Greetings from the Texas Hill Country,
Can you believe another year has come and gone? We surely cannot. We have now called San Antonio home for nearly four years. Our children are getting so spoiled by all that this great city has to offer (the mild winters, rivers, parks, hills and culture). I didn't realize how accustom they had become to the area till the children thought that 45 degrees was too chilly to be outside, at the same time our Dallas friends and family were experiencing "Icemageddon 2013". This year we have enjoyed the outdoors, especially as Vera has begun to get more mobile and enjoys her backpack carrier.
|Dr. Manhattan ponders the possibility of miracles by reading this absurdly long essay.|
This "second greatest" objection makes "revealed religion" of any type-- whether Christian or non-Christian-- appear foolish, hokey, folksy, credulous, silly, superstitious, and fundamentally ignorant of the way the world works. This, of course, is the objection against miracles. Because if miracles are impossible, and therefore false, it renders any kind of Divine intervention or communication impossible and false. And if there is no Divine communication, then all religions that claim to be based on it are fundamentally flawed.
I would like to deal with this objection from my unique threefold perspective: First of all, as someone who has grown up in the fastest era of technological change known to humanity. Second of all, as someone whose favorite genre of literature is science fiction. And thirdly, as a committed if somewhat progressive follower of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. I think these perspectives can help us understand the issue in a way that avoids the pitfalls of merely rejecting miracles on one hand, and accepting illogical and impossible claims of the miraculous on the other.
|Tanner's painting of the Annunciation, which is may favorite artistic depiction.|
When I posted elsewhere on a discussion of the Virgin Conception, one responder had a very unique take on the matter. Since Jesus had to do miracles and eventually rise from the dead, the responder reasoned, then Jesus had to be something other than human: Something super-human. And so he wrote: "The virgin birth establishes that Jesus is not really a human."
I can see how someone might get there, if they were positing that Jesus is essentially some kind of "superman" who merely appears to be human but is really invincible. The interesting thing is that this is not the direction that either Matthew nor Luke take the Virgin Conception, and a "superman" version of the Incarnation was sternly rejected by all seven of the original Ecumenical Councils.
|One of my favorite classical paintings of the Annunciation.|
Tis the Season to bring up the perennial question of whether or not Jesus was in fact conceived by a literal, physical virgin upon his first Advent among us. Every year this question gets raised. And every year no decisive answer is given which will convince all sides, including atheists, skeptics, liberal Christians, conservative Christians, and religious others.
And, by the way: The miracle was not the Virgin BIRTH, which is merely the physical act of activating certain muscles and pushing the infant out. Rather, the miracle at stake is the Virgin CONCEPTION: Becoming pregnant without any male sperm present in the first place. This is the context of what we are actually talking about.
So, I will proffer my answer among the cacophony of voices, knowing it will probably only convince the convinced. If you are tired of this question, I will give you the spoiler: I think that the most probable explanatory hypothesis is that Mary was indeed a physical virgin when she conceived Jesus. My faith would not be shattered if this was not the case, and I think there are other ways we could affirm the Divinity of Jesus without virgin conception. But given the rather sparse evidence we have on the matter, in light of the rather large amount of data (proportionally) we can draw on to assert Jesus' Divinity, I am inclined to say Jesus was "born of the Virgin Mary" as the Creed says.
Yet, I have often heard five criticisms of the Virgin Conception:
1. Virgin Conception is physically impossible, and we live in a closed system where miracles cannot happen, therefore Jesus could not have been born of a Virgin.
2. Virgin Conception is tied to a theory of "original sin" which is preposterous and states that we are literally guilty for what Adam did, and therefore Jesus had to be born free of "Adam's curse" in order to be sinless, without the stain of original sin.
3. Virgin Conception is tied to Jesus being the Incarnation of God, and since we know God cannot enter into human form (see #1 above), the whole idea of virgin conception is misguided from the start.
4. Virgin Conception is only mentioned in Matthew and Luke, based on a dubious read of the Hebrew text of Isaiah 7.14. Since other New Testament documents do not mention the Virgin Conception, it must be an invention of Matthew and Luke.
5. Virgin Conception is found prior to Jesus in Pagan , Hindu, and Buddhist myths. Since it seems like a derivative story, it must therefore be false.
Let's deal with them one by one.
|The Paper Sack Kant could not write himself out of.|
It is with quite some regularity that I read or hear a well meaning Christian say "If you don't have God, then anything is permitted! God is necessary as a basis of morality!" This quote is often attributed to Dostoyevsky in "The Brothers Karamazov", although he never exactly wrote it. Rather, it is a helpful summary of the moral outlook of Ivan Karamazov in the early chapters of the book.
Now, as a Christian I think that positing an Infinite Source of Love at the core of the Universe-- the Triune God-- is the most satisfying metaphysical grounding for why altruistic Love and Compassion are essentially good. And furthermore, I find it incredibly instructive to posit that this Love became incarnate in a particular life, so we could see this Love embodied and exemplified.
But that is one of many possible coherent groundings for why Love, altruism, and compassion are moral goods. There are other explanations-- Buddhist explanations, Hindu explanations, and Secular explanations-- that do not posit a personal metaphysical Grounding of Love's "goodness", and yet lead their adherents to practice Love and compassion in a compelling way.
|A Weather Map: Not helpful in driving from Dallas to Chicago. You will see why this is important later on.|
There are many ways to divide and categorize human groupings. Some of the major ways to group humans these days are "religious" versus "secular" and "conservative" versus "liberal". And then much ink and many words are spilt over how these types of divisions are absolute and share nothing in common with each other. Hence the "culture wars".
I actually think that these divisions tell us very little about how people in these groups actually function.
I think a far better dividing line-- at least at this juncture in history-- is to look at how people do epistemology, and divide people into two epistemic tendencies: Probablists versus Infallibilists.
|Paul among the philosophers in the open market of religious ideas in Acts 17.|
This weekend Mark Silk editorialized on some of the recent hubbub over erecting religious monuments in public places. This endless back and forth battle over secular spaces raises the question for me: Where would be the dividing line between displays of religion and displays of ideology, and displays of, say, remembrance.
For instance, regarding ideology: If I wanted to erect statues of prominent American deists who signed the Declaration of Independence, as a testament to how deism contributed to American constitutionalism, would that be in violation? Or, even weirder, if I wanted to construct a giant right triangle to celebrate the contributions of Pythagoras to mathematics, would that be a violation (especially since he did found his own religion)?
|Bansky's family picnic: As offensive as Jesus' meals, for the opposite reasons.|
For Third Advent, Year A. Based on Luke 1:46-55 (the Magnificat), James 5:7-10, and Matthew 11:2-11.
And Jesus said "Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." To which someone in the crowd immediately mumbled under their breath "Who does this guy think he is anyway? The Son of God?"
Today I want to deliver an offensive sermon. No, not in the sense that I want to offend you. I don't want to offend anyone here. And if you are offended by what I say today, please, blame it on Fr. Chuck. But, instead of being offensive myself, I want to talk about the kinds of things that offend US, and what on earth people could possibly find offensive about JESUS.
I gave this blessing at our wonderful TMI choir and band concert, right before we sang silent night. I liked it so I thought I would share:
And so, from the TMI family to your family: May God our Father grant to you and yours a blessed Christmas season; May the peace and joy of the Christ child make your holidays bright; And may the very Spirit of Christmas fill your heart and home, and give you Joyful days and Silent nights.
At some point in the future, I will turn these seven ideas into a series of essays or perhaps even a book. But for summary's sake, here is a brief description of these seven unique ideas (you can also see how they are linked in the chart above):
TRINITY: God is an eternal community of shared Love between the Father, Son, and Spirit, in infinite goodness, truth, and beauty.
AGAPE LOVE: Unconditional Love is the reason for our creation, why we are given freedom, and why God heals us when we misuse our freedom.
INCARNATION: To show us the depth of God's Love and heal us, God empties Godself and becomes human in the person of Jesus the Messiah.
SUBSTITUTION: In Jesus, God takes into Godself the full consequences of our sin, suffering, and death, by suffering with humans, for humans, as a human.
RESURRECTION: The Love of God is stronger than death, shown in Jesus' return from the grave, which guarantees the promise of our own resurrection.
SACRAMENT: The Holy Spirit shares Christ's life with us through tangible activities that continue the mission of the Incarnation in the world today.
ATONEMENT: God's ultimate desire is to make us at-one with God, through Jesus, in the Spirit, as we share fully in the eternal life of the Trinity.
After preaching the sermon, a close friend of mine noted that it is a "terrific summary of Christian theology", yet that "the individual items are not all unique, but the combination of the seven certainly is". This is a great observation that raises the question: Just how unique is the Christian worldview anyway? Are these concepts completely without parallel in other religions and worldviews?
Love is dangerous, risky, and infinitely costly to the self. Precisely because it is the giving of self away to the Other, for the Other, in the Other. Why should we give ourselves away in this manner? Why is Love worth the risk? Why would it not be better to act in self-interest, rather than loose yourself in what may in the end be a futile effort?
Is there a good reason we should sing with the Song of Solomon:
"Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned." [Song 8.6-7]
|It's a "Modern Family", but is it a "Biblical" family? Depends on how you read the Bible!|
I wrote both of the following mini-essays at various times in my journey with Jesus. They reflect two different viewpoints on the same issue held by one person over time. There are thoughtful, Christ-centered, Biblical Christians on both sides of this issue. Those who support gays and lesbians may find the first essay offensive, while those who challenge them may feel the same about the second essay. I will begin with a brief look at the only Scripture passages which deal with the issue of same-sex intercourse.
After that, I will move on to present two different Christian interpretations, derived from Scripture and attempting to be faithful to Scripture. The first challenges gays and lesbians on the issue of sexuality and sin, while welcoming them in faith to support them in their struggle. The second welcomes our gay brothers and lesbian sisters in the faith, and sees their sexuality as a gift from God that is as different from heterosexuality as celibacy is. This second essay is a concise summary of research I explored more deeply in another essay on Homosexuality and the Christian Faith.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.