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.


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.

Vacation week!

Okay, Mary and I are headed out this week for our first adults-only vacation in a very long time. Both grandmas are on duty with the girls, and we’re headed up to the San Juan islands! I won’t be going offline entirely (I need something to do while I’m waiting for Mary to get up in the morning), but I will be posting less frequently than normal. I’m sure our intrepid Th.M. students will pick up some of the slack by offering insightful comments of their own. Happy blogging.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Inception

Here’s a great mashup of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Inception. I still haven’t seen Inception, but if it’s anything like this trailer, it has to be good.



New biblioblog rankings – theoblogs welcome

Okay, my snarky comments last month about the fact that we were not included in July’s biblioblog rankings were in fact entirely ungrounded. The new biblioblog rankings for August are out and we came in at #5. So, apparently biblioblogs and theoblogs can play nicely together after all.

Thanks everyone for all the posts and comments on the blog. Keep ‘em coming.

And, by the way, kudos to Brian, JohnDave, and Robert, who blog over at Near Emmaus. They had some great posts and discussions this month and moved all the way up to #15.

But, of course, the biblioblogosphere was again dominated by Jim West. But I’m pretty sure that’s because he hands out free coupons at the grocery store to any little old lady who can use a computer and promises to check on his blog occasionally. You’d be amazed what an army of bargain-hunting grandmas can do for your blog ranking.

Discrimination against Christians in higher ed?

Insider Higher Ed has an interesting piece today on discrimination against Christians in higher education. Timothy Larsen offers two examples in support of the idea that there might be some such discrimination. In one, a student received a failing grade for a paper on marriage in which he used the Bible in support of a traditional view of marriage. Although, Larsen agrees that the paper was “academically weak” he contends that it certainly wasn’t worthy of a failing grade.  And, in an example from Larsen’s own life, he shares about a time when one of his book proposals was rejected. From the surprisingly frank comments of the editorial committee, it sounds like many of them rejected it purely because they objected to its explicitly Christian outlook.

Larsen is fully aware that you can’t make a case based on anecdotal evidence like this and that it’s entirely possible that such claims of discrimination are actually just a cover for shoddy academic work. But, he argues that these stories are common enough that we should at least be looking into them:

Nevertheless, scholars ought to be concerned that Christians often report that the academy is a hostile environment. Are academics generally glad that such a perception exists? If not, how might it be dispelled? If it is based on genuine experiences, what can be done about a climate that tolerates religious discrimination? If the two stories presented here are merely assailable, anecdotal evidence, then why not gather information on this issue more systematically? Do academic institutions ever try to discover if their Christian students or scholars experience discrimination?

This seems like a fair point. If a university received even a couple of complaints about racial or gender discrimination, they’d be all over it. Even if they didn’t think that the claims were true, they’d still investigate carefully. Shouldn’t claims of religious discrimination (yes, even discrimination against Christians) be handled in the same way?

I’m curious if any of you have attended secular higher ed institutions and what you thought about it. Did you experience any apparent discrimination? I have attended a few secular schools over the years (for admittedly short periods of time) and often turned in papers that were explicitly Christian. And, I can’t say that I ever experienced any problems as a result. What about you?

Roger Olson is now blogging

Thanks to Nick for pointing out that Roger Olson has a new blog. I’m always a little concerned when someone leads with “I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to technology.” But, it should still be interesting. The blogosphere can always use a good “evangelical Arminian” perspective on issues.

50 things a man should not do

Last week, Joe Carter offered a list of 50 things every man should know how to do. This week he turns things around a bit and offers a list of 50 things a man should not do. Here are a couple I liked:

7. Leer creepily. I’m not sure that I agree with this one. There can be all sorts of good reasons for a man to leer creepily. At the very least, it just sounds like fun. The next time I’m at school, I think I’ll leer creepily at someone just to see what they do.

10. Punch a kitten for any reason. Really? Not for any reason? What if it’s one of those ninja-cats-in-training and you’ve been assigned as its final assassination project before it becomes a full ninja cat? You should definitely punch it then.

12. Know the complete lyrics to a Lady Gaga song. I’m not sure that a man should know any lyrics to a Lady Gaga song, let alone all of them.

28. Shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Well, of course not. Carson City maybe. But Reno? That’s just wrong.

37. Stop and ask for directions when a woman is in the car. No, you should definitely push her out of the car first.