December 16, 2014

Death the Formidable Policeman

Death is a formidable policeman,
Whose grip no mortal can evade;
Whose grip has ripped apart the strongest
In the midst of their prideful parade.

Men who had steel-like bodies
Died earlier than their own comrades;
Death cares not for young or old,
On each, equally, its shadow pervades.

When Death brings God's summons
To take one to the Final Court;
Then it leaves one no options
But to submit and to report.

Then Death snatches a man from himself
And rushes him to God's Throne on high,
Where Justice is fair and Equity is precise;
Where the Justified live and the condemned die.

© Domenic Marbaniang, Dec 16, 2014.

December 15, 2014

Drivers of Theologies


Systematic theologies usually begin either with Theology Proper (the Doctrine of God) or Bibliology (the Doctrine of Revelation). The Classical method (chiefly of the rationalists) was to begin with the doctrine of God, first by establishing the existence of God through some rational argumentation. On the other hand, the Fideist method held that theology didn’t need to begin with reason at all; theology began from the Bible, God’s self-revelation to humanity. So, they usually began with establishing first the doctrine of divine revelation, i.e. with Bibliology.

But, the inescapable problem again emerges: to try to establish the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible based on its own self-testimony would mean engaging in the informal question-begging fallacy: “I believe that the Bible is true because it is God’s Word, and what it says about itself as being God’s Word is true.” A question-begging fallacy doesn’t establish anything; it is like a man who tries to get higher by climbing over his own parachute. The external-evidence issue seems crucial at such moments. However, people like Plantinga have argued that this needn’t be the case. Internal evidences and testimonies equally count as valid, especially when they qualify as basic beliefs. Blaise Pascal had gone further to state that rationalism itself was founded upon a faith on reason; or else, what credibility does reason possess than itself in order to avoid the circular argument? Thus, the reductionism of sources to themselves seems unavoidable.

Thus, the disagreement is more about being rational than about being dogmatic. In his Escape from Reason, Schaeffer tried to historically demonstrate that the focus on the superiority of reason could hijack theology and cut it off from true faith. The sequential departure of systematic theologies from Faith in the West, especially following the Enlightenment was quoted as illustrative of the lower storey eating up of the upper storey (natural theology eating up revelatory theology). This progress of estrangement was arrested by the anti-liberal neo-orthodox movement theologically super-headed by Barth and his group of theologians. The neo-orthodox theologians tried to snatch away theology from the hands of the liberals by re-affirming sola fide (faith alone) over both reason and historical experience.

On the other hand, historical evidentialism was another frame of reference that challenged both faith and reason to accommodate to it; thus, we find the emergence of responses like Bultmann’s demythologizationism and Chalmer’s gap theory. People like Whitehead attempted to take the rationalist line and wed reason to history; others like Pannenberg wove revelation into history. In recent times, narrative theologians have decided to do away with the rational dimension of theology altogether; another example of the rational-empirical conflict. But, certainly the solution to the conflict doesn’t lie in opting for one over the other. Zeno’s paradoxes are not solved by choosing empirical phenomena above rational analysis , or vice versa.

The nature of a theological enterprise usually determines the method of doing theology. For instance, an apologetic kind of theology would seek to construct theology in a way that Faith is heavily guarded and defended. However, the irony is that apologetic theology is not primary theology at all. It comes after Faith has been meticulously adumbrated by a previous theological enterprise. Dogmatic theology, on the other hand, proceeds from sole belief in the Scriptures and uses the exegetical method, though at times the pendulum swings to extremities in order to combat the prevalent concepts of theology that the dogmatist considers to be false; in this light, we can understand Calvin’s opposition of anything that the Catholic can use to accentuate the primacy of the Pope, including the doctrine of the continuity of the charismatic gifts (Calvin said that the healing gift didn’t continue; the papacy was only misleading the masses by claiming that the gift continued). Utilitarian theologies only try to use theological categories for the proclamation of philosophically constructed ideas. Such utilitarian theologies don’t derive theology from the Scriptures but read the Scriptures in light of secular philosophy (See Thieselton, Two Horizons). But, real theology is not eisogetic (reading into the text) but exogetic (reading out of the text). Systematic theologies have to choose between epistemic assumptions: whether to begin from reason, from experience, or from faith. To people like Aquinas, the rational becomes important and reasoning is the method; to those like Sadhu Sundar Singh, the empirical is prior and narrative is the method; to those like Calvin, faith is prior and exegesis is the method.

Yet, one cannot even regard the dogmatic to be foolproof. The dogmatist vision is also colored by certain prejudices that s/he uses to resolve conflict of statements in the Bible. For instance, in the Calvinist doctrine, the foundation is the doctrine of Sovereignty of God and of His grace. Thus, wherever scriptural statements are in conflict, the arbitrator is the dogmatic basic; but, where the conflict is with science, reason, or history, the dogmatist chooses dogma over science. But, what is the basis of this dogma? It is not always right to also go by the popularity appeal (for instance, that if there are more texts to support a particular doctrine, then the conflict of passages is resolved by majority consensus—this is fallacious, seeing that one evidence is enough to falsify a theory). Also, dogmatism might become the rationale for blind faith—people of conflicting faiths may have no common platform to discuss their claims. However, the neo-orthodox theologians have argued that dogmatism is not blind when it comes to the Scriptures, because Scriptures are self-authenticating to the one who encounters God in the Word. But, again, that only allows full room for other conflicting claims to assert themselves as subjectively self-authenticating. The empiricists, however, anticipate conflicts, not just among faiths but also in Scripture; to them the idea of uniformity of revelation is not axiomatic; thus, theological conflict and dialecticism is anticipated—absolute dogma is impossible. But, if absolute truth doesn’t exist with regard to doctrine, then pluralism will become inevitable, in face of which theology becomes non-sensical; therefore, the modern quest for the narrative.

Obviously, attempting to emphasize any one of the three sources of knowledge (reason, experience, or revelation) over the others makes theological construction off-balanced. Divine revelation comes in empirical language and submits to the laws of reason. A verbal testimony that doesn’t submit to the rules of logic becomes linguistically meaningless and, as such will not qualify as revelation at all. Therefore, our construction of theology must carefully use both the eyes of reason and experience in order to see the revelation of God.

December 8, 2014

The Problem of Evil As Evil

The Problem of Evil is not a problem at all unless “Good” and “Evil” are properly defined and meaningfully understood; or else, the problem cannot be raised.

Given that meaning is usage, let’s look at what we usually do not absolutely consider to be the meaning of Good.
  1. Good is not painlessness. For, in our daily usage, it is commonly accepted that Good usually involves pain (e.g. in exercise, study, work). 
  2. Good is not absence of grief or sorrow. For, if that was the case, the sense of a loss of Good would not exist; which would in turn imply that the sense of Good itself doesn’t exist. It is possible for Good to exist along with grief (for instance, when someone in a world X which is free of a particular Evil, say starvation, is sad about people in a world Y, where people are starving). In this sense, sympathy, grief, and compassion are virtues; i.e. they are good.
So if Good is not the absence of pain or sorrow, then what is Good? Before we answer that question, let’s submit that Evil and Good are perfect opposites of each other; thus, we can define Evil as anything that is opposite to Good (one definition looks at Evil as just the absence or privation of Good in the same manner that darkness is the absence of light).

1. The Relativity of Good in A Contingent World: Good is always recognized as relative to the instance of an essence (e.g. vision is a quality which is good in humans; however, one doesn’t say that it is evil for a pen to not have vision and to be blind). Thus, what is good in a particular world is to be understood in relation to it and not in comparison with other kinds of worlds, where the essential properties are different (for instance, we cannot compare what is good in an ant and say that the same should be with humans; for in that case, Good would become Infinite, if not contradictory (one could be as tiny as an ant and as large as a whale at the same time)). But, if Good could become Infinite in the instance of this universe, then the universe would become God (which is not the case at all). Consequently, one cannot call anything evil unless one is able to identify what is actually good with respect to that particular entity with respect to which evil is being predicated.

Further, in an economy or eco-arrangement of multiple contingent beings, dependence would become inter-related (implying that the profit of one would mean the loss of something or someone else; the profit of tigers would mean the loss of deer and the profit of deer would mean the loss of grass, for instance). A non-dependent world would be loss-free, or Infinite (which, in the case of our universe, is negated by experience of contingency – the core concern of the Problem of Evil).

Another possibility would be for a contingent world to become not inter-dependent but trans-dependent; that is to become absorbed into the Infinite in such a way that the contingent is supplied by the Infinite (as in the new creation of biblical eschatology). But, that possibility will require a non-free universe (which is super-governed by the Infinite) in a way that the Good also exists as freedom (i.e., is also recognized as good, thus being free). This is contradictory.

But, the contradiction is only conditional; given the non-free absorption of free-creatures into the Infinite. However, given that the free-creatures within a temporally and spatially finite and contingent world choose (by exercise of freedom- for freedom to exist for the recognition of Good) to be absorbed into the Infinite world (Kingdom of God) and there is a bridge (ontological and moral) between the Infinite and the finite, then such a world free of contingent evil, will become possible. In Christian doctrine, that bridge is the person of Christ, the Mediator.

2. Good as Absolute and Necessary. Good as absolute and necessary (i.e. devoid of any instance of or possibility of Evil) can only be predicated of a being that is Infinite and in which Good can be Infinitely instantiated (with no room for Evil). In contingent beings or entities, Good can be absolute only with respect to what can be defined as Good relatively to them. For instance, an apple tree that produces sweet apples is experiencing the Good (there is an ideal “absolute” image or standard of Good when one talks about good apples and bad apples); however, one cannot consider an apple tree not producing apples but producing mangoes to be a good apple tree in any sense (in fact, that image is contradictory). But, it is conceptually possible to imagine a perfect apple tree whose fruit is 100% perfect – i.e. the good apple tree conforms to the ideal of an absolutely good apple tree. But, contingency and inter-dependence would mean that such perfection itself is also contingent and therefore not necessary (if a card loses balance somewhere, all other cards are affected – contingency is necessary, but perfection is not).

But, such relativity doesn’t apply to the Infinite. An Infinite does not submit to gradation of degrees of Good, since the Infinite is trans-temporal (the Infinite cannot be a little good at times and better at other times). Also, there cannot be more than one instance of the Infinite (e.g. many Infinite oceans cannot co-exist). Therefore, the Infinitely good is absolutely and necessarily good.

3. The Problem of Evil as Evil. The very moral condemnation of the Infinite on grounds that Evil (physical and moral) exists is Evil, for it is an attempt of the contingent to deny its necessary contingency and assume equivalence with the Infinite without submission to the Infinite (which by virtue of the very rule it uses to raise the Problem of Evil condemns itself).

1. If God (as Necessary) is All-powerful, All-loving, and All-good, then Evil (as Contingent) cannot exist.
2. Evil (as Contingent) exists.
3. Therefore, God (as Necessary) is not All-powerful, All-loving, and All-good doesn’t exist.
4. That is to say, God is a Contingent Being.

The syllogism is invalid. The valid form should be
1. If God (as Necessary) exists, then Evil (as Necessary) cannot exist.
2. Evil exists as Contingent, not as Necessary.
3. Therefore, God (as Necessary) exists.

OR

1. God (as Necessary) or Evil (as a Necessary).
2. Evil as Contingent, not-Necessary.
3. Therefore, God (as Necessary)

To assert that Evil exists as Necessary is to assert the absoluteness, inevitability, infinity, and immutability of Evil; which makes Evil co-Infinite with Good. But, this is both a contradiction and a denial of the Problem of Evil. It is a contradiction because Good and Evil cannot infinitely co-exist (Good would infinitely negate Evil as light negates darkness – and in Infinite Good, there are no degrees of goodness (dim light, brighter light) because of its infinitude). Also, to assert that Evil exists as Necessary is to deny the Problem of Evil, for then one can neither desire the annihilation of Evil nor would have need to argue for the non-existence of Necessary Good (since the concept of Good would become negative in face of Absolute Evil, with no contingent existent remaining). Therefore, to posit the Syllogism of Evil in order to negate the existence of Absolute Good is to engage in prejudiced judgment; that judgment is Evil since it doesn’t just concern the issue of validity or invalidity but also the choice (in freedom) to call evil good and good evil -- it features as Evil when it condemns Infinite Good as either non-existent or being the opposite of Good; thus, affirming Evil as Ultimate Reality. But, if Evil is Ultimate Reality, then the problem would no longer be the Problem of Evil, but the Problem of Good. Then, the cry would not be for the Christ, but for the Anti-Christ (See Nietszche, The Antichrist). Such approach is nothing but the approach of Evil against Good.

Also, to claim that Necessary Good be unconditionally attributed to Contingent Being is to claim unconditional right to Infinitude (which implies the overthrow of the Infinite; for, there cannot be more than one Infinite). But, the overthrow of Infinite Good (though logically impossible) is Evil. Therefore, also, the Syllogism of Evil is Evil.


Updated on December 11, 2014

November 21, 2014

The Power of Scriptural Implication and Application

There are a few truths that are discovered before their experience. Some scientific theories fall under this genre. For instance, the theory of relativity came first, then much later on its predictions were verified through experience.

The pronouncements and predictions of Scriptures are much certain than what humans discover through mathematical analyses of experience.

One doesn't need to be experienced in certain areas in order to be able to receive truths of Scriptures by faith. One's experience or lack of experience cannot alter the immutable truths.

For instance, in the late 19th century, a group of students under the leadership of Charles Parham began to study God's Word and discovered that the gift of tongues always followed the baptism of the Spirit. They inferred that this is what they must expect to experience when they are filled. Soon, on Jan 1 of 1901 when Parham laid hands on a girl who was waiting on the Lord in prayer, she received the gift and spoke in Chinese. Interestingly, Parham himself had not received the gift yet. He didn't have the experience but had received what was implied by the Scripture.

Smith Wigglesworth used to say that he didn't walk by what he saw or experienced but by what He knew the Bible said.

I believe the Bible teaches us all wisdom we need for life, work, marriage, business, counseling, and ministry that most books based on pure experience alone cannot teach. If we have succeeded to rightly infer and know what implications God's Word has for our situation, we can apply it to our life and live according to the Word

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas on December 25?

Forthcoming in Christian Trends

There is a popular view in circulation that Christmas must not be celebrated on December 25 because it has some (disputedly) pagan origins; in fact, the very term “Christmas” is under attack. I think the dispute is akin to stipulating that one shouldn’t use the word “nice” because it is derived from the Latin nescius which originally meant “ignorant” or “stupid”. However, that doesn’t excuse us from trying to dig into the history of Christmas. Of course, we also don’t disregard the fact that December 25 is not a universal date for all Christians. We are well aware that Christians in the Russian Orthodox Churches celebrate the Birth of Christ on January 7. In this article we will try to briefly consider the historical story of the date of Christmas and also look at some keys to a proper celebration of Christmas.

The Date of Christ’s Birth
A swift glance at history will tell us that the origins of the Festival go earlier to the time of Emperor Constantine in the 3rd century. Of course, there is that popular notion that Christmas was a political trick introduced during Constantine’s time to dupe people into confusing the Sun Festival (Saturnalia) with the Birth of Jesus and thus paganize Christianity in order to get a bigger following. We know that before Constantine’s conquest of Rome in 312 AD, Christianity was outlawed in the Empire and Christians were persecuted. However, as the historians Eusebius and Lactantius inform us, Constantine was miraculously touched by a vision of Jesus that told him to conquer Rome by the sign of the Cross. Constantine immediately used the sign on his banners and shields and conquered Rome. On becoming the emperor, he declared Christianity as the state religion. It is believed that in this popularity period of Christianity, pagan rites, customs, and festivals crept into the Church, and one of them was the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun on December 25 transformed into the Birthday of the Sun of Righteousness (i.e. Jesus Christ). However, historians tell us that this belief has less historical support; there is no early historical evidence to prove that the Sun Festival was replaced with Christmas. In fact, historical facts tell us something else.

The facts are clear that the Church Fathers, long before Constantine, associated the birth of Christ with the winter solstice (which marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year, inaugurating the spring, usually at the end of December). The winter solstice was chosen to correspond with the spring equinox in March, when it was believed that during the Feast of Passover, the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary to announce to her the birth of Christ.

In his doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Chicago in 2008, Michael Alan Anderson notes:
Scholarship has established that the Preparation of the Passover (14 Nisan) fell on March 25 in the Julian calendar and was equated with the Passion of Christ. That date coincided with the date assigned to the spring equinox in the Roman calendrical system. As the time of Easter became a variable date in the Christian liturgical year, the date of March 25 was maintained as the date of the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary about the birth of Jesus.
The unusual concurrence in the early liturgical calendars of the Annunciation with the historical date of the Passion on March 25 was not an accident. For the first Christians, the expectation of Christ (parousia) at the time of Pascha was understood as his arrival both at the incarnation and at his second coming. For instance, the second-century Christian apologist, Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon referred to the 'coming' of Christ specifically at the day of his conception. Christ's nativity on December 25 therefore fell nine months after the day of his conception on March 25, a day associated specifically with the Passion in early Christianity.....
With the coincidence of the conception of Christ on March 25 with the spring equinox in the Roman calendar (VIII Kalends Aprilis), Christmas (December 25, or VIII Kalends Ianuaris) was thereby thought to occur at the winter solstice.... (Symbols of the Saints, 2008; pp.42-43)
Andrew McGowan, Former President of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, and now President of the Berkeley Divinity School, tells us that around 200 AD “Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar.” He continues to note that “March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25”, and came to be considered as the time of the Annunciation and the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, since it was believed that the day Jesus was conceived in (i.e. Nisan 14) was when He was also crucified on later. Andrew quotes a fourth century treatise titled On Solstices and Equinoxes which states: “Therefore our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the calends of April in the month of March [March 25], which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered.” He also quotes Augustine’s On the Trinity (c.399-419): “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.” Evidently, by the time of Augustine, December 25 had become traditionally established as the birth date of Jesus.

The Russian Orthodox Church still follows the old Julian calendar, which is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, and so they celebrate Christmas 13 days later, i.e. on January 7.

But, do we have a biblical warrant for pinning on December 25? Of course, we don’t. As we have already pointed out, there are calendar issues even between the Russian Orthodox Church and the others. In fact, there is no single uniform calendar date with this regard; if one fixes a date, say according to the Julian Calendar, the date is bound to contradict the date of the Gregorian Calendar, and either would need to submit to one of them about a fixed date. Further, the fixation of dates is arbitrary, especially with regard to commemoration. For instance, in 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea fixed Easter (another disputed term) to be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. And so, if the full moon falls on Sunday, Easter is delayed by one week. The focus is more on fixing a day of commemoration rather than on making a doctrinal declaration. Thus, one doesn’t have a fixed date of Easter every year. What matters is the day (i.e. Sunday), not the date. However, the same is not observed with regard to Christmas. December 25 is traditionally fixed. Again, it is not a biblical appointment of a feast (as with the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread for the Jews); it is, as Augustine notes, something developed in tradition. Yet, for certain, there is no historical warrant for claiming that the date is in any case the result of paganizing Christianity.

Some have also referred to shepherds watching over their flocks at night as a case against the wintery birth of the Lord. Of course, anyone familiar with the Mediterranean climate would know that the sight of shepherds being out at night was not uncommon in Palestine.

But Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?
A number of attempts have been made to prove that the symbols of Christmas, like the Christmas tree, the star, and the bells are very pagan. Of course, what people understand by these symbols today is not usually what people claim they originally meant; so, practically trying to forbid the use of these elements through some etymological reminder system is akin to prohibiting the use of “nice” because of its negative etymology, as we noted earlier. Meaning is not strictly etymology, but usage. The meaning of a word or symbol is based on its usage, not on its root origin. However, that is not an excuse for forgetting the real significance of Christmas. A Christian leader once told us that his son had asked him on Christmas, “Dad, is it the birthday of Jesus or the birthday of Santa Claus?” Sadly, Christmas has come to mean different things for different people, and some meanings could be very worldly and unbiblical. Some have chosen not to celebrate the date; for them, the birth of Jesus is a joy to celebrate every day of their life. No attitude would be better than that. I believe we can sing songs about the birth of Jesus throughout the year. It would be very narrow-minded to think that we should sing songs related to the birth of Jesus only around December 25. But, again, to treat refraining from Christmas as a doctrine is again to resort to something that the Bible hasn’t forbidden us – it becomes another tradition or anti-tradition of man. Many Christians don’t look at Christmas as the real birthday of Jesus, but only as a day on which most Christians, and the world, everywhere, celebrates the coming of the Savior into the world. He might have come on some other date (and calendars may differ); however, Christmas becomes an occasion for universal affirmation and commemoration of the fact that “Unto us a Child is born, a Son is given”.

Some Keys to Right Celebration

  1. Treat Christmas not like some cultural festival, but celebrate it as an occasion of rejoicing in the historical fact that Christ came into this world.
  2. Honor the Lord through the Festival.
  3. Do something; give some gifts to people, gifts mainly to the needy, to honor the Lord for coming down to us. Of course, we must do this all through the year, but if we’re celebrating Christmas, this becomes a special reason for also doing something good to others.
  4. There are Christians who call themselves born-Christians but are not born-again Christians; these usually use the season to dishonor the name of our Savior by practicing the very things He came to deliver humans from, chiefly wild parties and drunkenness (Rom.13:13). True believers must condemn such dishonoring acts and must proclaim the seriousness of sin and the salvation of God in very clear terms.
  5. I think it is very important to not give undue importance to Santa Claus or any other personality or personification during Christmas. At any cost, Santa Claus is neither biblical nor does any such entity exist to bring gifts for children. Of course, there are movies that try to highlight Santa Claus, but a Christmas founded on false symbolism is a Christmas that is going astray. Does that mean that we should totally dump the symbol of Santa Claus? I think if one defines the terms well and uses the symbol only as a means not as an end, then the symbol can be harmless. Thus, if Santa Claus is used as a symbol of charity towards the poor and towards children because of the love of Christ, there is no reason to oppose the use of this symbol. However, if Christmas is all about Santa Claus and not about Jesus, then this becomes a very serious problem.
  6. Avoid songs that emphasize on worldliness, especially such songs that have non-biblical lyrics. A number of secular songs that actually have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus or with honoring the Lord are out in the market. Usually, Christians confuse these with true Christmas hymns and songs. Just because a song has the word “Christmas” doesn’t mean that that song is Christian. Christians must be wise and not just do what others are doing or trying to pump into the system.
  7. Do not judge those who do not keep the festival, neither judge those who celebrate the festival. Remember, Christianity as the Way of Christ is not about feasts and festivals (Col.2:16-17); Christianity is about faith in Christ and living by faith in Christ (Gal.2:20). If Christmas gives us an opportunity to affirm this faith to the world in a festive way, it is important not to lose this opportunity; but, if Christmas is not an open door to joyfully testify of this faith, then the celebration is meaningless. We know that in many places, Christmas time gives us a platform and an open door to openly celebrate our faith in the Incarnation of Christ (that God manifested in flesh, the first element of the Mystery of Godliness in 1Timothy 3:16) and to testify of the same through various means. The wise will wish certainly to not miss such an opportunity that history, under the sovereign providence of God, has bequeathed to us. But, again, if one wishes to not keep the festival, we fully understand that Christ is not against such a person. I believe it is more important to conform to the will of God for which Christ came into this world than to celebrate just for the sake of empty celebration. To make it more substantial, we should not celebrate Christmas unless we can fully appreciate the significance of Christ’s coming into this world, and are doing so only as an opportunity to affirm our joy about Christ’s Incarnation. Also, it is a festival that unites those who take the Name of the Lord everywhere.



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