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Prayer logic

4 Jan

You do not have, because you do not ask.  James 4:2c

I’ve been listening to archived John Piper sermons on prayer.  The Bible’s stunning truth about prayer hit me afresh this morning.

We don’t understand WHY the all-powerful God, the One who created every visible molecule in the universe as well as everything that is invisible, says He waits on us to ask. Only that He DOES…command that we pray, that we ask Him for what we need and want.

Note to Maria – Don’t spend any energy chewing on the bone of how come – just revel in it. The fact that He who created all things at His command should invite us to participate with Him should STUN us!

After we pick ourselves up off our face, we should then focus on the truth that James announces.

But an obvious question emerges if we try to formulate James’ truth claim into a syllogism in order to think it through. Do we apply James’ statement universally (ALL versus SOME) or as referring to a particular group of people?  Here’s what it looks like when I write it as a universal truth.

Premise 1: ALL people who lack something are people who don’t ask God for that item

Premise 2: You are a person who doesn’t have something

Conclusion:  Therefore, you are a person who doesn’t ask God

Hmm, does that logic square with how you have experienced reality so far?  Are there situations in which you have prayed to God and have yet to receive?  Or conversely, has God given you gifts for which you didn’t ask/pray?

I think all of us can attest to circumstances when despite LOTS of prayer God has not supplied the healing, the job, the baby, the money, the spouse or the resolution. As well as times when He ‘out of the blue’ graced us with a surprise blessing, both unanticipated and unasked.

In analyzing the above syllogism, we would say it is logically valid, that the premises are laid out in a correct order, but the conclusion is not true. Why?  because the subject in Premise 1 falsely includes ALL people in the world.

If we exchange the universal quantifier ‘ALL’ for the particular quantifier ‘SOME’, then we might get closer to the Truth.  Let me show you what that looks like and then we’ll talk about it:

Premise 1: Some people who lack are those who don’t ask God to provide what they need/want

Premise 2:  You are someone who doesn’t have what you want

Conclusion:  Therefore, you are someone who hasn’t asked God to provide

Again, that conclusion is not true in every situation.  To wit, I have repeatedly asked God to give me a different job.  And He hasn’t, YET……

So just using one circumstance in my life as a counter-example, I can prove that the conclusion in this second syllogism is not true.  It’s also not valid.  Why?  Because the conclusion overreaches the facts given in Premises 1. This first or major premise describes only one of two categories I’m going to call ‘LACKERS’ – those who haven’t prayed.  There is the category of ‘LACKERS’ who have indeed asked God for what they want.  So even though Premise 2 is true (you don’t have what you want) we can’t be sure which group of ‘LACKERS’ you fall into.

Bottom line?  I don’t know why God hasn’t answered my many prayers, YET.  But I do believe the Bible is authoritative.  I know that God commands us to pray.  I also know that He is good.  So there I rest AND I will continue to pray. What about you?

Constructing a counter-argument

13 Jan

Bible promises

A Biblical teacher I admire defends his belief that Christians cannot personally apply or use every promise in the Bible. He does offer, however, that universal promises DO exist, like Jesus’ offer of rest:

  • Come to me, all you who are exhausted and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

But many assurances appear to be directed JUST at a certain people in a PARTICULAR setting during a FINITE PERIOD of history. The classic example he cites is Jeremiah’s affirmation in chapter 29:11:

  • “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

The argument continues like this: if you look at the context of that verse, uttered by the prophet Jeremiah, God is addressing the Hebrew people in Babylon, assuring them that there IS an end to their exile.

The Biblical teacher therefore concludes that 21st century Christians are incorrect in apprehending that promise and many particular ones LIKE that for themselves.

Up until now, I have reluctantly accepted his reasoning. But recently I heard a pastor discuss a prophecy, already fulfilled once in the Old Testament, but again as it came to pass 720 plus years later, NOT in Babylon but in Bethlehem – the birth of Christ.

Here’s the original prophecy or promise from God. The context is King David’s conversation with Nathan the prophet. David informs Nathan that he desires to build a house for God. Nathan approves of his plan. But later that night Nathan receives a restraining message from God for King David. The prophecy he is given to share with the King is this:

2 Samuel 7:12-16

  • “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men,but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me, your throne shall be established forever.”

Solomon was David’s son who succeeded him as king and he DID build a house for God, the temple, completing it in around 964 BC. A kingdom was established.

So following the aforementioned Bible teacher’s reasoning, this prophecy has been fulfilled. Therefore, we cannot ‘take’ it and apply it to any other situations.

But here is how the pastor I recently heard moved in a different direction. He narrated the encouragement and promise from the prophet Micah who reminded the people of his day that a strong ruler in Israel was still yet to come. About 240 years after Solomon’s temple construction the people, living through dark and discouraging days, took hope from this good news about the future:

Micah 5:2-4

  • But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
    Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.
    And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lordhis God.
    And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

This is astounding! Micah repeated the main intent of the original prophecy, already fulfilled by Solomon, and pointed to the future birth of Christ as actually the ultimate fulfillment to come. There’s an initial bringing to fruition in 725 BC and another one in around 2 BC when Jesus is born.

Finally, to close his argument, the pastor cites Paul’s New Testament explanation in Romans 15:8 about Christ’s coming:

  • For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

And I’ve heard John Piper, the pastor whose Biblical exegesis I’ve been writing about, quote this heart-warming fact, again from Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, verse 1:20:

  • For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

So I side with the good news that Jesus has bought for us, through His blood, every promise in God’s Word. For sure we are to be thoughtful Christians, prayerful and dependent on God’s Holy Spirit to understand correctly God’s Word.

Thanks for reading this. I wanted to take the time to think through and construct reasons for why I disagree with the first man’s argument. And as many have said, ‘Scribere est cogitare’ or writing is thinking. May we all continue to think slowly and reason well in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? – the power of a counter argument

9 Sep

Some people like to dismiss miracles or supernatural events with the demand for something MORE than the existence of an immaterial being.  They want decisive extraordinary proof to back up any claims they consider beyond the ordinary.

Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Intelligent Design all point to an intentional first cause responsible for the creation of the Universe.   That seems to be pretty ‘extraordinary’, but apparently the ‘doubters’ don’t accept the powerful cumulative case that points to a ‘big-banger’ who/that initiated our universe.

Before we go down the rabbit trail of trying to come up with evidence that would be extraordinary enough to satisfy skeptics, let’s consider whether their requirement for such sensational reasoning is justifiable.

The other day, in reading Psalm 84, I saw a counter-argument to the atheists/agnostics’ pushback.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.

If it is true that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof’ then one might EQUALLY say:

  • Extraordinary beauty or loveliness requires an admirer/observer/lodger who is equally extraordinary

But look at the opening of the psalm.  The man who pens these words is overwhelmed with the beauty and the majesty of the Jewish sanctuary.  But is he, himself, majestic or lovely or beautiful?

Well he MIGHT be, you could argue.  And you’d probably be basing that reason on the fact that he is made in the image of God.  All reflectors of God are beautiful in that sense.  But if he is someone who has just offered an animal to be sacrificed and it’s around 970 BC, then he’s probably smelly and might even be splattered with ox or sheep’s blood!

Okay, so the man COULD be lovely or he could be smelly.  But who else or what else in this section of Psalm 84 considers God’s sanctuary good and fit to enter and stay?

  • the common birds, specifically sparrows and swallows

When the ordinariness of the ones coming into the temple, whether humans or birds,  are capable  and qualified to deem the setting “lovely’.  That beauty both satisfies the human soul and provides necessary shelter for God’s winged creatures.  The quality of loveliness does not require the beholder/user to be lovely.  It follows then that reactionary comeback to anything supernatural is NOT well founded.

So, no!!! Extraordinary places or events do not require extraordinary evidence.  They just call for evidence and reasons that are TRUE!

For further discussion of the ‘extraordinary objection’ visit this link