50 Amazing Facts

Mental Floss has posted its list of 50 Amazing Facts, and some of them are truly interesting.

1. In 1943, Philip Morris ran an ad acknowledging “smokers’ cough.” They claimed it was caused by smoking brands other than Philip Morris.

2. In the 1970s, Mattel sold a doll called “Growing Up Skipper.” Her breasts grew when her arm was turned.

4. On the 2001 New Zealand census, 53,715 people listed their religion as “Jedi.”

8. Dr. Ruth was trained as a sniper by the Israeli military.

36. Perhaps our favorite school nickname is The Arkansas School for the Deaf Leopards.

43. Male students at Brigham Young University need a doctor’s note to grow a beard.

45. The sum of all the numbers on a roulette wheel is 666.

46. The Vatican Bank is the world’s only bank that allows ATM users to perform transactions in Latin.

48. At the Wife Carrying World Championships in Sonkajärvi, Finland, first prize is the wife’s weight in beer.

Flotsam and jetsam (8/4)

  • Last week I linked to an Inside Higher Ed article on anti-Christian sentiment in higher education. NPR has now produced an article of their own on the subject. And here’s a similar discussion from Christian Post.
  • Gary Cutting discusses the relationship of philosophy and faith by addressing the difficulties that all people face when dealing with arguments for and against the existence of God. HT
  • Out of UR has posted the first two parts of a video discussion between Mark Dever, Skye Jethani and Jim Wallis on social justice and the Gospel (part 1 and part 2). Obviously, they bring very different perspectives to the table, so it’s worth checking out.
  • And, apparently monkeys hate flying squirrels. According to “monkey-annoyance experts,” one of the best ways to annoy a monkey is to place it in proximity to a flying squirrel. The best thing about this article is discovering that there are people out there who make a living out of annoying monkeys. HT

An End Times Anthem: “explaining” Revelation in song

Here’s yet another video dealing with important theological issues through music. This guy uses a song he wrote to explain the book of Revelation. It’s really quite catchy in a “Please God get this out of my head!” kind of way. And, I’m pretty sure he’s got most of the details down right. I particularly like the parts where America is the “whore of Babylon” and Obama is the beast that comes out of the sea. This is exegesis at its finest.  ;-)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLT66yJBYbA&feature=player_embedded]

HT

Remains of John the Baptist found – kind of

Bulgarian archeologists think they have found the remains of St. John the Baptist. Well, technically they only found fragments of a skull, a hand, and a tooth. And, technically they don’t know that they belonged to John the Baptist. The bone fragments were discovered in a reliquary inscribed with the date June 24, traditionally the date of John’s birth. And, though I don’t mean to disparage anyone’s relics, it does seem entirely legitimate to question whether we can simply assume that the bones inside a reliquary actually belonged to the saint in question. Right?

So, in breaking news, archeologists have discovered a really old box that may or may not have something to do with John the Baptist and that contains bones which may very well not have belonged to John in the first place. When you say it like that, though, it’s not as exciting.

Yes….Rap Can Help With Theology!

I’ve recently had some conversations with some students who are wrestling with all of the Christian terminology surrounding the atonement.  I believe this is a great teaching tool for Theology Professors, and would be worthy of having students memorize in order to get a better grasp on common terms and their definitions.  Although N.T. Wright would not agree with some of the definitions……I don’t think he visits our blog much and many still see them as correct.  If you don’t like rap, just mute and watch!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RUciHVpCbw]

How your “to do” list can help you procrastinate

Pork is evil – thus spake Joel Osteen

If you haven’t seen this yet, here’s a short clip of Joel Osteen explaining why Christians should not eat pork.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aU5kek3D-4I&feature=player_embedded]

I wonder if that suit he’s’ wearing is made of two kinds of cloth?

Fortunately, though, he does point out that it’s okay to eat buffalo. That’s good. I was just about to pound down some buffalo sausage for breakfast.

Flotsam and jetsam (vacation edition)

Wifi is a wonderful invention. I’m sitting in a nice, secluded cabin on Lummi island. Woke up to a rooster crowing on a nearby farm and spent the last couple of hours reading, drinking coffee, and enjoying a cold, misty morning. I just got caught up with my blog reading, and thought I’d go ahead and pass some links along. To keep the list manageable after a few days off, I’m just going to highlight the more interesting ones, and I’ll keep the comments to a minimum.

What the Bible Says About God the Ruler

I recently read Jack Cottrell’s book, What the Bible Says About God the Ruler. I believe it to be one of the better explanations of divine sovereignty I have read recently by an Arminian theologian. His writing is clear and succinct in addressing the problems that surround the notion of divine sovereignty.  One would be hard pressed to read his book and find any argument against, or for, the sovereignty of God not addressed.  Cottrell does a great job of not backing away form the tough questions and issues.  I want to unpack in a few posts what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of his book.  I’ll begin by giving a summary of the foundational elements that Cottrell lays in the opening chapters of the book.

What is Providence and Why Man Hates or Ignores It.

He begins by defining the Providence of God as his preserving and governing of the world. He gives two reasons why the idea of a sovereign God who governs and preserves the entire world is attacked or ignored by our modern culture.  1) Due to advances in science, technology, meteorology, and medicine God has almost been completely dismissed as unnecessary.  He is simply, “out of a job.”  Science has found the source of diseases in bacteria and viruses, as well as the vaccinations and means to cure many of them.  We now understand jet streams, wind currents, and ocean tides that explain the weather patterns.  Science has “split the atom, put men on the moon, and invented an omnipotent technological panacea – the micro-chip (Or he could have just said, Mac!),” and so the universe is nothing but a cause and effect network, in which once we identify the causes it is only a matter of time and technology before man can eliminate, altar, or change the effects.  2) The second reason seems to be the more daunting for the average person: the problem of evil.  If God exists, and God is good, and God is omnipotent, than either he is evil, not omnipotent, or non-existent.  The sinful nature of man will always tend towards one of these evil assumptions in its search for “freedom” and being the captain of his own ship.

Three Categories of Belief

Thus Cotrell sees that most people believe in one of three categories: indeterminism, self-determinism, and determinism.  Indeterminism is essentially a non-theistic system of chance.  Natural is allowed to operate and is the dominant force in all that happens, but even natural laws are “not of such a nature that they must produce one and only one result in every case.”  Significant variations are always possible.  A modern day example of this would be evolutionists who believe that the particular universe that now exists evolved from an accumulation of innumerable random events (this would not include theistic evolutionists who see God as the director of events).  The result is a type of humanity that has free-will but whose choices have absolutely no significance.  Decisions are produced by the “random swerve of atoms in the mind.”  There is no ground for ethics because there is no way to determine right and wrong. Furthermore, there is no meaning to life and no value that can be assigned to it.  Indeterminism is extremely bleak.

Self-Determinism is the concept in which Man is ultimate.  Here Cottrell lumps humanism, occultism, and Deism.  I found his explanation of Deism in this category to be helpful, for although the Deist may grant the existence of a personal God, after creation his view is precisely that of the secular humanists.  God has wound up the proverbially clock and stepped back, allowing man to steer the rudder of the ship.  The implications of Self-determinism are as follows: nature is a closed system in which nothing supernatural may happen.  The humanist and occultist would affirm this, but the deist must also since God is hands off.  Man is responsible for his own destiny and for that of the universe.  Life will be what you make of it.  Finally, there is a very high view of human nature and a belief that man can solve any problem thrown at them, and make the world a utopian paradise.  Determinism is extremely prideful, negates the need for a personal God, and fails to consider the depravity of man’s fallen nature.

Finally, Cottrell looks at Determinism which is the belief that “no event or action ‘just happens,’ as in chance; nor is it self-caused, as in self-determinism.  Every action is determined n some way by an outside for or an antecedent cause.”  This is the most broad of his categories because it does not require that one associate God or a personal deity as the antecedent cause or outside force.  Thus fate, astrology, mechanism, and Marxism are all forms of naturalistic determinism.  Stoicism, Karma, and Spinozism are all forms of Pantheistic Determinism.   Then there is theistic determinism in which he lumps Islam and Calvinism.  The implications of Theistic Determinism are that free-will is eliminated (which is a major problem for Cotrell as he defines it), the dignity of man is assaulted, the problem of evil is made much worse, and morality is undermined.  It is these precise accusations that I would like to evaluate and critique.  Thus, the following post will be a summary of Cottrell’s view of God’s Sovereignty and man’s freedom which dictate his response to theistic determinism.  The final post will a response and explanation of the weaknesses of his stance.

Mark Twain and Psalm 73 on the absurdity of injustice

Mark Twain has to be one of my favorite short story authors. Recently, I was struck by his The Story of the Bad Little Boy, in which Twain wrestles with the perennial question of “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Here’s how he describes Jim’s life.

Once there was a bad little boy whose name was Jim – though, if you will notice, you will find that bad little boys are nearly always called James in your Sunday-school books. It was strange, but still it was true that this one was called Jim….

Once this little bad boy stole the key of the pantry, and slipped in there and helped himself to some jam, and filled up the vessel with tar, so that his mother would never know the difference; but all at once a terrible feeling didn’t come over him, and something didn’t seem to whisper to him, “Is it right to disobey my mother? Isn’t it sinful to do this? Where do bad little boys go who gobble up their good kind mother’s jam?” and then he didn’t kneel down all alone and promise never to be wicked any more, and rise up with a light, happy heart, and go and tell his mother all about it, and beg her forgiveness, and be blessed by her with tears of pride and thankfulness in her eyes. No; that is the way with all other bad boys in the books; but it happened otherwise with this Jim, strangely enough. He ate that jam, and said it was bully, in his sinful, vulgar way; and he put in the tar, and said that was bully also, and laughed…. Everything about this boy was curious – everything turned out differently with him from the way it does to the bad James in the books.

Once he climbed up in Farmer Acorn’s apple-tree to steal apples, and the limb didn’t break, and he didn’t fall and break his arm, and get torn by the farmer’s great dog, and then languish on a sick bed for weeks, and repent and become good. Oh! no; he stole as many apples as he wanted and came down all right; and he was all ready for the dog too, and knocked him endways with a brick when he came to tear him….Nothing like it in any of the Sunday-school books….

But the strangest thing that ever happened to Jim was the time he went boating on Sunday, and didn’t get drowned, and that other time that he got caught out in the storm when he was fishing on Sunday, and didn’t get struck by lightning….How this Jim ever escaped is a mystery to me….

In many ways, it’s the same question that we find in Psalm 73.

Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.

For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (vv. 1-3)

If the world is governed by a good and just God, why are we surrounded by such injustice? Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? The psalmist never offers a definitive answer. Instead, he simply turns his eyes toward heaven in worship.

When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me

till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny. (vv. 16-17)

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever. (vv. 24-25)

Mark Twain takes a very different approach when he concludes his story.

And he grew up and married, and raised a large family, and brained them all with an axe one night, and got wealthy by all manner of cheating and rascality; and now he is the infernalist wickedest scoundrel in his native village, and is universally respected, and belongs to the Legislature.

Temporally speaking, I don’t think Mark Twain’s position is any different than that of the psalmist. Wicked people do in fact prosper and justice often reigns triumphant in the world. But, what Twain’s story lacks, and what the psalmist offers, is the brazen declaration of hope, the bold confidence in God’s ultimate sovereignty, the vision to gaze beyond the injustice and see the Kingdom of God beyond. Twain’s power as a writer lay in his ability to make us see the absurdities of the now, but seeing the now is not always the best training for seeing what will be. The psalmist shows us a different path – one that refuses to turn away from seeing the world in all of its devastating depravity, rejects facile and moralistic explanations of injustice, resists the ineluctable draw of nihilism, and reaches out to a greater, deeper, more glorious vision of then – ephemeral, elusive, exasperating…the eschaton.