Sermon on Faith in God, God’s Sovereignty, and Suffering

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/73842290/first%20west.aiff

Confessing and Asking for Forgiveness

For someone who is in Christ, for someone who has been cleansed, washed, and regenerated; their sins have been covered by the blood of Christ and they no longer separate them from God. If this is true, then why is it necessary to confess our sins and ask for forgiveness?

My response to this is in the following paragraphs.

First, consider the fact that healing is in the atonement of Christ. For believers, total healing is inevitable. Christ will descend and the dead in Christ will rise first, and those who are alive will be caught up to receive new glorified bodies that will be incapable of sickness. Perfect and total health is inevitably ours if we are in Christ. This is our possession, but as Eph. says, we are in between ages, the age of inauguration, and the age of consummation (until we acquire possession of our inheritance), and we are in a position where we are asking for God to give us, in limited portions, what we are guaranteed in the future. Now, someone could say, if we are guaranteed healing, and we already possess it as our inheritance, why should we ask for it. The correct response would be, “God has determined to disseminate limited portions of our inheritance to us (his people) as he sees fit, and he has determined to do it “through us asking and trusting in him.”
Second, consider raising up covenant children. If you have a four year old that you want to train and teach the gospel, then there are certain depths and complexities that are above him. For example, a father of a four year old son is probably not going to teach his son that sin is a state of being, a disposition arising from our connection to our federal head Adam, issuing forth in all sorts of evil and wicked deeds that exemplify our need for a propitiation. Rather, a good place for a four year old to start is with the lie that they just told.
So, in other words, if you want to train them to trust that God will forgive them because Jesus Christ the righteous pleads their case, you start by using God’s appointed means of training; namely, confessing their lie and asking for forgiveness and teaching them to trust that God forgives them of their lie for Christ’s sake (not to say that discipline is not necessary still; it is).
For this reason, 1 John 1:9 may very well be the most important text for raising up Christ-trusting children because it provides the most fundamental means for instructing those who are not sure how to deal with their guilt and failures. 1 John was written to people who believed, but who had doubts about God’s forgiveness and therefore lacked assurance (5:13). There were people telling them that they needed to be sinless, and they therefore doubted that God forgave them when they simply asked Him with trust in Jesus. John stepped in to remind them, if you confess your sins, God is faithful, not to you, but to Jesus Christ, the righteous, crucified, and risen Lord, who pleads your case.
God is not merely concerned with our understanding as individuals. He has demonstrated an extreme sensitivity as to how his covenant children (believer’s children) are raised up and fully trained in their understanding of who God is, and how they are to relate to him.
Part II
Imagine that their are a billion steps of faith that a person could take deeper into their trust in Christ. Suppose that you are at step 25. How do you continue to take more steps deeper into your faith in Jesus. We are not automatically at a varsity level of trust in Christ’s finished work. In regards to individual sins that we commit, we grow in our trust in Christ as we “own our sins before God”, and trust that he will forgive us for Christ’s sake. This is how God has appointed us to grow.
Let me take myself for example: When I commit a sin, the process for me is basically the same as my Son’s, but what is broken down into steps is almost a single thought for me. Let me explain: I am called to own my sin. I know deep down in my heart the following is true: 1. I love money and that is idolatry. 2. I am addicted to material things (idolatry); 3. I have thoughts of personal grandeur (pride) 4. I am not the husband God has called me to be. 5. I am not the father that God calls me to be. I own those things, but I also recognize that all of these things are the result of the sinful state of being that I am now in, and that I am in desperate need of God’s grace to transform me. It’s not merely my need for forgiveness that I feel, but my need to be changed into the person God wants me to be. Kirkegard said that faith is being oneself before God. What he meant was that we stand with an open transparency before God. We don’t pretend that God is pleased with our idolatry, he is not. Faith stands before God with total transparency, and with the knowledge that even the faith itself is infested with sin, and rather than being discourage faith looks with utter confidence and says “It is not my faith, or my confession that God is faithful to; Jesus Christ the righteous pleads my case, and God is faithful to Him.” Now, this whole process sometimes takes 2 seconds for me. The life of faith is a life of learning more and more to walk in such transparency, with trust in God to be faithful to his covenant that he made with Christ. I did not start here though. Neither will my son, or your son, or anyone’s son for that matter. WE must train them. The process of confession and asking for forgiveness is such a means.

So, the whole notion that our sins, as believers, somehow separate us from God is not mentioned in the text. We confess and ask for forgiveness, not because we are again alienated from God, but, because this process is God’s appointed means of growing in our trust in Christ. We are called to mature in faith throughout our lives. With respect to sin, owning our sins and trusting in God’s faithfulness to forgive us our sins is God’s appointed method of growing us in our faith. Trusting in Christ, practically works itself and develops day by day; sin by sin, victory by victory. My sins do not aliennate me from God. Once I have sinned my question is: how do I walk away from this sin and deeper into faith? Answer: confess, repent, with full confidence that God will be faithful to the covenant he established through Christ. So, I walk away from sin, and deeper into my faith, when, after I sin, I trust in Christ and with transparency own my shortcomings and pant and yearn for God’s transforming grace to enter my life and make me more like my crucified and risen King.

Short Video illustrating some of my arguments

Reason’s Reliability: Naturalism PT 4

Reason’s Reliability

On what basis does a naturalist/materialist believe that the ability to reason is reliable? When you hear a sound, why should you believe the ear is detecting actual vibrations, and how can one be sure that every noise is not “tinnitus” (an inner ear malfunction that causes you to hear ringing in your hear when no real noise exists). After this, why should one rely on the mind to interpret these vibrations? The reliability of human reasoning is based on an assumption.

If the brain exists due to purely unguided processes, and is now the result of random motions of particles; why is it reliable? If nature itself is created by completely unguided processes, and there are no laws outside of it, governing it, why should one believe that it exists in a systematic way? On what basis is our reason reliable? What grounds are there that our thoughts are accurate insights into realities as they exist outside of us?

It seems that naturalists have argued that there are no arguments. Naturalist work for years relying on their reasoning skills, assuming that the thoughts they have are accurate insights into reality. Then they develop a theory of reality that completely discredits their ability to reason itself, and by extension they destroy their own theory.

If someone responds by saying that their thoughts are something that has demonstrated reliability in the past up to this point, and therefore are reliable: for example, when they see a person they can speak and communicate with that person or feel and touch that person and so on. And they say they can do this because that person is actually there; and by a uniform and repeated experience they have an adequate proof that their sense perception and their ability to reason are reliable.
My response to this is: Are you saying the only proof that your ability to reason is reliable is reached by your reason which appears to have been reliable up to this point? Your reason’s ability to accurately perceive reality was never grounded in the first place. That is an assumption reached by your current reasoning. Why do you believe that your reasoning has ever accurately perceived reality? If you say, “because it has worked before”. How do you know that it worked? Didn’t Your reason deduce that? You see, making an argument for the reliability of your rational faculties is impossible.

Let’s continue:
According to Naturalism, consciousness is a late comer in nature. Therefore, reason was also a late comer. “Your ability to reason was not designed to produce a mental behavior that can find or identify truth”. In fact, until there were thinkers, there was no such thing as truth or falsehood. [Lewis].

By definition then, thoughts at one time were not rational. Natural selection doesn’t provide anything in the formation of this phenomenon, called reasoning. An example: an improved ability to hear may come out of natural selection; however, that is utterly distinct from a knowledge of sound. They are completely different. Knowledge of sound is achieved by inferences and experiments, not by noise. That would be like saying that people who hear really well know the most about sound. It’s not. It’s those who have studied and learned a lot about sound.

If thoughts at one time were not rational; i.e. they were not events that took place in the mind consisting of accurate insights into reality as reality; then, when did they become rational? Natural Selection doesn’t have the ability to produce this. Let me distinguish reason from Pavel’s experiment with the salivating dog. Stimulus and response repeated to the point where stimulus causes expectation is not the same as reason. Let me show this. A=B, B=C, therefore A=C is not something that I believe because of past experience.

One can use stimulus and response over a millennia to describe why we think the way we do. However, one cannot explain why we are justified in thinking this way by stimulus and response. “How can the evolutionary product you describe be a power of seeing truths”? “If the value of our reasoning is in doubt, you cannot establish it by reasoning.” Reasoning is our starting point. [Lewis]
Once you develop a system that undermines the validity of reason, you have cut yourself off from, not only reason, but also from the system that you developed by reason.
For the Theist, reason is not a rather recent development. Reason, God’s reason, is older than Nature and is the ground/cause of the orderliness of Nature, which alone enables us to know Nature because this ability is derived from this. For him, the human mind in the act of knowing is illuminated by divine reason. Our concept of nature depends on our reason. Our ability to reason depends on God’s reason in the way He established Nature and Our Reason.

A few presupposed Definitions for the interested reader:

A thought is an event. A true thought is an event that takes place in the mind as an accurate account of reality. A thought as an event is connected to previous thoughts. A brain has, as it were, a psychological history. Every thought that has ever passed through your mind would be a part of this history. [What we mean by a true event is actually referring to the truth of the “account” of the event, not the event itself.]
Truth and Falsehood are only possible when conscious beings exist. Until then, there are only events that are. [events that simply exist]
Knowledge is- a thought that defines/identifies a reality outside of itself. Knowledge is only possible if the thought concerning reality is a real insight to what reality actually is.
Are the noises that my ear hears noises that actually exist? Tinnitus is a case where the noises are actually malfunctions of the vestibulochochlear apparatus in the ear. The noises are not vibrations picked up by the ear. In this case, they have the illusion of noise.
A thought is an event in the mind that can be either true or false. If this event is true, this means the thought in the mind about reality is an accurate insight of reality. An event can’t be true or false. It either exists or it doesnt; it exists as a part of history or it does not exist as a part of history. A thought on the other hand, can be true or false.
Knowledge is only true if the thoughts about reality are accurate insights to reality. [unless knowledge is limited to our present sensations only, to which no naturalist I know agrees.]

Naturalism Pt. 3

Continuing on the question of naturalism:

My contention, so far, is that if naturalistic evolution is true, then the rational faculties of human beings are not equipped to produce true beliefs. Thus it follows that human beings are incapable producing rationally justified beliefs that constitute ‘knowledge’. Here is a definition from a leading philosopher at Notre Dame:

A belief is externally rational if it is produced by cognitive faculties that are functioning properly and successfully aimed at truth (i.e., aimed at the production of true belief)—as opposed, for example, to being the product of wish-fulfillment or cognitive malfunction. Now warrant, the property enough of which distinguishes knowledge from mere true belief, is a property or quantity had by a belief if and only if (so I say) that belief is produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly in a congenial epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth. [(Plantinga, Alvin Warranted Christian Belief (p. 202). Oxford University Press)]

The key phrase is “successfully aimed at truth” and “in a congenial epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth.” Now, conceivably, a naturalist could come up with a design plan that is more congenial than naturalistic evolution; they could say that very intelligent aliens placed us here in a congenial environment (the way the predators made the aliens). But, when you couple naturalism with evolution as a explanation for the existence of life and sentient beings, then you simultaneously undercut the rational faculty that produced the explanation to begin with.

R: “R” Represents the rational faculties possessed by human beings, specifically the faculty that is responsible for producing beliefs; which beliefs are normally thought of as being rational and true.
NE: “NE” represents naturalistic evolution.

I could put it like this: “R” produces the belief “NE”; “NE” undermines the efficiency of “R” especially when aiming to produce beliefs that are true; “NE” itself is a belief that claims to be true, which was produced by “R”, so that, if “NE” is true, then belief in “NE” is irrational; and, if “NE” is false, it is still irrational.

If “NE” undermines “R” then “NE” undermines everything that “R” produces, including the belief in “NE” itself.

I will post an essay in which I explore C.S. Lewis’s ideas about this further in “Is Reason Reliable.”

Naturalism is Self-Defeating PT 2

This will simplify my argument a bit, and may be helpful. The substantive argument, however, is the first post.

Consider a ancient tribe of people that lived near a lake that was infested with bacteria that in effect killed everyone who came near the lake or entered it. Envision the people developing all sorts of ideas about what is causing the death of their people. Let us imagine the people coming to believe that the evil god Dagon resides in the lake and unleashes wrath on everyone who enters the lake or even comes near it.

For the civilization that lives near this lake, this belief, though false, will improve survival. In this way, from the perspective of naturalistic evolution, the rational faculties of these ancient people, were functioning the way they were supposed to. Naturalistic evolution is concerned with whether or not beliefs enhance survival; not whether beliefs are consistent with the objective truth in reality.

The rational faculties of human beings then, on the account of Naturalistic evolution, is not disposed (or designed by evolution) to produce true beliefs, only useful beliefs that enhance survival.

If this is true, then, why isn’t the belief in naturalistic evolution itself recognized as virtually the same sort of belief as the belief in the evil god Dagon? The belief in Naturalistic evolution should be thought of, at best, as useful, and able to enhance survival; not as true. (since it is produced by the rational faculty under consideration, which on its own account is not formatted to produce true beliefs).

Naturalistic Evolution is Self-Referentially Incoherent

Naturalistic Evolution is self-referentially incoherent. It is self-defeating.

A couple of Premises:

First, naturalistic evolution is not merely belief in evolution, but specifically the belief in evolution as a purely unguided process; unguided by any form of intelligence especially from the ‘outside’. Second, naturalistic evolution is a belief, held by humans, that claims to be true.

Separately: What I am going to dispute is that human beings’ rational faculties are unreliable when their aim is the formation of true beliefs, if it is given that naturalistic evolution (NE) is true. So, concisely: The reliability of our rational faculties (call this R) is undermined by the belief in NE; specifically when the aim of R is true beliefs.

(Clarification) I am not saying: if given NE, our rational faculties are unreliable when forming beliefs which are aimed at enhancing survival, or the propagation of our species; only, I say again, only, that our rational faculties are unreliable when their aim is actually true beliefs.

Let me explain briefly:

According to NE, religious beliefs are the result of evolution. Societies with religious beliefs, according to NE, enjoyed a higher survival and reproduction rate, because those societies, created a more stable environment for human flourishing and therefore human survival; specifically where regard for fellow humans existed. In this way, religious beliefs came to be a widespread phenomenon across all cultures because those cultures survived precisely because of their religious beliefs and their entailments.

Now, according to modern proponents of NE, religious beliefs successfully accomplished their intended purpose (from the evolutionary perspective). These beliefs did increase the rate of survival (which is why all modern cultures have religious beliefs); and hence, in terms of NE, R (our rational faculties) fulfilled its purpose. Our epistemic (belief-forming) faculties fulfilled their evolutionary purpose in producing beliefs that enhanced survival.

Here is the kicker: the beliefs which NE produced were FALSE, according to modern proponents of NE. Every proponent of NE claims that the religious beliefs that enabled the survival of our species were false, untrue; but, these beliefs nevertheless fulfilled their intended purpose. In other words, as long as R produces beliefs that are beneficial for survival and advantageous for the propagation of our DNA, then, regardless of whether or not those beliefs are true, R successfully fulfilled its purpose.

This is a problem. NE can, in a way, provide a sensible way of accounting for R, if the aim of R is survival, and not truth. But when it comes to R as functioning to produce true beliefs, NE has no way of accounting for it. All NE is concerned with is survival. If NE was concerned with the formation of true beliefs, or if NE believed that it is only true beliefs and not false ones which accomplish this intended purpose, then according to NE, we should have never formed religious beliefs to begin with. Or, those false beliefs should not have enhanced our rate of survival. But, on the testimony of NE, the formation of false religious beliefs were actually successful, because they enhanced human survival. In this way, we see that NE’s goal for our rational faculties is the production of beliefs that influence our behaviors in ways to enhance survival, and that the question of truth is irrelevant for NE. If false beliefs enhance survival, then NE will move us in that direction.

Argument: However, the belief in NE itself, is a belief that NE is TRUE, and not merely advantageous for survival. Modern proponents of NE, then, use their rational faculties to produce beliefs that they claim to be true; even though, belief in NE undermines the reliability of the very faculties that they are employing.

So, proponents of NE, assume the reliability of R in producing true beliefs when forming their belief in NE; but the belief in NE undermines the reliability of the very faculty that led them to such a belief.

If you believe in naturalistic evolution, then you shouldn’t believe in R (in the relevant sense). But your R, is what produced belief in NE, and therefore, your belief in NE is itself unreliable. This is a classic case of sawing off the limb upon which you are sitting. Specifically you are sawing the limb that is holding up your weight and enabling you to do the sawing; once you succeed the result is hard fall.

Therefore, a proponent of NE, should be hesitant to employ his rational faculties to produce true beliefs, because, such functions were not, and are not, the aim of NE. The specific belief in question is the belief in NE itself. If you believe in NE, then you should doubt the reliability of R. But if you doubt the reliability of R, then you should doubt the belief in NE that is produced by R.

Simply: Given naturalistic evolution, your rational faculties are unreliable when forming beliefs that are aimed at truth. Naturalistic evolution is a belief that is aimed at truth, and therefore it is incompatible with R given NE. This is why Naturalistic Evolution is self-referentially incoherent and self-defeating.