Death, When It Met Him

Athanasius, answering the question why Jesus, having become incarnate, had to die a public death like crucifixion (instead of just dying and being raised privately):

For as it was not fitting for the Word of God, being the life, to inflict death himself on his own body, so neither was it suitable to fly from death offered by others, but rather to follow it up unto destruction, for which reason he naturall41pyhgxginly neither laid aside his body of his own accord, nor, again, fled from the Jews when they took counsel against him. But this did not show weakness on the Word’s part, but, on the contrary, showed him to be the Saviour and Life; in that he both awaited death to destroy it and hasted to accomplish the death offered him for the salvation of all. And besides, the Saviour came to accomplish not his own death, but the death of men; when he did not lay aside his body by a death of his own—for he was life and had none—but received that death which came from men, in order perfectly to do away with this when it met him in his own body.

Now, death must precede resurrection, as it would be no resurrection did not death precede; so that if the death of his body had taken place anywhere in secret, the death not being apparent nor taking place before witnesses, his resurrection too had been hidden and without evidence. Or why, while when he had risen he proclaimed the resurrection, should he cause his death to take place in secret? or why, while he drove out evil spirits in the presence of all, and made the man blind from his birth recover his sight, and changed the water into wine, that by these means he might be believed to be the Word of God, should he not manifest his mortal nature as incorruptible in the presence of all, that he might be believed himself to be the Life?

— Athanasius, On the Incarnation, para 22.

Credible Witnesses

41pyhgxginlOr how were his disciples to have boldness in speaking of the resurrection, were they not able to say that he first died? Or how could they be believed, saying that death had first taken place and then the resurrection, had they not had as witnesses of his death the men before whom they spoke with boldness? For if, even as it was, when his death and resurrection had taken place in the sight of all, the Pharisees of that day would not believe, but compelled even those who had seen the resurrection to deny it, why, surely if these things happened in secret, how many pretexts for disbelief would they have devised? Or how could the end of death, and the victory over it, be proved unless challenging it before the eyes of all he had shown it to be dead, annulled for the future by the incorruption of his body?

— Athanasius, On the Incarnation, para. 23 (emphasis added)

Asimov’s Three Laws

This video from Computerphile has an interesting discussion. In it, computer scientist and artificial intelligence (AI) expert Rob Miles discusses how the three laws of robotics aren’t realistic or feasible.

The late Isaac Asimov is a world-renowned science fiction author who created a set of three laws that “robots” (or, AI in general) must abide by to prevent them from taking over the world a la Terminator.

The first law is that AI must act in such a way as to keep humans from harm. The problem from a programming standpoint, according to Miles, is that you have to define “human.”

At this point, the discussion is no longer a properly scientific discussion (which Miles acknowledges in a very roundabout way). It’s certainly sad that there has to be a debate whether an “unborn fetus” (which he calls an “unborn person” seconds later, seemingly by accident) is a human or not. But the discussion is no longer within the realm of science. We’re now in the arena of theology and philosophy.

Something that seems to be so clearly “science”—computers and programming and technology—so quickly veers off into the arenas of metaphysics (what is), ethics (what ought to be), and epistemology (what do you know and how do you know it).

Another comment Miles made struck me as well: “You have to solve ethics [before you can program the first law].” The entire video is dismissive of the three laws as outdated, obsolete, and unuseful, and this reinforces his point. We cannot create something and program it with ethics, because we don’t have all the answers (first of all), and we can’t program intuition. We intuitively know what a “human” is, but we can’t quantify it and program it.

And yet, God can. He did, in fact.

He has given His law to some in verbal form to some (Israel); He has given it to everyone in the testimony of what He has made. The problem is not that we don’t or can’t know metaphysics and ethics. God has given us the answers, both in His word and in His creation. We’re just not smart enough or powerful enough or creative enough to do it ourselves.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge.
There is no speech; there are no words;
their voice is not heard.
Their message has gone out to the whole earth,
and their words to the ends of the world (Psalm 19:1-4a CSB).

Psalm 19 declares that though there is no audible or written communication in Creation, what God has made continually declares His glory to us. No one is immune. No one escapes. The message of creation–that there is a God with eternal power and divine nature–reaches to the ends of the whole world, so that people have no excuse (Romans 1:20).

Our problem is not simply that we can’t create robots into people with full-fledged ethics in place (although that’s enough to show us our finitude). Our problem is that our own ethics is corrupt and broken. We are so shot through with sin and corruption that we need to be rescued from the destruction of judgment.

We need to be far more afraid of the Ancient of Days calling the world to judgment by the Man He has appointed—Jesus, whom He raised from the dead—than Terminators and Skynet turning WiFi against us. Our own internal programming is broken; we need to be re-coded—reborn—by the Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ.



Review: God’s Crime Scene


Wallace, J. Warner. God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Case for a Divinely Created Universe.

Wallace is a former cold-case detective who has applied his investigative expertise towards the historical reliability of the Gospels in Cold-Case Christianity, his first book, and now towards the plausibility of a created universe in God’s Crime Scene.

God’s Crime Scene is far more philosophically dense and rigorous (that’s not a criticism, by the way) than Cold-Case Christianity, but the investigation motif of the book is an excellent way of presenting the information in a compelling, understandable way.

Each chapter begins with an anecdote from Wallace’s experience as a detective, and each case he mentions highlights a particular aspect of the “investigation” into the nature of the origin of the universe. He returns again and again to the crime scene, detective analogy to help clarify and reinforce the points he’s making about the evidence that points toward the plausibility and likelihood of a Creator.

The primary crime scene illustration he uses throughout the book is evidence that is “in the room” which inevitably points “outside the room.” In a crime scene, the objects and arrangement of the room often indicate that what happened was the result of another person, not an accident that befell the victim. Likewise, the evidence “in the room” of the universe that we observe consistently points to a “suspect” that is necessarily “outside the room.”

The weakest discussion is the final chapter on the problem of evil. Wallace’s case is built quite substantially on the reality, importance, and divine emphasis placed upon humanity’s possession of free will. I would have preferred a more nuanced definition and usage of “free will” than he offers; I don’t think I disagree as much as it seemed at first, but he’s not as careful as I would have liked. Furthermore, and more problematic, was the lack of any substantive discussion of the reality and effect of sin and the mission of God to deal with sin once and for all. Granted, this is an apologetics work that is primarily philosophical and not exegetical, but the Christian answer to the problem of evil and the existence of the world necessarily includes the origin of sin and its ultimate end. This is a major weakness in the book.

Other than that final chapter, the book as a whole is well done and a useful tool in the arsenal of faith. It’s a worthwhile read (even if you skim or skip that last chapter).

Confident Faith: Canaanite Genocide, continued

Confident Faith: Canaanite Genocide, continued

We finished our discussion about the Conquest of Canaan in Sunday School at Grace Community Church this past Sunday. We stepped back to see why the history of taking the Promised Land is in the Bible for us today: what does it teach us about our life, about the nature of God, and about God’s purposes and plans for all things?

Unfortunately, audio isn’t available, but the notes have been updated to include the latest discussion material.

“If I Look at Bach, I Cannot Be An Atheist”

One of the most widely revered figures among contemporary European composers, György Kurtág, recently confessed:

‘Consciously, I am certainly an atheist, but I do not say it out loud, because if I look at Bach, I cannot be an atheist. Then I have to accept the way he believed. His music never stops praying. And how can I get closer if I look at him from the outside? I do not believe in the Gospels in a literal fashion, but a Bach fugue has the Crucifixion in it–as the nails are being driven in. In music, I am always looking for the hammering of the nails. … That is a dual vision. My brain rejects it all. But my brain isn’t worth much.’

— John Eliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, emphasis added

Confident Faith: Introduction

Confident Faith: Introduction

We began a new Sunday School series called Confident Faith: Hope in the Tough Questions.

1 Peter 3:15 tells us that honoring Christ in our hearts produces a steadfast hope within us, which we will then be asked to defend. We give reasons and defend what we believe, but not because of us or our opinions, but because of the hope that we have in Jesus our Lord. This series’ goal is to strengthen our hope by looking at difficult questions in order to see the goodness and worthiness of God, even in those tough questions.

Audio and notes from the class can be found here.

Book Review: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

Bannister, Andy. The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: On the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments.

One of the lessons learned from RUF Summer Conference in my college days was this one-liner: There are no such things as airtight arguments; only airtight people. In fact, many arguments for many issues consist primarily of bluster instead of substance, and the arguments promoted by unbelievers today are no different.

Andy Bannister sets out to poke holes in the balloons of popular anti-theistic and anti-Christian arguments, often with humor that’s as dry as his logic is devastating. I even found myself anticipating a couple of his jokes and puns, which tremendously added to my enjoyment of the book.

As I’ve thought about apologetics over the years, I’ve reached the conclusion that its value is not merely in engaging with unbelievers, but also in bolstering the confidence of Christians. This is a very entertaining book–the puns are gloriously groan-inducing, and the dry humor is marvelous. But through it all runs the thread of a confident faith in Jesus that is not frightened by the Goliath taunts of the so-called New Atheists. The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist is an excellent stone from the stream to add to our pouch.

2015 Reading Log: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Qureshi, Nabeel. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (SAFJ) is the story of an Ahmadi (neither Sunni nor Shia) Muslim who was confronted with hard questions and harder answers.

SAFJ offers more than the personal testimony of a Muslim convert to Christianity; it pulls back the curtain to show us the fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity. Qureshi writes in such a way as to honor his parents and family, while demonstrating the flaws and weaknesses of Islam’s claims about the Quran and Mohammed.

Qureshi’s college roommate and best friend, David Wood, began a long conversation about matters of faith and truth that eventually led to his being born again. (David Wood’s testimony is itself a remarkable and powerful tale; it can be seen here.)

Their conversation, which included other apologists and pastors, and other fellow students of various religious persuasions, was two-pronged. They agreed that the case for Christianity would be pursued by examining the resurrection of Jesus (Islam advocates the theory that Jesus passed out on the cross and later escaped the tomb when he came to and was freed). The case for Islam would consist of the perfection of the Quran and the unassailable character of Mohammed.

As the evidence was examined and considered, the reliability of the resurrection became inversely proportional to the reliability of both the Quran and Mohammed. The friendship between Nabeel and David was often a buffer that allowed them to endure the difficult seasons of faith-struggles; they were able to confront one another with tough questions that only deep friendship would allow.

SAFJ serves the Church in many ways, but the ageless reason to read it is to simply hear yet again that the gospel is indeed the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Conversion from Islam to Christianity is deeply painful; Islam is interwoven into the tapestry of identity and family. Qureshi shows us the heartbreaking reality of what it means to forsake all to follow Jesus.

Another reason SAFJ is helpful for the Church is that it explains the vast divide between the Muslim and Western mindset. The two groups think and approach the world differently. The Western worldview is not the same as that of a Muslim, and seeing those differences reinforced for me that there is no political or philosophical solution to the strife within and against Islam in the world. The Gospel is the only answer to Islam; it is the only force stronger than the Quran and Mohammed.