, but of course only the English translation was on special offer at Tesco’s. But reading the translation has brought up some interesting points for me as a Bible translator.

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Random thoughts

It is hardly a surprise that my deliberately controversial post Homosexuality, Divorce and Gay Marriage, with 33 comments so far, has reached second place in the Speaker of Truth competition for the most comments, behind only Steve Chalke, Spring Harvest, UCCF and the Atonement on 38. And that is despite, or perhaps because, it is the middle of the “silly season” of August. So how can I follow that?

Well, I tried with Augustine’s mistake about original sin, but that sounds a bit specialised for some readers, which may explain why it has only reached 17. Perhaps it would be doing better if I had entitled it, quite accurately, “Reformation teaching depends on a translation error”.

I am slowly working on a series of posts about an interesting but obscure Christian people whom I have met in my travels. But these will not appear for a time as I need to get permission to make some of this public.

Meanwhile next week I am off to the Soul Survivor Christian youth camp in hopefully sunny Somerset, with a large group of young people from my church, and a smaller group of adults including me who are taking the chance to get away without having official responsibilities for the youth.

I am also in the middle of trying to decide what to do for the next year. My Bible translation work has more or less come to an end, at least for the moment. I am considering taking an MA in theology, a course I can take from home in Chelmsford.

Augustine's mistake about original sin

Scot McKnight writes:

Behind the Reformation is Augustine; behind much of modern evangelicalism, especially in the Reformed circles today, is the Reformation. Therefore, at the bottom of the evangelical movement in the Reformed circles is Augustine and his anthropology.

And behind Augustine’s anthropology (understanding of humanity), which is outlined in Scot’s post, is a simple misunderstanding of one word in the Bible, a preposition consisting of just two letters. Scot is writing about the New Perspective on Paul, an interesting issue. But my point here is not about that, but about how a misleading Bible translation has led Christian theology seriously astray for 1600 years.

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Homosexuality, Divorce and Gay Marriage

Readers may wonder what I find in common between homosexuality and divorce, except that I can loosely categorise them under “gender issues”. This is nothing to do with the ending of gay marriages or “civil partnerships”. But it is all about how a proper understanding of the biblical teaching on divorce, which I discussed here recently, may also be helpful in finding a Christian approach to homosexuality. Here I take further one of the points which I outlined in my post about Bishop Gene Robinson.

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Paul Trathen on the Atonement

Paul Trathen is the Anglican vicar at whose church, about ten miles from my home, I went to a gig by Tim Chesterton, which I blogged about before. Paul, a rather occasional blogger, has now entered the atonement debate by contributing quite a long essay. In this he reviews three different books about the atonement. Pierced for Our Transgressions, of which we have heard so much here, and even more on Adrian’s blog, is not one of them. One reason for this is that Paul’s essay is probably not as new as this book. But it may also be that from Paul’s perspective outside the rather narrow confines of evangelicalism Pierced for Our Transgressions looks a much less significant book than Adrian and some others want to consider it.

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Has God stopped allowing divorce?

In my post about a gay bishop, I wrote:

God, through Moses, allowed divorce, which was less than his ideal for marriage, because people’s hearts were hard (Mark 10:2-9). Perhaps by analogy he would accept same sex marriage, for those whose “hearts are hard” and cannot accept his ideal, at least as better than gay or lesbian couples living together outside any kind of formalised relationship.

This second sentence is of course a highly controversial suggestion (which I am not discussing in this post). I didn’t expect the first sentence of this quotation to be controversial. But in a comment on this Jeremy Pierce has written:

One difficulty with the Moses argument is that Jesus seems to be saying that God allowed it under Moses but isn’t allowing it anymore. At least that’s how I’ve usually taken it.

Well, I suppose I have come across this kind of interpretation before. For it must underlie the traditional absolute prohibition of divorce in churches and in so-called Christian countries – a tradition which is very much in retreat now, although the Roman Catholic church continues to take quite a strict line on divorce.

But does this interpretation of Mark 10:2-12, and the parallel passage in Matthew 19:3-9 (compare also Matthew 5:31-32), stand up to detailed scrutiny? I don’t think so.

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