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God, Guns and an Evil World

On June 6th, 2013 Chris Zawahri killed his father and brother in their own house. After setting that home and corpses inside ablaze the 23 year old walked the sun-drenched streets of Santa Monica, California with a .44-caliber handgun that had been in his family for years, and Santa Monica Shooting - Students - USA Today Imagesan AR-15 type rifle, clad in body armor and an intent that can only be described as evil.[1] He opened fire randomly at passing cars, wounding drivers, eventually taking one woman hostage while carjacking her.[2] Mr. Zawahri made his way to Santa Monica College where the shooting continued. Reports are starting to shed light on this very scary and dark event, one that took the life of at least five, two of the victims a father and daughter.  During a time when most college campuses are preparing to celebrate a graduating class, this years celebration will also be a memorial.[3]

On December 14th, 2012 a young man took his mother’s Bushmaster riffle and while she was sleeping pulled the trigger at point-blank range, killing her instantly. From there the young man drove to a nearby elementary school in the Sandy Hook community of Newtown,Sandy Hook Shooting - Angels - Episcopal Digital Network Connecticut armed with that Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, a Glock 20 SF handgun, a SIG Sauer handgun, and a loaded shotgun.[4] He entered the school around 9:35 AM by blasting his way with the high-powered rifle through the locked front doors. Once inside Sandy Hook elementary school 21-year-old Adam Lanza went from classroom to classroom, murdering any and all he saw. When this tragic day was over 27 people lay dead in that school including Mr. Lanza who took his own life, along with six faculty members and 20 children, most of which were kindergarteners.[5]

These events have intensified a debate that’s been raging for years.[6] The debate as reported by blog sites and major media outlets has mainly focused on gun control legislation and the availability of medical help for the mentally ill.[7] But are the answers we are really looking for wrapped up in these and the other topics that rule the media’s attention? Some have been writing in recognition of another topic all together, something much more pervasive. While still treated peripherally these events have reminded us that we are surrounded by evil. And as such other questions have been asked, questions that are usually for the theologically minded and relegated to the “Religion” section of the paper, if included at all. “Where was God?” and “How could God allow such a thing to happen?” are two of the more popular. When events such as the most recent ones in Santa Monica and Newtown take place we are often left wondering these and other questions. Often in the midst of tragedies people have difficulty understanding them in context of the existence of God, for many these questions serve as an objection to God’s existence. In fact this is one of the most popular objections to God, known as “The Problem of Evil.” Dr. Keith Yandell writes, “The existence of evil is the most influential consideration against the existence of God.”[8] Below I hope to explore the problem of evil by first discussing the existence of evil. The problem itself is actually made up of two sub-problems, the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. For our purposes here we will only be discussing the intellectual problem of evil. At the conclusion of our discussion we will see that this problem is not a problem for the theist at all and it is quite the opposite actually.

Evil - 123rf

“The fact is that there is evil in the world…”[9] This is something that is clear to us all; it’s considered brute or basic knowledge. The events discussed above serve as evidence that evil exists. We often ignore evil, having become desensitized to it; that is until a man murders 26 innocent people, most of them children or he walks the streets of a wealthy suburb randomly shooting innocent human beings. Then we are jostled and shaken, as if being awakened from a sleep or trance to a cruel truth. Evil exists. Greg Stier, a contributor to the Christian Post writes, “What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School was at a level of malevolence beyond any earthly explanation or solution.”[10] About the Sandy Hook shooting Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said, “Evil visited this community today.”[11]

Sam Harris, outspoken critic of religion and prolific atheistic author gives his own example of what evil is in a Huffington Post article,

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings.[12]

Atheist William Rowe, professor emeritus of philosophy at Purdue affirms the existence of evil, “Intense human and animal suffering, for example, occurs daily and in great plentitude in our world. Such suffering is a clear case of evil.”[13] In that same publication Paul Draper, who is quite well regarded in the area of the evidential argument of evil and also at Purdue equates evil with pain and defines it as “physical or mental suffering of any sort.”[14] The Psalmists writes “Evils have encompassed me without number.”[15] Jeremiah pleads, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?”[16] And Saint Paul tells us “the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now.”[17]

It is evidentially clear that evil exists but what exactly is “evil”? The dictionary definition of evil is “morally reprehensible, sinful, wicked.” We will use this definition as we explore the problem of evil. At this point it is important to note that the burden of proof here in the logical problem of evil rests on the skeptic being that this argument is supposed to be a positive argument for the non-existence of God. It is up to the skeptic to lay out an argument that concludes with “Therefore, God does not exist.”[18] With that let us examine the most often used argument against God.

The Intellectual Problem of Evil

Yandell plainly explains the intellectual problem as such, “That there is evil seems to many a feature of the world that God would not have allowed. Thus they argue that since evil does exist, God does not.”[19] The intellectual problem of evil itself has two lines of argumentation.The Problem of Evil The first is the logical argument from evil, which asserts that it is logically impossible for God and evil to exist. The second way the intellectual problem of evil is expressed is known as the evidential argument of evil and tries to show that it is highly improbable that God and evil exist. We will begin by exploring the first of these, the logical argument from evil.

The Logical Argument from Evil

The logical Argument is usually presented in the following format:

O1. An omnipotent God exists.

O2. An omniscient God exists.

O3. An omnibenevolent God exists.

E4. However, evil exists.

G. Therefore God does not exist.[20]

This problem as stated relies on the notion that it is logically impossible for an all-powerful, all knowing and all-loving God to exist while evil also exists. The skeptic reasons that either God is not O1, O2 and/or O3, given that evil exists, or evil would not exist. Since evil clearly exists (as we have seen), God, as according to traditional monotheism, does not exist.

But why think that O1, O2 and O3 are inconsistent with the existence of evil? This is where the skeptic must own the burden of proof; it is up to them to show that there is a contradiction between them. But there is no explicit contradiction here; that is, one statement is not the opposite of the others. In order for this argument to follow logically the skeptic must bring to the table at least two hidden assumptions,

O4. If God is O1, He can create any world He wants.

O5. If God were O3, He would prefer a world without evil.[21]

In light of these two hidden assumption the argument is that an all powerful and all-loving God could and would want to create a world without suffering. Therefore, it follows that because there is suffering in the world (E4) God does not exist (G). However, for this argument to follow logically the atheist must now show that O4 and/or O5 are necessarily true, a task they cannot accomplish.[22] In order for the skeptic to show O4 and/or O5 to be necessarily true there must not be any logical exceptions to them. In other words to show either or both of the premises false all one must do is provide a possible scenario that would show that God, while being all-powerful could not create any world he wants.

Is O4 (if God is omnipotent he can create any world He wants.) necessarily true? Not in a world in which God created people with free will! It would be logically impossible to create a free people and then force them to do or not to do anything against that free will. This would be the equivalent of having a married bachelor or a four-sided triangle. God, in his omnipotence cannot create illogical impossibilities. On this very subject William Lane Craig writes,

If people have free will, they may refuse to do what God desires. So there will be any number of possible worlds that God cannot create because the people in them wouldn’t cooperate with God’s desires. In fact, for all we know, it’s possible that in any world of free persons with as much good as this world there wouldn’t also be as much suffering. This conjecture need not be true or even probable, but so long as it’s even logically possible it shows that it is not necessarily true that God can create any world that He wants.[23]

In light of this it is clear that O4 is not necessarily true. What about O5, “If God were all-loving, He would prefer a world without suffering.” Is this necessarily true? This premise is easier to navigate for the simple reason that we can all imagine situations in which the allowance of suffering or evil can bring about a greater good. Garret DeWeese rightly points out that when answering this question we are not attempting to show what God’s actual reasons are for allowing evil, this would be equivalent to claiming to be omniscient. We are only showing that there are possible reasons for God to allow evil while remaining all loving and it would seem quite simple to imagine a world in which God could have reasons for allowing evil.[24]

If you are a parent then you have real-life experiences where allowing pain or suffering (evil) accomplishes a greater good, and done so out of love. I have two little girls and a third on the way; just yesterday we brought our youngest to the doctor where blood needed to be drawn, this caused pain to Phoebe but the results from the blood work will hopefully give the doctors clues as to what might help her. Out of our love we allowed our daughter to experience an evil in the hopes of a greater good being accomplished. Similarly God could have perfectly good reasons for allowing evil while loving us perfectly!

The free will defense can also be applied to O5. Given free will it may simply be impossible for an all-loving God to eliminate evil. As a point of fact the free will defense has been astonishingly successful throughout the history of philosophy. So much so that philosophers no longer believe the logical problem of evil exists. “No one can disprove God’s existence by the logical problem of evil.”[25] In conclusion, the skeptic simply cannot stand under the weight of the burden of proof assumed by his hidden assumptions. “It’s widely admitted by both atheist and Christian philosophers alike that the logical version of the problem suffering [evil] has failed.”[26]

The Evidential Argument from Evil

We have seen that the logical argument from evil for atheism fails but the evidential argument from evil is another challenge to theism within the larger context of the intellection problem of evil. The evidential argument from evil, unlike the logical argument, does not contend that there is a logical contradiction between the existence of God and evil. Instead the argument tries to prove that it is improbable that God would exist in light of the evil in the world. William Rowe expresses the evidential argument from evil as,

1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without therefore losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad.

2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

3. There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.[27]

In his discussion of this argument Rowe uses an example of a fawn burned in a forest fire stated by natural causes (an example of natural evil). In this example the fawn not only dies but also suffers for five days without anyone ever knowing. Rowe concludes that this is an example of a sentient being suffering unnecessarily without any good that could offset that suffering. As a result it is more probable than not that God does not exist.[28]

Rowe's Problem of Evil - Wikipedia

Simply put Rowe says that [1] it would seem that there is no justifying reason for God to permit certain evils. [2] Therefore, it is “probably true” that there is no justifying reason for God to permit certain evils. He follows that if [2] is correct then it is probably true that the God of traditional monotheism does not exist. This reasoning seems true; if you or I search exhaustively for a reason to justify a certain evil and come up with nothing, it would be logical to conclude that there is more likely than not any justification for the evil done.

However Rowe does not go unchallenged. Dr. Gregory Ganssle of the Rivendell Institute approaches Rowe from the position that Rowe’s “grounds are insufficient for thinking that it is probably true that there is no justifying reason for God to allow the particular evil.”[29] This objection is based upon the notion that going from “seems” to “probably true” is a weak inference, and quite a jump in reasoning.

In order to see how Rowe’s argument breaks down we have to understand what kind of inference he is asking us to make. For example, “It seems as though there is no B-52 bomber in my dining room, therefore, probably there is no B-52 in my dining room,” is an example of a strong inference. It is reasonable for me to look up from my computer and see that there is no B-52 in my dining room, and then infer that there probably isn’t one. However not all inferences are equal. For example, “It seems as though there are no radio waves in my dining room, therefore, there probably are no radio waves in my dining room,” is a weak inference. Anyone can see the difference between these two examples; one is more reasonable than the other.

Ganssle uses the statement, “If there were a X, we would probably know it.” to test whether an inference is strong or weak.[30] The weaker the inference the less likely it is to be true. Going back to our examples, replace the “X” with “B-52 bomber” results in a statement that is true because we would see it. Replacing the “X” with “radio waves” we get a false statement because even if there were radio waves in this room we would not see them.

So, is God’s allowing some certain evil event akin to a B-52 or a radio wave? The statement we must test as true or not is, “If God had a justifying reason to allow a particular case of evil, we would probably know what it is.”[31] When phrased like this it is clear that we should know God’s justification for certain evil events, but there are other events that we would not and should not know God’s justification for. To claim otherwise would be to claim to be omniscient. Remember, we are not trying to ascertain the actual reasons for God to allow an evil event but instead we are trying to determine whether it is reasonable to think that there are justifiable reasons for God to allow that evil event.

Looking at most evils in the world it would be fair to conclude that there are justifiable reasons for God to allow them. In other words often times good can come from evil, even if we aren’t privy to that good in the midst of the evil. This can be said about most evils; good can and often does come from them. Greg Koukl, in his article A Good Reason for Evil says,

“It’s not good to promote evil itself, but one of the things about God is that He’s capable of taking a bad thing and making good come out of it. Mercy is one example of that. Without sin there would be no mercy. That’s true of a numbr of good things: bearing up under suffering, dealing with injustice, acts of heroism, forgiveness, long-suffering. These are all virtues that cannot be experienced in a world with no sin and evil.”[32]

But what about an event like the Santa Monica shooting? Or the shooting at the elementary school in Sandy Hook, CT? As far as I can tell there is no good reason for God to have allowed those people to die in this manner. However, this does not mean that it is more likely than not that God does not have a justifiable reason. Actually I would conclude that if God exists there should be certain parts of reality that we would not understand due to them being beyond our grasp. If God exists I would expect a certain amount of mystery in any number of life’s experiences. In sum Ganssle writes,

The fact that there is mysterious evil is just what we would expect if there were a God… If this is about what we should expect, it cannot be counted as evidence against God’s existence. So even though it might seem, at first glance, that there are no good reasons to allow certain evils we see, this does not provide strong evidence that these evils are really unjustified. The evidential argument from evil, then, does not make it likely that God does not exist.[33]

Contrary to what the skeptic thinks it has become clear that instead of providing evidence against God’s existence, evidential argument from evil actually provides evidence for His existence. The fact that we cannot find justifiable reasons for God to allow all the evil in the world is exactly what we should expect if there were an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omnipresent deity.

Conclusion

Above we have explored only one of the arguments employed by atheists and other skeptics to prove that God does not exist. We have seen that their arguments fail for a number of reasons and for these reasons and others too it is “dubious that the existence of evil is in fact evidence against the existence of God.”[34]As a matter of fact we have seen that their arguments actually point to the existence of a Being that is consistent with traditional monotheism.

With that we have also seen that no matter the merits of the argument or the debate that is had, evil is real. Many times, and often in theThoreau Quote wake of tremendous evils such as public shootings it becomes clear that many do not take seriously the fact that evil is all around us. Going further and from a survey of headlines by major media outlets and what our politicians have to say about such events many do not take seriously the fact that there is only one solution to evil, and more legislation on this or less legislation on that with more social programs is not it. The solution is found nowhere but in God. It is becoming clear that the further away from God we move the more frequent these evil’s will become. Henry David Thoreau is credited with saying “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil one strikes at the root.” Throughout human history there has only been one person who has been successful at striking the root of evil and that is Jesus Christ. And that we will have to discuss at a later time.


[1] Robin Abcarian, Jessica Garrison, Martha Grove (June 10, 2013). “Santa Monica Shooter’s background steeped in trauma, violence”. LA Times (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0611-santa-monica-shooting-20130611,0,1490078.story)

[2] John Bacon (June 10, 2013). “Santa Monica shootings claim fifth victim”. USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/06/09/santa-monica-shooting-john-zawahri/2405015/)

[3] (June 11, 2013). “Santa Monica College To Celebrate Graduation, Remember Shooting Victims In Dual Ceremony”. CBSLA (http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/06/11/santa-monica-college-to-celebrate-graduation-remember-shooting-victims-in-dual-ceremony/)

[4] Steve Almasy (December 19, 2012). “Newtown shooter’s guns: What we know”. (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/18/us/connecticut-lanza-guns/index.html accessed Dec. 19. 2012)

[5] Richard Esposito, Candace Smith, Christina NG (December 14, 2012). “20 Children Died in Newtown, Conn., School Massacre”. AP. ABC News. (http://abcnews.go.com/US/twenty-children-died-newtown-connecticut-school-shooting/story?id=17973836#.UOIAHEKhosk accessed on Dec. 17, 2012).

[6] James Barron (December 14, 2012). “Nation Reels After Gunman Massacres 20 Children at School in Connecticut.” The New York Times. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/nyregion/shooting-reported-at-connecticut-elementary-school.html?_r=0 accessed Dec. 17, 2012).

[7] CNN Editorial Staff (December 14, 2012). “After school shooting, how do we stop the violence?” CNN. (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/14/us/school-shooting-violence-irpt/index.html accessed Dec. 17, 2012)

[8] Keith E. Yandell. Philosophy of Religion: A contempary introduction (New York: Routledge, 2004), 124 -125.

[9] Keith E. Yandell. 125. [Just: Ibid., 125]

[10] Greg Stier (December 27, 2012). “Gun Control Is Not the Answer.” The Christian Post Online. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/gun-control-is-not-the-answer-87291/ accessed Dec. 19, 2012)

[11] Susan Candiotti, Chelsea Carter (December 15, 2012). “‘Why? Why?’: 26 dead in elementary school massacre.” CNN. (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/14/us/connecticut-school-shooting/index.html accessed Dec. 17, 2012).

[12] Sam Harris (October 6, 2005). “There is No God (And You Know It.” Huffington Post. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/there-is-no-god-and-you-k_b_8459.html? accessed on Dec. 13, 2012).

[13] William L. Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” In Philosophy of Religion: A Reader Guide, ed. William Lane Craig (Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ, 2002), 318.

[14] Ibid, Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists,” 329.

[15] Psalm 40:12, RSV.

[16] Jeremiah 15:8, RSV.

[17] Romans 8:22, RSV.

[18] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending your faith with reason and precision (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), 153.

[19] Yandell, Philosophy of Religion, 125.

[20] Garrett DeWeese, “Solving the Problem of Evil.” Biola University recorded lecture series.

[21] Craig, On Guard, 155.

[22] Necessarily true statements are statements that cannot be untrue in any situation. Logical truths are widely agreed to by necessarily true statements across religious and philosophical spectrums.

[23] Craig, On Guard, 156.

[24] DeWeese, “Solving the Problem of Evil” Biola Lecture series.

[25] DeWeese, “Answering the Problem of Evil.” Biola lecture series.

[26] Craig, On Guard, 157.

[27] William L. Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” In Philosophy of Religion: A Reader Guide, ed. William Lane Craig (Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ, 2002), 318.

[28] Ibid, 320-322.

[29] Gregory Ganssle, A Reasonable God: Engaging the New Face of Atheism (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2009), 157.

[30] Ibid, 158.

[31] Ibid, 158.

[33] Ibid, 159.

[34] Yandell, Philosophy of Religion, 161.

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Kalam Cosmological Argument – Kalam made simpler

Let’s engage one of the best arguments there is for the existence of God. It’s called the Kalam Cosmological argument. Before we look at the argument itself it’s important to note a few things.

  1. This argument is based soundly on the notion that it is impossible to have an infinite number of past events.
  2. This argument is also based upon sound logical reasoning and as such in order to refute the argument one would have to show one of the premises false or that the conclusion does not follow.
  3. The main goal of this argument is to show that there is a first cause, not to prove the existence of the Christian God. This is important to understand.
  4. I believe this argument is the best argument to start with when addressing a skeptic because it lays a foundation for other arguments and eventually for the God of the Bible.

Let’s dive in shall we. The argument is quite straightforward and easy to memorize. It consists of three simple steps or two premises and a conclusion.

  1. Whatever begins to exist requires a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

Simple right? Now let’s look at each step and check its validity.

1. Whatever begins to exist requires a cause:

First and foremost, to deny this premise is to deny a fundamental metaphysical principle and go against the fact that matter can neither be created nor destroyed and science in general. Something cannot come out of nothing. This should be completely obvious to everyone. Nothing comes from nothing. If this weren’t true we would see things appearing in front of us constantly. In fact Craig would say that it’s so obvious that the premise stands on its own. However you may encounter one argument to this premise and that is “Who created God then?” But this is an illogical question because God is necessarily uncaused.

2. The universe began to exist:

I mentioned earlier that this argument is soundly based upon the idea that it’s impossible to have an actual infinite number of past events; here’s why. Today is built on yesterday and yesterday on the day before and the day before on the day before that, etc. Each day is a single thing and knowing that we are here today would imply that a finite number of days have passed one by one. If there are an infinite number of days in the past we would never be able to reach this point in time because there is always one more day at the beginning or, more so, there would be an infinite number of points between and two points in time.

A string or recent scientific discoveries also imply that the universe had a beginning.

  1. The expansion of the universe suggests that the it is not infinite because if you trace this expansion back in time we witness the universe getting more and more dense until it reaches a singular point from which the universe begins to expand.
  2. We witness this expansion of the universe by viewing the distances between galaxies growing, the red shifting of light from cosmic object and what’s called cosmic background radiation.
  3. General Relativity does not permit for an infinite universe. This eventually led to Big Bang theory.
  4. The second law of thermodynamics suggests that in a closed system everything moves towards equilibrium. Basically this means that after certain amount of time the universe will slow down and die what I’ve heard referred to as a “heat death.” Since we are still here we know that hasn’t happened yet so, the universe cannot be infinitely old.

3. The universe had a cause: From the two premises above it is only logical to conclude that the universe had a cause. But what was this cause. Before the universe there was nothing: no time, space or matter. So the cause must be non-temporal (eternal), non-physical, and non-material. So what could satisfy these requirements?

Because there are only two kinds of things that are non-material the cause can only be one of two possible things, an abstract object like a number or a mind. We know that abstract objects don’t cause anything. Minds do however. It is here that we can conclude that a non-physical, non-temporal, and immaterial creator must have been the cause of all we see and experience. By very definition this is God.

This is a very simple argument to memorize but one that can also lead you to some very complicated areas of study. For more information I highly recomend William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith. Dr. Craig is also has a plethora of information on his website at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/

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Pacifism and C.S. Lewis: Oh, and what I think too.

Introduction

It is the purpose of this post to explore critically two arguments Lewis uses to conclude in his essay “Why I’m Not A Pacifist” that pacifism ultimately fails. This essay was originally presented to a group of pacifists in 1940, addressing the specific issue of whether it is moral to serve in wars under the command of a civil society.[1] Lewis presented four main arguments to support his conclusion that it is in fact morally just to participate in war. Of these four we will explore the two which are most contentious. The first we will title “Personal” or “Basic Intuition” and the second “Authority” which is further split into two subcategories, “Human Authority” and “Divine Authority.” Once discussed it’s my belief that we will have no other option but to side with Lewis. However, this is not to say that everything Lewis holds is agreeable. Along the way we will be interacting with some ideas that are disagreeable, when they arise it will be noted. We would also be remiss if you did not start by mentioning something Lewis writes very early on, war is always a very unpleasant thing. “First as to the facts. The main relevant fact admitted by all parties is that war is very disagreeable.” I also feel that it should be plainly stated that no joy is found in war, to this I believe Lewis would agree. With that now, let us explore the arguments brought by Lewis in Why I’m Not a Pacifist.

Arguing from Basic Intuition

In this argument Lewis points to the basic intuition that love is good and hatred bad; that helping is good and harming is bad. He explains that this intuition leads the pacifist to believe that by doing good we can or must help all. For example, it is not enough to help one homeless person, for if you help one you must help all that you see. He then goes on to refute the pacifist claim by pointing out that by doing good, we choose to whom the good is being done while also to whom the good is not being done. Implicit in the argument is what Lewis describes as the law of beneficence which “involves not doing some good to some men at some time.”[2] This then turns into a slippery slope where helping one while not another slowly turns into helping one while having to ignore the plight of another and then to helping one at the expense of another, the final slip in the slope is helping one while causing harm to another.[3]

Shifting the focus from the individual to society as a whole, Lewis addresses the pacifist underlying assertion that war is always the greatest evil. He goes on to say that the absorption of one society by another and the oppression of religion is in fact worse than the war to prevent it.[4] However it’s here that Lewis makes an assertion which I disagree with wholly. Trying to justify the loss of life during war, Lewis contends that one can be comforted to know that the dead gave their lives while fighting for what according to them was the right or just side. I don’t find this comforting or even true; especially in a world where people are coerced to fight by threats of torture or death and children are kidnapped and forced to fight after being pumped full of drugs and beaten. I would like to ask Lewis if he truly believed all of Hitler’s SS men wanted to be there. Here, while it doesn’t alter the arguments conclusion, I think Lewis falters. In fact I would say that forcing someone to fight is actually a greater evil than war or oppression.

Lewis addresses an attempt by the pacifist to prove their position once they are forced to give some ground; this time through the use of a more political and calculating mode of intuition. When forced to acknowledge that war may not be the worst evil they may rebut, “But every war leads to another war.”[5] And with this the pacifist implies an infinite regress of wars, leading to the conclusion that we must focus our attempts to do away with war. To accomplish this they might suggest that society should propagate the pacifist philosophy far and wide; eventually permeating all societies and cultures globally. To this Lewis responds,

This seems to me wild work. Only liberal societies tolerate Pacifists. In the liberal society, the number of Pacifists will either be large enough to cripple the state as a belligerent, or not. If not, you have done nothing. If it is large enough, then you have handed over the state which does tolerate Pacifists to its totalitarian neighbour who does not.[6]

I find this argument basic, correct, and convincing. C.S. Lewis sums it up nicely with the statement, “Pacifism of this kind is taking the straight road to a world in which there will be now Pacifists.”[7] It’s important to understand that while we are not able to eliminate suffering and war, it does not follow that we should ignore the plight of those affected by these things or cease working to a better end. As an alternative to the pacifist position it might be more effective to focus efforts instead of on large, incurable tasks like eradicating suffering, to objectives that are limited. Lewis lists abolition of slavery, prison reform or curing a disease as good examples.

Arguing from Authority – Human Authority

Lewis appeals to human authority by surveying history’s rulers, wars and their heroes. From this survey he concludes that “the world echoes with the praise of righteous wars.”[8] As proof of this names of world leaders who did not shy away from war are listed. He includes in that list his school, parents and even great literary works. He says that to be a pacifist, one must ignore and “part company with” all of this. In effect Lewis asks his hearers to either cast aside these select champions of time or their pacifism. His rationale, since we look at the rulers and men of war with honor and respect, it is therefore proper to also view the battles they waged as just and even  necessary. He also interprets this historical support of war as wars justification.

It is here where I part ways with C.S. Lewis most drastically. I think if we look between the lines of Lewis’ list we see a different picture. Where’s Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan or Napoleon in the list? What about some of Lewis’ contemporaries such as Hitler or Stalin? Why did they not make the cut? While I agree that battle can produce heroics, and with Lewis’ general beliefs regarding there being a just war, I think it fails just to look at the men who fought or waged the wars and say “here is your proof that battle is necessary and good.” And I think it fails as well according to Scripture. A pacifist friend in discussion of this very issue rightly points out that all men are under the effects of Satan.[9] And as such wars are waged both for good and evil. What’s more, Scripture tells us that not one of us is righteous so why would we conclude, as Lewis does, that our wars mostly would be? I don’t think we should or can. War is never to be praised and Lewis misses this. After all King David was refused permission to build the Temple of the Lord due to his many battles (1 Chronicles 22:7-9).

Arguing from Authority – Divine Authority

We now look to what Lewis has to say in regards to Divine Authority. Beginning his apologetic Lewis says that the Christian Scriptures are largely silent on this issue but that the pacifist basis their philosophy on a small selection of Jesus’ sayings and teachings. Most central is Matthew 5:39. He then bolsters his argument with the Thirty-Nine Articles, teachings of Aquinas, and the words of Augustine all showing their support of the Christian’s participation in war.

I was left under impressed with Lewis’ mentioning of  Augustine, Aquinas and the Thirty-Nine Articles for the same reason I cannot agree with Lewis’ argument from human authority. While I agree with his ultimate conclusion, and these things do support that conclusion, I can see why a Christian pacifist would not find these convincing enough to abandon their philosophy. I would rather have had Lewis spend more time discussing Scripture; after all this is where the debate should lie for us. Either the Scriptures justify the saints’ participation in battle, or they don’t. And this is where I find the most support for the view that Lewis and I share.

Matthew 5:39 is the biblical passage most often given in support of the pacifist ideology. C.S. Lewis deals with it well.[10] He says that the scripture should be applied in the context of individual relationships, not to the conduct of soldiers or governments engaged in war. Lewis says, “I think the text means exactly what it says, but with an understood reservation in favour of those obviously exceptional cases.”[11] What Jesus was clearly saying here is that we are not to cause harm to others except in that instance where we are preventing the harm of ourselves, families or neighbors. Surely Jesus did not mean that we would not be justified to protect innocent life from violence with the use of force, even if that force is in the context of war. [12]

Conclusion:

While not everything Lewis asserts regarding the issue of pacifism and military service is agreeable I think it is clear that as saints, we are justified to use violence in certain instances. In Learning in WarTime Lewis writes what I think serves as a wonderful conclusion to this discussion.

The rescue of drowning men is, then, a duty worth dying for, but not worth living for. It seems to me that all political duties (among which I include military duties) are of this kind. A man may have to die for our country, but no man must, in any exclusive sense, live for his country. He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself.[13]


[1] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses “Why I’m Not A Pacifist.” (New York: Harper Collins, 2009)  [Kindle Fire version] p. 64, Location 612

[2] Ibid

[3] By way of example: saving a drowning man while leaving another slipping to saving the life of a man while taking the life of another.

[4] Lewis, “Why I’m Not A Pacifist” p. 77, Location 734

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid p. 78, Location 734

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid p. 81, Location 772

[9] Moore, T.C. “Why C.S. Lewis Was Wrong About Pacfism,” Academia.edu.  http://gcts.academia.edu/TCMoore/Papers/387653/Why_C._S._Lewis_Was_Wrong_About_Pacifism (accessed May 7, 2012) p. 10

[10] Resist not evil: but whoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

[11] Lewis, “Why I’m Not a Pacifist” p. 82, Location 784

[12] Ibid p. 85, Location 815

[13] Lewis, “Learning In War-Time.” p. 52: Location 1866

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Are Mormons Christian? The Great Apostasy, a dividing doctrine

The Great Apostasy and a Restored Church

Apostasy: the abandonment or renunciation of a belief or principle.[1] 

Introduction

At first glance there are a number of views shared by the Evangelical Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. However, once many of these views are explored it becomes clear that there are actually many differences as well. Herein we will explore one very major difference, the Mormon belief that the New Testament documents have been tampered with, leading to a falling away of the church early in Christian history and in the belief that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, through the “prophet” Joseph Smith is a restoration of the one true church. It’s our aim to first understand what it is that the Latter-Day Saint believes and why. From there we will review biblical scriptures, putting those claims to the test. We will close by looking at the historical reliability of the biblical narrative and what textual criticism says about them in the hopes of addressing a major issue of difference between the Mormon Church and orthodox Christianity. As a result we should be able to come to a conclusion on whether the early church fell away and if the New Testament documents can even be trusted.

The Mormon Belief One – The Apostate Church

The Mormon belief that the Christian Church was witness to a total apostasy finds its foundation in 1 Nephi 13 where we read that the New Testament documents were tampered with.

And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.

Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone first through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.[2]

In examination of this passage Dr. Kent P. Jackson, the associate dean of professors at Brigham Young University, long time teacher of Ancient Scripture and Latter-Day Saint writes that contrary to what many believe, this passage from the Book of Mormon does not represent monks or medieval scribes as the ones intentionally removing portions of scripture so to further their own personal agendas.[3] No, according to Dr. Jackson what was written in 1 Nephi should be interpreted as a corruption of the text very early in Christian history. It should be believed that if a corruption took place it would have had to have happened prior to the Bible being spread throughout the Near East and later the world. He goes further and explains that since there is evidence in early Christian writing that the biblical text was being circulated as early as the second century then the apostasy or falling away had to occur even earlier in the Church, most likely in the first and second centuries. Though no specific time period is referenced Dr. Jackson concludes, “The Early Church died from internal, self-inflicted wounds brought about by the introduction of alien ideas that gained widespread acceptance at the expense of the pure doctrine of Christ.”[4]

Jackson isn’t the only scholar who believes this falling away happened early in Church history. Dr. James Talmage, a Mormon scholar and apologist, in his book The Great Apostasy writes that “a general apostasy developed during and after the apostolic period…”[5] Dr. Talmage goes further than Dr. Jackson writing that “the primitive Church lost its power, authority and grace as a divine institution, and degenerated into an earthly organization only.”[6] Due to this total apostasy, history witnessed what Talmage and Jackson describes as revolts against the church. Listing among these revolts “the revival of learning,” the Reformation, and even the rise of the Church of England. All of which he considers proofs not only that the Church had lost its way but also that there was a need for a restoration.[7]

Mormon Belief Two – A Needed Restoration

In the introduction to the publication History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is by Mormons considered to be an official history of the LDS Church, we read, “Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”[8] Out of the idea that the Christian Church had been corrupted through apostasy flows the call for a restoration of the true church. This claim and later call was of the utmost importance. This is a statement that Evangelicals should be able to agree with: if the current Church is not following the original principles and precepts of Christ, as the Latter-Day Saints posit, then it should be our most pressing concern to get back that which was lost. As such we must now look at the origins of this doctrine and it’s validity. To do this we turn to Joseph Smith himself and his History of the Church.

In Joseph Smith – History I, found in the Pearl of Great Price we read the account of Mr. Smith’s life and general experiences with different religious sects during his early adult life.[9]  He recalls a time of great excitement, one in which he attended several meetings of different Christian denominations, eventually becoming partial to the Methodists though he did not join with them do to “great confusion and strife among the different denominations.”[10] As a result of these inter-denominational “strifes” young smith was left questioning which way was the right way. In his struggles he secluded himself in the local woods to pray for guidance. And in Chapter 15 of his History we read what is known as Joseph Smith’s First Vision, laying the groundwork for the foundation for the formation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the one true and restored church according to its members. Smith records, “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages… standing above me in the air”[11] Smith explains that these two “personages” were God the Father and Jesus Christ. Composing himself Mr. Smith then asks “which of all the sects was right” and which one he should join? The response he claims to have received is of the utmost importance to this discussion. Smith writes,

“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but the deny the power thereof.’ He again forbade me to join with any of them.”[12]

It is due to this “vision” that Joseph Smith felt the need for a restoration and it in large part served as the catalyst for Smith to further investigate spiritual things and eventually write The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, restoring what he thought to be a church in apostasy.

Similar to what we looked at by Talmage above, B.H. Roberts in his A Comprehensive History of the Church writes that the society surrounding him at the time provided “an emphatic confirmation of what Joseph Smith in substance promulgated a century ago” in that first vision.[13] Roberts goes on to point to a growing agitation within the Roman Catholic Church brought on by the modernist movement, and with it the “readjusting the Christian attitude towards modern knowledge… [and] a clear call for the rejuvenation of Roman Catholicism… harmonizing [the church’s] teachings with the thought of [the current] age.”[14] Roberts argues that this modernist call for readjustment presupposes something gone wrong, a deadness or something out of synch with modern truth.

Roberts further supports the claim that what Smith saw on that night in the woods was a revelation of the truth from God by pointing to the culture within American colleges during the century that followed. He describes an article written in a popular magazine, The Cosmopolitan Magazine, concluding that there was a unified “voice from the American colleges condemning all the churches.”[15] He goes on to express the notion that the colleges also thought that the church was not only wrong in the present time but had been for centuries. Dr. Roberts concludes that the mere recognition of these things is an admission that the claims of Joseph Smith are correct, that all the church were wrong and an abomination to God and that the Mormon Church is the one restoration of the one true church.

With the passage of time the claims of apostasy and a falling away have not become fewer. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have been consistent in the defense of this as well as the position that the Latter-Day Saints are the only pure church. Take the following statements into account as we head into the next phase of our journey.

  • “The Christian world, so called, are heathens as to their knowledge of the salvation of God.”[16]
  • “All other churches are entirely destitute of all authority from God: and any person who receives Baptism or the Lord’s Supper from their hands will highly offend God, for he looks upon them as the most corrupt of all people.”[17]
  • “In the process of what we call the Apostasy, the tangible, personal God described in the Old and New Testaments was replaced by the abstract, incomprehensible deity defined by compromise with the speculative principle of Greek philosophy.”[18]
  • “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taught since its beginning that there was an apostasy of the Church that was founded by Jesus during his earthly ministry and led by the apostles after his ascension. This is a fundamental belief of our religion: if there had not been an apostasy, there would have been no need for a restoration.”[19]

It is quite clear that Joseph Smith and his fellow Latter-Day Saints believed that the church was standing in apostasy, having fallen so far from the original teachings of Christ to warrant the label “abominable church.” It’s also clear that the Mormons believe their church to be the restoration to that which became corrupted. In defense of these positions LDS members refer to a number of scriptures from the New Testament as proof texts. As such let us now turn our attention to the word of God and begin our examination of their claims.

Claiming Apostasy and Restoration from Scripture:

Smith has been compared to the likes of Christopher Columbus, not in search for a new world but on a quest for an ancient and lost truth.[20] The search resulting in what Smith and fellow Latter-Day Saints claim to be a restoration. As Columbus used celestial navigation and a compass in search of a new land, Smith and his predecessors used Scripture as a guide and proof to their claims. It is here that we will examine the claims made and begin to offer a rebuttal, if possible, with the end goal of forming a conclusion on the Mormon claims put forth above. Below we will examine two of central scriptures used in support first of a complete apostasy and then a restoration.

Acts 20:29-30 – Apostasy Foretold

Andrew Skinner, dean of religious education at Brigham Young University and well known author writes,

We affirm that the Apostasy and the Restoration occurred just as foretold… Supported by scripture and the words of prophets, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches unequivocally that there was an apostasy from the Lord’s one and only true church following the deaths of Christ’s early Apostles.[21]

In that article Dr. Skinner refers to Saint Paul’s words in Acts 20:29-31 as “the most pointed and succinct description in all of scripture of how the great apostasy of the early Church came about.”[22] Let’s look at the passage together,

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. [23]

Mormon scholars agree that Paul’s words here are of the utmost importance and point to the knowledge of the apostles that apostasy would take place and greatly affect their work. Kent Jackson tells his audience that Paul here, and other New Testament passages, that are where one must begin in order to start to understand what occurred in the early church.[24] Jackson and other Mormon scholars render Paul’s words as a prophecy that an apostasy would not only occur but had in fact already begun. Their reading of these two verses provides a basis for the belief that false teachers (the wolves) would infiltrate the church, devouring all members of the Christian church (the sheep); not one would be spared. As a commentary on this very verse Talmage tells his readers “it is evident that the church was literally driven from the earth… But the Lord in His mercy provided for the re-establishment of His Church in the last days, and for the last time… This restoration was effected by the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith.”[25]

But is Paul foretelling a complete falling away; an apostasy as Latter-Day Saints suggest? According to Robert Bowman, the manager of Apologetics and Interfaith Evangelism at the North American Mission Board, the answer is no. In his article LDS Apostles and Prophets: What Did the New Testament Apostles Say?  Bowman writes that while, yes, the New Testament prophets and writers repeatedly warned of coming false prophets  they “never once expressed concern about the church losing its way,” nor do they allude to or predict a “top-down worldwide church polity after the departure of the apostles.”[26]

It would seem that Mormon scholars have misapplied Paul’s words in Acts. When the biblical authors wrote the letters of the New Testament they did so with intent and purpose to a specific audience. It has been suggested that perhaps this is where some Latter-Day scholars err in their application of Acts 20:29-31. Paul wrote Acts to address a very specific group of people, the church in Ephesus. Actually it’s even more specific than that, he is writing to the leadership of the church, the elders.[27] You see, Paul was issuing a warning, but not to all churches present and future. He was issuing a very direct warning to the elders of the Ephesian church.

In support of this view and in the hopes of correcting the misapplication of Acts 20 by Latter-Day Saints we can turn to the late F.F. Bruce, the world renowned biblical scholar and expert in the New Testament. In his famous commentary on Acts, Bruce explains what Paul most likely meant when issuing this warning,

That this development did in fact take place at Ephesus is evident from the Pastoral Epistles and from the letter to the Ephesian church in Rev. 2:1ff. The Pastoral Epistles tell of a general revolt against Paul’s teaching throughout the province of Asia, and John is bidden to reproach the Christians of Ephesus for having abandoned their first love. Foreseeing these trends, then, Pal urges the Ephesian elders to be watchful.[28]

 

It is quite obvious, as Bruce tells us and from a general reading of this scripture in context that Paul’s words here cannot, and should not be thought to mean that the Christian church as a whole would turn its back on the Gospel message completely. If, as the LDS Church propagates, Paul meant that a great, universal, and complete apostasy would occur he would not have also written, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”(Emphasis mine)[29]

As my hermeneutics professor in seminary, Ben Shin says, it’s all about context, context, context. It can rightly be concluded that, at least in this instance, the belief of a great apostasy is founded to be based on a passage of scripture taken out of context. As such it can be logically concluded that the use of Acts 20 to support the notion of a great apostasy is due to an inaccurate rendering of Paul’s words.

Acts 3:20-21 – Restoration Foretold[30]

As we have explored, the Latter-Day Saints believe that due to the great apostasy there is a need to reestablish God’s truths and the gospel as a whole to all people. And, as we have seen, that belief can be explained by the taking of a verse out of context. But is the claim of a future restoration accurate according to the biblical text? On the LDS website under the “Scriptures” section there is a list of additional verses referencing support that “the gospel of Jesus Christ was lost from the earth through the apostasy… That apostasy made necessary the restoration of the gospel.”[31] Acts 3:20-21 is listed as a primary proof text of this claim.

Before we look at the text it is important to understand that the Mormons consider the restoration of the gospel started by Joseph Smith’s First Vision as vital to millions of people worldwide (and in the world not seen).[32] As such, we should approach this subject with respect and honesty.

Now, let us read Acts 3:20-21 together: “[A]nd that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”[33] From an initial reading it can seem that Paul is telling us that there will be a restoration following a time of apostasy. LeGrand Richards, former president of the LDS Church, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a prominent missionary and author writes of this passage:

“When looking for the second coming of the Christ as herein promised, we much realize that he will not come before there is a “restitution [restoration] of all things.” It is obvious that there cannot be a restitution of that which has not been taken away. Therefore, this scripture is another very plain prediction of apostasy – the taking of the gospel from earth – with a promise of the complete restoration of all things spoken by all the holy prophets since the world began.”[34]

Again, at first glimpse this seems to be an accurate statement. After all, why would there be a need for a restitution of something that hasn’t been removed? And here the restitution spoken of, according the Mr. Richards and his LDS brothers and sisters, is the gospel. The event that is of such importance here is the coming of the original gospel message by way of the one true church, restored by and through the Latter-Day prophet Joseph Smith. Dr. Jackson writes, “The Book of Mormon stands as an ending of the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, held up to the world as evidence of God’s love for his children today.”[35]

As we saw in Acts 20 though, sometimes first impressions are not truth revealing. So let’s look now again at Acts 3. There are a number of interpretations of this passage. The more popular of which is outlined well by Ron Rhodes in his Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons while discussing this passage. Rhodes explains that the phrase “restitution of all things” more than likely refers to the restoration of Israel. To come to this conclusion we again have to think of the context in which Paul is writing Acts. His audience is the “men of Israel” and he tells his readers about the fulfillment of all the earlier prophecies. Rhodes offers good insight by way of Dr. Craig Keener, an academic professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, who writes “that Jewish people expected Israel’s restoration; this was a central message of the Old Testament prophets… and Peter seems to have it in view here.”[36]

Though there are other renderings of meaning, such as the “restitution of all things” carries a more general meaning referring to judgment day, we can be sure of what Acts 3:20-21 cannot mean. Again, context, context, context; nowhere in the surrounding text is there any mention of a total apostasy in which the entire church will lose its way. This is true also when looking at the larger context of not only the New Testament but the entire biblical narrative, as Keener alludes to. The accepted Mormon rendering of Acts 3:20-21 simply reads something into the text that isn’t there. Rhodes points out that the Latter-Day Saints are guilty of eisogesis (reading meaning into a text) instead of practicing exegesis (drawing the meaning out of the text). He writes, “By allowing the text to speak for itself, a person would never come to the conclusion that Acts 3:20-21 is referring to a complete apostasy” and restoration of the church.[37] He then offers Matthew 16:18 as an example of the conflict that would arise if this were not so. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”[38] In claiming that the entire Christian church fell into apostasy and was in need of a restoration the Mormon is in direct conflict with the words and teachings of Jesus.

Similarly Ephesians 3:21 reads, “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”[39] What is the need for a restoration if the church never falls away as we see here? Look at the claims of Peter in 1 Peter 1:25, quoting Isaiah 40:8 that “’the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you.”[40] There is only one way to interpret this passage, which is the Word of the Lord truly “endures” throughout all of history. Peter is unequivocally claiming that what he and the other apostles are teaching is the true word of God.

Historical Reliability of the Biblical Narrative

Mormons, when confronted with their conclusions drawn from scripture,  often claim that the biblical narrative, specifically the New Testament has been corrupted as according to 1 Nephi 13:26-28.  But is this true? Kent Jackson thinks so and says that following the death of the apostles the “doctrinal unity which the Twelve were guardians had dissolved, and groups with every diverse teaching… were competing for power in the Christian community.”[41] Kent Brown, professor of ancient scripture and the director of ancient studies at Brigham Young University writes that what was witnessed in the late first century is a “church full of dissensions.”[42] The result is a corrupted text. However, what does the historical evidence say?

 

It would seem that the accuracy of the biblical record actually stands in direct conflict with the idea that there was an early apostasy as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints claims. In fact there is a “continuous line of historical evidence from as early as A.D. 95-100 showing that the Christian community considered the writings of Jesus’ apostles the supreme doctrinal standard.”[43] We can be confident that by the late first and early second century there was all but universal agreement among Christian groups world-wide regarding the inspiration and accuracy of at least 20 of the New Testament books. By the end of the 4th century there was universal recognition of all 27 books of the New Testament.

The early believers viewed the apostolic writing as sacred. Much of this is actually due to the fact that the witnesses and apostles were dying or dead. Instead of this providing an opportunity for apostasy to creep in, it motivated the early church to make sure an accurate account of the events were recorded.

We are able to conclude that the New Testament is accurate and reliable because we can compare a multitude of manuscripts. This is a line of argument all but ignored by Mormon scholars. Between the second and fifteenth centuries, the time the falling away is claimed to have happened by the LDS, 5,366 partial and complete New Testament manuscript were reproduced.[44]  Compared to each other we see amazing accuracy and likeness. If there were deliberate changes being made by a variety of decenter there would be a large number of discrepancies between the texts, especially if the changes began early on.

Even more amazing is time that transpired between the original writings and the first copies. We have most of the New Testament manuscripts dated within 200 years of the events. We have some books dating to within 100 years of the events. And we have one fragment that comes within a generation. There simply was not enough time for heresy to creep in and gain footing.

Also, compared to any other ancient text the New Testament stands in a class of it’s own. “Not only are there thousands more manuscripts and portions of the New Testament than other ancient books, but the oldest New Testament manuscript portions are centuries earlier,” resulting in the ability to reconstruct them with a greater degree of accuracy than any other ancient book.[45] If one is to doubt the authenticity of the New Testament documents then one must also doubt all ancient writing. Something no group, Latter-Day Saints included, is too willing to do. (The chart above was taken from http://carm.org/manuscript-evidence)

Textual Criticism      

The process used in determining to what degree any ancient document corresponds to its original is called textual criticism.  Lower criticism deals the authenticity of the text. Textual critics try to recreate the original texts of the lost document by comparing copies of the writings, in this case the ancient New Testament documents. The results? We can be confident “that the Bible has not only been preserved in the largest number of manuscripts of any book from the ancient world, but that it also contains fewer errors in transmission.”[46] Of these errors only 10 percent affect the meaning of the passage, none effecting Christian doctrine.

In light of these evidences and the work of textual critics we can be certain that what we’re reading today, “line for line, word for word, and even letter for letter”, is the “Word of God as originally written.”[47] What’s more is that we can be sure that the Mormon position that the texts were corrupted early in Church history is not an accurate one, eliminating the need of a restored church due to the fact that church history as been so well preserved. It also becomes clear that nowhere in the thousands of manuscripts and copies do we see anything close to resembling what Joseph Smith and his Mormon followers believe to be the restored church.

Conclusion

            In conclusion and after careful examination of both the evidence and the claims to apostasy and a restoration propagated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints it has become clear that the Mormon church is mistaken. We’ve seen that the proof texts from Scripture and the historicity of the Bible support the orthodox, Evangelical view that what we read today is what the Apostles wrote; no central doctrines have been removed or added. As such we can be sure that the Church is not apostate and therefore there is no need for a restoration of any kind. However, this is not to say the claims of the Latter-Day Saints should be dismissed with a cavalier attitude. Claims such as the ones investigated above pose a very real challenge to orthodoxy and as Saints we are called to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks… But do this with gentleness and respect,” and our prayers should echo that of the Psalmist, “Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk and live in Your truth; direct and unite my heart to fear and honor Your name.”[48]

        

[1] Soanes, Catherine, Angus Stevenson, ed. 2004. Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Eleventh Edition). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. 61.

[2] Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13:26-28.

[3] Jackson, Kent P. From Apostasy to Restoration (Salt Lake City: Desert News Press: 2010, Kindle e-book) locations 319-366.

[4] Jackson. 354

[5] Talmage, James E. The Great Apostasy: Considered in the Light of Scriptural and Secular History (Salt Lake City, Desert News Press, 1968). Preface.

[6] Ibid

[7] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. Chapter 7 and Talmage, James E. The Great Apostasy. Chapter 10

[8] Roberts, B.H., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – Period I. Salt Lake City, UT: Desert News, 1902. XLII As accessed online at http://books.google.com/books?id=EylEIEiOmZAC&pg on 12/01/2011)

[9] It is recommended that the reader here break and read all of Joseph Smith – History, found in the Pearl of Great Price in order to place discussion in context. It can be found at: http://lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1.1-26?lang=eng#0

[10] Pearl of Great Price: Joseph Smith – History Ch. 8

[11] Ibid 16-17

[12] Ibid 19-20

[13] Roberts, B.H. A Comprehensive History of the Church: Century One (Salt Lake City: Desert News Press, 1930). 62.

[14] Ibid, 62-63.

[15] Ibid, 65.

[16] Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-Day Saints Book Depot, 1854-1856). 8:171.

[17] Pratt, Orson, The Seer. Washington DC: NP, 1853-54. 255.

[18] Oaks, Dallin H. “Apostasy and the Restoration.” Ensign Magazine, May 1995. 85.

[19] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 138.

[20] Bennion, Lynn M. and J.A. Washburn. History or the Restored Church (Salt Lake City, Desert News Press for Desert Sunday School Union Board, 1960). 11.

[21] Skinner, Andrew C. “Apostacy, Resotration, and Lessons in Fiath.” Ensign Magazine December 1995. p. 1 http://lds.org/ensign/print/1995/12/apostasy-restoration-and-lessons-in-faith?lang=eng&clang=eng (accessed November 28, 2011)

[22] Ibid. p. 1

[23] The New King James Version. 1982 (Ac 20:29–31). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[24] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 173.

[25] Talmage, James Edward. The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, Desert News Press, 1899). 206-207.

[26] Bowman, Robert M. “LDS Apostles and Prophets: What Did the New Testament Apostles Say?” 4Truth.net: New Religions and Cults section. http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbnew.aspx?pageid=8589952803 (accessed October 29, 2011)

[27] See Acts 20:17.

[28] Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988). 417.

[29] The Holy Bible: King James Version. 2009 (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version.) (Eph 3:21). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[30] It should be noted that if it is shown that the belief of an all-encompassing and great apostasy is be false then there would be no reason to examine the Mormon claim that there is a need for a restoration. No apostasy equals no restoration. But due to the limits of this paper, specifically the time and space we will only be looking at two scriptures from Acts, there are more examples referenced by Mormon apologists and scholars.

[32] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 1202

[33] The New King James Version. 1982 (Ac 3:20–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[34] LeGrand, Richard. A Marvelous Work and a Wonder (Salt Lake City, Desert Book Company, 1973). 35

[35] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration

[36] Rhodes, Ron. Reasoning from the Scriptures. 44. Referring to Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 1993). 332

[37] Rhodes, Ron. Reasoning from the Scriptures. 45.

[38] The New King James Version. 1982 (Mt 16:18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[39] Ibid (Eph 3:21).

[40] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (1 Pe 1:25). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[41] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 154

[42] Brown, S. Kent. “Whither the Early Church.” Ensign Magazine (October 1988) 7-10. http://lds.org/ensign/1988/10/whither-the-early-church?lang=eng (accessed October 27, 2011)

[43] Wilson, Luke P. “Lost Books and Latter-Day Revelation.” Christian Research Institute Online. http://www.equip.org/articles/lost-books-and-latter-day-revelation (accessed November 7, 2011)

[44] N. Geisler and W. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible. (Chicago, Moody Press, 1986). 385

[45] Ibid 405

[46] Ibid 489

[47] Ibid 489

[48] 1 Peter 3:15; Psalm 86:11

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Really, Oprah?

Okay, can I just start of my saying something?  Just to get it off my chest!  I can not stand Oprah!  I have never been a fan of hers.  She just creeps me out, it’s weird!!  I’m expecting an alien to jump out of her mouth or something.  I know she donates a lot of money.  The school she founded and funded in Africa, minus that scandal involving the teacher, is a wonderful thing.  Her new reality TV show is disgusting, as is all reality television!!  Some of the things she is saying and some of the books she’s getting behind are concerning.  I’m fairly certain she isn’t a terrible person but I for one reason or another can’t stand her.  I’ll work on that!!!

 

In the mean time I’d like to talk about the new series of web-casts following the chapters of the book “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle.  This was brought to my attention by my wife who forwarded me a link to this,  New Age Oprah!! 

 

Please understand that when I see things like this my mind right away says “Come on!!  Give me a break!!”  What’s with the voice over.  Why did they mention Obama?  To me this video screams AGENDA!!!  Not that I don’t agree with a lot of what is said about “A New Earth” and it’s teachings but, it was kind of funny to watch.  In writing Rhea a response to this a light bulb went off!  Blog topic, sweet!!!

 

I have watched a multiple of these web-casts and have to say it’s pretty troubling.  This book, and a few others Oprah has endorsed lately are a little scary.  From watching the videos this is my understanding of what is being taught.   1. There is a power with-in and source of this power that is sometimes neglected by the individual leading to a need to go elsewhere for that power, like latching on to someone or turning to God.  2. The ego plays different roles and manipulates people to get what it thinks it needs.  3. People should try and focus on living in “the now” and by living in the now you are able to take your focuses away from your problems and just live in the moment with reduced stress.  4. Being one with what he or she is feeling is building the new Earth and a new awakening.  5. There is a personal power within us that can either be good or bad!! 

 

On the surface these all sound great.  They actually all go along with many of the teachings of Jesus and he was a good guy, so the book has to be OK.  Right?  Well, actually wrong!  It’s for that very reason they are so dangerous and manipulative.  We are living in very turbulent times, especially in the United States.  Historically during times of change or turmoil people tend to polarize themselves.  They gravitate toward either fundamentalism or a personal, spiritual experience (New Age is it’s modern term).  Today the later of the two seems to be the most popular, in which I would categorize “A New World”.  These are not new thoughts by any means and have been around for hundreds of years.  With the lack of any membership list or dogma this is very appealing to people who have either been turned off by or had a bad experience with religion, mainly Christianity.

 

These beliefs tend to blend many different religious ideologies together while holding that there is only one basic principle or belief as grounds for reality.  At the same time denying God a personality and blending God into nature or the universe.  In short they are syncretistic, monistic and pantheistic all at the same time (dictionaries are fantastic).  Eckhart Tolle and Oprah are holding that all of reality is basically one.  There is a oneness among everything.  This leads to the thought that we are one with each other and at one with nature and at one with the universe and… one with God.  Everything is divine and there are no real distinction between anything then everything is… God.  We are… God.  Shirley Maclaine but it this way “I am God, because all energy is plugged in to the same source… We are individualized reelections of the God source.  God is us and we are God”

 

Please know that I am not condemning this thinking, or judging it as wrong.  I in fact think that the reason for Oprah’s support of this and other new age books is a perfectly acceptable reaction to a shallow and watered-down religious life we so often find in our society today.  That said also please understand that while Eckhart Tolle and Oprah long for the depth and freedom to believe in everything, what they end up finding is the exact opposite.  They will find that their theology, and this is a theology, and spirituality are completely separated.  By their thinking their very own search for the light or life’s meaning can begin and end anywhere which can only conclude in finding neither depth nor freedom and complete darkness.  In the process they are leading so many others down the same path.

 

As I said this type of thinking isn’t by any means new.  What is new is that it used to be that early “New Age” movements, or mystics actually sought an authentic experience of faith as a result of an already dynamic understanding of that faith.  It was their theology in and of itself that led them to spirituality.  Today’s New Age followers are missing that understanding of their faith and theology finding an empty spirituality and lack of light.  Plainly, they are seeking with out really knowing exactly what it is that they are looking for.

 

For me, my search begins with Light itself, God unobscured and incomprehensible, revealed only through the glory of Jesus.  I now it sounds “super religious” but hang in here, it makes complete sense.  Starting with the question of light, or life’s meaning, and relying on only proven truths I began a quest to find the answers to life’s questions, light.  I have found that there is a source of that light and He is the light of the world, God!

 

Often times people subscribe to New Age ideologies because of a preconceived notion that Christianity is un-bending, strict, stuck in it’s ways.  They don’t understand that it is the exact opposite.  Christianity has been viewed through a fogged lens for far to long, portrayed by the media and sceptics as something it really isn’t. Unfortionatly it’s far to often Christianity is defined by the actions of self professed Christians who are not walking with God and truely trying to seek out the truths of life, not following the teachings of Jesus.  Maybe New Age seekers or non-Christians don’t understand that there is a fantastic, awesome tradition of seeking within Christianity.  A tradition which began when humans recognized that we alone can not fix everything that is wrong with the world.  It continues to this day because of the knowledge that there is no one who can, no matter who much you tame your ego or live in “The Now”.  There will always be problems and focusing on the self isn’t the answer.  We have forever been seeking an answer to why we are here, we will forever be questioning and feeling a longing in our souls for answers to life.   For me, my relationship with God is so much more than the self discovery and personal freedom promised by “A new Earth” and the like.  It is a praise to God and in turn is life it self!!

 

Thanks for reading

 

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