Pope’s Third Book on Jesus Reaffirms Virgin Birth

Monroe County Community College

Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives was released today. See today’s nytimes for a report.
The bullets are:

  • The virgin birth is an unequivocal truth of Christian faith.
  • Christian teaching affirms that “Jesus was the son of God and was not conceived through sexual intercourse but by the power of the Holy Spirit, one part of the divine trinity.”
  • “The story of the virgin birth is not just a reworking of earlier Greek or Egyptian legends and archetypal concepts but something totally new in history.”
  • God’s creative word is able to bring about something completely new. (See my recent  God’s Commands are Authoritative Words that Have Illocutionary Force.)
  • God is a Creator. God creates. God invents. This is part of the nature of God.
  • God is omnipotent. Benedict’s reasoning is grounded in the understanding of the power of God. An all-powerful being is, by logical extension, able to bring about any logically possible state of affairs. “If God does not also have power over matter, then he simply is not God,” Benedict writes. “But he does have this power, and through the conception and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation.”

Why Do Christians Settle for Less than What the Church Is Supposed to Be?

Jet flying over our house.

James McDonald is pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, which has a number of churches in the Chicago area. I’m slow-reading his book Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be. I’m early in the text but am finding myself in a lot of agreement with him. Of paramount importance is: the experiential reality of the presence of God. Here’s a sample.
“When did we decide that revelvant need-meeting was superior to awesome God-meeting? We have settled for the horizontal and become comfortable leading and attending churches that God does not. Sailing is only delightful when the wind blows, and church without the transcendent leaves us dead in the water. Does your heart hunger for the miraculous in church where God’s power is manifested in measurable ways? May I ask some honest questions? Whether you attend a megachurch, a large church, a medium or small or microchurch— when was the last time God took you to the mat and pinned you with a fresh awareness of His size compared to yours? How have we come to be content with so little of God’s obvious presence? I believe there are reasons why good, dedicated people serving the Lord settle for so much less than what church was created to be. Often it’s because a rational antisupernaturalism is all we have ever known.” (MacDonald, Vertical Church, Kindle Locations 505-511)
There are churches that God does not attend? I think so, meaning that there are religious leaders and religious people who do not want God at their meetings, or who by their pride and unbelief choose to “do church” on their own, minus God. Remember what Jesus once said about the Temple leaders: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

Where the Edges Get Smoothed Away

Bush, on the shores of Lake Erie

Today, as has been my habit for many years, I’ll go apart to some quiet place and get alone with God. Most likely that place will be Sterling State Park, on Lake Erie.
I’ll have my Bible and my journal and a slow-cooked, meditative book – in this case Henri Nouwen’s The Only Necessary Thing.
My sole purpose for doing this is to meet with God and to be met and addressed by God. God, and God alone, knows the address to the deep place of my heart. This is the place where God lives, the place where Christ, the hope of glory, dwells. Better is one day in this place than thousands elsewhere.
If there is an edge to my attitude it will be smoothed away. If there is anxiety it will dissipate. If there is fear it will be overcome. This forms a proof that “prayer works”; viz., that when I do not take these solitary times of God-conversing I am more anxious and more fearful and more edgy.
As a pastor I am daily involved in the struggles and hopes and fears of people I care for. I will bring these burdens to God and cast them upon him. As I do this I experience his care for my friends and for me. (1 Peter 5:7)
I will meditate on God-things and God-thoughts. I’ll ponder them. When I do this God displays before my heart the Big Picture. When the Big Picture plays that means I have again found the place of rest and joy and wonder. “Wonder” awakes. This is always the sign that something very good is happening at the intersection of heaven and earth where my heart’s address is located.

The Problem of Evil

Monroe county

Next week students in my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class will be given oral exams on the matter of the existence of evil and evil’s compatibility with an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing, necessarily existent personal agent we call God.
I’ll ask the student 5 questions. The first is: explain atheist J.L. Mackie’s logical argument from evil against God’s existence. Mackie thought the very concept of “theism” to be internally inconsistent; i.e., that to affirm God is all-powerful and God is all-good and Evil exists this is “Mackie’s Triad”) is the logical equivalent of saying John is a bachelor and John’s wife is Linda.
Mackie thought one adequate solution to this logical problem would be if the statement Evil exists was false. What if “evil” was just an illusion? Who could believe such an outrageous thing? My second question for the students is: Explain Buddhism’s idea that evil is an illusion. Yes, all Buddhists do not feel this way. But I think pure Buddhists consider evil to be illusory (if they consider anything at all) because: 1) the external world is not some reality to be grasped; and 2) there is no “self” or “ego” to do any grasping.
The third question is: explain Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense against Mackie’s logical argument from evil. Nearly all philosophers think Plantinga (and others) have defeated Mackie’s argument and consigned it to the trash can of history. To defeat Mackie’s argument all Plantinga has to do is show that it is possible to affirm Mackie’s Triad. Plantinga uses modal logic and shows h\that there is a possible world in which all three statements are true. This possible world includes: 1) It’s possible that God has given persons libertarian free will (the ability to make a choice that is not full reducible to antecedent causal conditions); 2) It’s possible that God has counterfactual knowledge (God knows the truth value of future conditional statements, esp. those involving moral choices); and 3) transworld depravity exists (in every possible world free agents will make at least one evil choice).
The fourth question is: Explain William Rowe’s evidential argument from evil against God’s existence. Rowe agrees that Plantinga et. al. have soundly defeated Mackie’s logical argument. In its place Rowe gives an evidential argument based on the evidence of the kind of intense suffering that occurs in the world and the amount of such suffering. Students will need to state Rowe’s argument (2 premises, conclusion), state that P2 is non-controversial, and explain Rowe’s “Bambi example” as a defense of P1. Thankfully, Rowe is a “friendly atheist” rather than a militant fundamentalist ad hominem-abusing non-philosophical atheist such as Richard Dawkins.
Finally, the fifth question is: Explain Stephen Wyckstra’s idea that Rowe has committed a “no-see-um” fallacy which reasons like this: 1) As far as I can see there is no point to this suffering; and then concludes 2) Therefore there is no point to this suffering. This reasoning only succeeds if the CORNEA principle obtains; viz., we have reasonable epistemic access to the state of affairs. For example, a nurse can say As far as I can see there are no germs on this needle we just used on the previous 500 patients. But the nurse cannot conclude from this that Therefore there are no germs on this needle. More than this, says Wyckstra, we don’t have epistemic access to the mind of an all-knowing God.