Tauranga Event: 26 May – Dr Jeff Tallon: Astronomy and the Bible

Last night at Thinking Matters Tauranga we had Dr Jeff Tallon present on Astronomy and the Bible.  This was the last event in our “Faith & Science” series and we had 111 people turn up – a very good turn out.

The feedback after this event (and his presentation from 8 weeks ago) has been very positive, so I hope to get Dr Tallon back next year to present again.  It sounds like Thinking Matters Auckland may also ask him to speak up there.

So what did you think of his presentation?

Please place your comments and feedback below and I’ll ask Jeff to respond to any questions – although naturally he is busy, so he may not be able to  to respond right away.

Tauranga Event: 12th May – Dr Graeme Finlay: Evolution and Faith

On the 12th May, Thinking Matters Tauranga had Dr Graeme Finlay present on Evolution and Faith.  This was a presentation on Theistic Evolution which certainly got people thinking, and challenged many of us with some evidence for evolution from the field of Gene Science (Graeme holds a PhD in Cell Biology, and a Bachelor of Theology).

The feedback thus-far has been wide and varied.  There have been so many emails back and forth on this that I thought I would take advantage of the “Thinking Matters Talk” site to give you an opportunity to discuss your feedback online.

So what did you think of his presentation?

I will invite Graeme to keep an eye on this post, so you can ask him any questions you have directly in the comments below – although naturally he is busy, so please don’t be disappointed if he is unable to respond right away.

Did St. Francis Really Say That?

St. Francis of Assisi is often accredited as saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” But nowhere can this catchy phrase be found in his writings.

Father Pat from American Catholic has this to say.

This is a great quote, very Franciscan in its spirit, but not literally from St. Francis. The thought is his; this catchy phrasing is not in his writings or in the earliest biographies about him. In Chapter XVII of his Rule of 1221, Francis told the friars not to preach unless they had received the proper permission to do so. Then he added, “Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds.” [1]

After being a Franciscan for 28 years and earning an M.A. in Franciscan studies he eventually heard the “Use words if necessary” quote in 1996. He continues,

About a year ago, a friend of mine used the Internet to contact some of the most eminent Franciscan scholars in the world, seeking the source of this “Use words if necessary” quote. It is clearly not in any of Francis’ writings. After a couple weeks of searching, no scholar could find this quote in a story written within 200 years of Francis’ death.

Why is this accredited to St. Francis? Partially because it so thoroughly reflects his spirit, but mostly because had Joe Blogs said it, it wouldn’t have become so widespread. A parallel example is the “Peace Prayer”, where the oldest known copy dates to 1912 in France, but is nevertheless attributed to St. Francis to guarantee a wide diffusion of the text.

Ray Comfort complains this phrase has been used to justify not speaking out the truth content of the gospel. He says,

I regularly meet those who think they can obey the Great Commission without using words. . . . With a little probing, they are the relationship folks, who think preaching the Gospel means building relationships with the lost, and never mentioning words like “sin,” “Hell,” and “Judgment Day.” [2]

He comments that real love is not withholding the Bread of Life to those who are starving to death. Francis was a loving man who was not afraid to use words when he preached. He wasn’t frightened to preach repentance to a sinful world. I conclude therefore, that he most likely understood the following Bible verses to mean the use of words in the Gospel proclamation is necessary.

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14)

“Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20: 26-27; cf. Ezekiel 3:18)

[1] http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Oct2001/Wiseman.asp
[2] http://worldviewtimes.com/article.php/articleid-2401/Brannon-Howse/Ray-Comfort

The Illiberality of Abortion

Laws permitting abortion on demand are often deemed to be liberal. Political liberals are frequently ardent defenders of such laws. My contention is that support for abortion on the grounds of liberality is mistaken for the following reasons.

Most contemporary liberals advocate a form of the harm principle, famously articulated by Mill in On Liberty,

The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.[i]

Mill here draws a distinction between other-regarding actions, actions that harm other people, and self-regarding actions, those that harm oneself. He argues that society, either by law or by social pressure, cannot justly regulate any action a person performs unless it is other-regarding; that is, it harms people other than the agent him/herself. As Mill’s position is typically interpreted, harm is understood to be governed by the principle volenti non fit injuria (where there is consent, there is no injury) and hence refers to things done to other people without their consent. On this interpretation, self-regarding actions are those that people consent to and that harm no non-consenting, third party. As Mill himself notes, a self-regarding action is that “which affects only himself, or affects others with their free and voluntary, and undeceived consent”.[ii]The most common version of the harm principle is known as the non-initiation of force principle; Rothbard sums it up well,

The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the “nonaggression axiom.” “Aggression” is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.[iii]

I do not subscribe to the harm principle or the non-initiation of force interpretation of it (I give some reasons why here). However, in this series of posts I will adopt it for the sake of argument so as to examine what follows for abortion. Abortion involves killing a fetus, usually by dismembering it. Moreover, the fetus does not consent to it. Hence if a Liberal is to support abortion he/she must do so for only one of two reasons. Either,

(a) the fetus is a person but its existence inside the mother without her consent constitutes a form aggression, and hence, the mother’s action of killing it is defensive; or, (b) a fetus is not a person.

Only if one of these two options is adopted, can a liberal support the non-initiation of force principle and permissive abortion legislation and remain consistent.

Failed Avoidance Tactics
At this juncture it is worth noting that two very common tactics of avoiding this conclusion fail. The first is to defend abortion, on the basis of the perceived positive social consequences of ‘liberal’ abortion laws. In popular political discourse, and in some feminist writings, abortion is defended on consequentialist grounds; it is argued that abortion prevents unwanted children, children who are likely to be poor, abused, neglected or engage in crime. It is hailed as a solution to over-population and the existence of handicapped people. It prevents adult and teenage women from falling into economic hardship and stress and enables them to complete their education, pursue their careers and so on.

The problem with this line of argument is that this is only cogent for liberals if they assume that abortion does not violate the non-initiation of force principle. If abortion does violate this principle then allowing abortion on these grounds would be tantamount to saying that people can engage in aggression (as Rothbard defines it) they can initiate lethal force against others provided doing so brings about positive consequences, like lower crime rates, less child abuse, lower population rates, access to education and employment, etc. This conclusion contradicts the non-initiation of force principle which states that one cannot justly pursue social utility by violating an individual’s right to life, liberty or property; the very basis of their opposition to socialism.

The second avoidance tactic is to appeal to slogans such as “you can’t force your morality onto others, you can’t legislate morality”. The problem with these claims is that the non-initiation of force principle is itself a moral principle and liberals believe the state should enforce this principle and should defend people against others who would violate it. This forces a dilemma upon liberals who cite this slogan; either the claim “you can’t force your morality onto others” applies to the non-initiation of force principle or it does not. If it does, then abortion involves an unjust imposition of morality onto another only if you assume it is not the initiation of force. If it does not, then liberalism as a doctrine collapses as the state has no duty to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens from aggression. In fact, it entails the conclusion that acts of aggression such as rape and murder should be decriminalised alongside abortion.

It follows then that the liberal cannot rationally avoid the question. If one is to both support ‘liberal’ abortion laws and hold to the non-initiation of force principle, one must do so either on (a) or (b) above. I think neither is terribly defensible.

Is the Fetus an Aggressor?
Consider first (a), the contention that a fetus can be considered an aggressor because it is intruding upon a woman’s body without her consent; an intrusion grave enough to justify the use of lethal force. In this respect then, being subject to an unplanned pregnancy would be on par with being the recipient of a serious assault such as being raped or severely beaten. Frank Beckwith and Steve Thomas in Consent, Sex and the Pre-Natal Rapist, have demonstrated several problems with this claim. It leads to the conclusion that, in certain circumstances abortion is justified without the consent of the woman.

Consider the following scenario. A young woman is involved in a car accident and is rendered unconscious by her injuries. She is brought to a hospital where, still comatose, she is examined by a doctor. While performing some tests, the doctor determines that the woman has been pregnant for several weeks. Furthermore, suppose that evidence comes to light to suggest that the woman is unaware of her pregnancy, perhaps her close friends know nothing of the pregnancy, her diary shows no knowledge of being pregnant, and so on.

Adopting McDonagh’s understanding of pregnancy as morally equivalent to rape or assault, what is the doctor’s obligation to this unconscious patient? It would seem that, under these conditions, the doctor is morally required to perform an abortion to rid his patient of the ‘massive intrusion’ being imposed upon her by her unborn offspring. After regaining consciousness, the woman would have to be told that she’s undergone an abortion for a pregnancy of which she was not aware, for there was good evidence that no consent had been given and that she was under assault.[iv]

Beckwith’s point is that if the fetus is morally or legally on par with an aggressor who intrudes upon a woman’s body without her consent, such as a assailant or rapist then it would follow that in the case sketched above the doctor would be justified (and arguably would have an obligation) to abort despite the fact that no consent from the women had been obtained.Consider, that if one saw a person having sex with an unconscious woman and one knew the woman had not consented, it would be absurd to wait for the woman to wake up to see if she wanted to consent to sex. One would be obligated to intervene. “[T]he doctor in the midst of the situation, aware of the pregnancy in the absence of consent, must see it as the rape-in-progress of his unconscious patient. How could he do anything else but end the assault?”[v]

Now I assume that liberals would oppose the idea that any woman who both does not know she is pregnant and is unconscious should be subjected to an abortion without her consent. If this is the case then it is clear that they do not think that an unconsented to pregnancy constitutes an act of serious aggression. If the fetus is an unjust aggressor then liberals are committed to coercive abortions. If coercive abortions are not liberal then the fetus is not an unjust aggressor.

Is the Fetus a Person?
If the fetus is not an unjust aggressor then a liberal defense of abortion must be based upon (b), the idea that a fetus is not a person, a being that possesses the rights to life, liberty and property that liberals believe the state exists to protect. Now a fetus is clearly a human organism. After 14 days at least, it is an individual living being that is a member of the species homo sapiens. To justify abortion via (b), the liberal needs to tell us what property a human being possesses that grounds the right to not be subjected to the initiation of force, to not be killed. Further a liberal must also be able to plausibly maintain that a human organism does not acquire this property until after the fetal stage.

Prominent New Zealand Libertarian commentator, Peter Creswell, takes the view,

[T]he foetus is not yet a human being, but a part of a human being – the mother – who has rights over it. To be an actual, rather than merely potential, human being is, among other things, to be physically separate, which a foetus is not.[vi]

This claim is erroneous. First the “parts of” relationship is transitive; if a brick is part of a wall and the wall part of a house then the brick is part of the house. If a fetus is part of a woman’s body it follows then that any organ that is part of the fetus will be part of the mother. A woman pregnant at eight weeks then possesses four arms, four legs and two brains. If the fetus is male, she will have both a vagina and a penis and be both male and female. Conclusions that are even more bizarre follow if the woman is pregnant with twins. She could have three faces, three brains, six arms, two penises and a vagina, three hearts, six kidneys and so on.[vii]

Moreover, PC’s contention that “to be an actual human” one must be “physically separate” entails that conjoined twins are not human. Consider conjoined twins Bob and Scott. If Bob is a human being then since Scott cannot live independently of Bob, Scott must not be a human person (the converse is equally true). Yet it is difficult to see what property Bob has that Scott lacks which would justify considering one of them human and the other not simply because neither is dependant of the other. It appears then, that one would be forced to conclude that they both are and are not, human. Perhaps PC is simply giving a poorly worded defence of the viability criteria, which I have previously critiqued here.

However, the usual liberal response is to ground the right to not be subjected to the initiation of force, to not be killed, in certain psychological capacities that human beings typically display; such things as sentience, rationality, self-awareness, autonomy, etc.

Despite the pervasive appeal of this approach, it faces serious problems. Boonin notes that those who attempt to ground humanity in the amount of brain development an organism has face a dilemma. “Any appeal to what a brain can do at various stages of development would seem to have to appeal to what the brain can already do. Or to what the brain has the potential to do in the future.”[viii]

Either option leads to problems for a defender of the permissibility of abortion who does not also want to endorse infanticide. This is because “by any plausible measure dogs, and cats, cows and pigs, chickens and ducks or more intellectually developed than a new born infant.”[ix] Suppose, then, one takes the first horn and appeals to what the brain can already do. However, unless one wishes to affirm that cats, dogs and chickens are human beings, “appeals to what the brain can already do” will “be unable to account for the presumed wrongness of killing toddlers or infants.”[x] Suppose, then, one takes up the second horn of the dilemma and appeals to “what the brain has the potential to do in the future;”[xi] Boonin notes that this will entail that feticide is homicide. “If [such an account] allows appeals to what the brain has the potential to do in the future, then it will have to include fetuses as soon as their brains begin to emerge, during the first few weeks of gestation.”[xii]

A couple of examples will illustrate this. Suppose the liberal appeals to sentience, the capacity for consciousness and the ability to perceive pleasure and pain. This criterion will mean abortion is permissible up to 24 weeks.[xiii] The problem is that this criterion also catches cats, dogs, cows, and chickens as well all. All of which are as sentient if not more sentient than new born infants and post-24 week fetuses.

If the liberal draws the line at sentience, he/she will have to hold that farming, butchers shops, McDonald’s restaurants, Kentucky fried Chicken restaurants all engage in unjustified aggression against people because they kill sentient beings without their consent. Further, to remain consistent, the liberal will have to maintain a policy of outlawing all these industries and prosecuting those who engage in them for murder and cannibalism.

Suppose the liberal appeals to more advanced psychological states such as self-awareness, rationality or autonomy. Such accounts of the grounding of rights will exclude the animals mentioned above and will exclude human fetuses. The problem is, according to this account, newborn infants are not persons either.

In a definitive study of infanticide, Michael Tooley compiles an impressive array of neurological and physiological data that demonstrates that infants are not persons in this sense until some time after birth.[xiv] The price of this line of inference is the reduction of newborn infants to the ethical level of cows. A newborn cow, and certainly a mature cow, is more person-like than an infant is. It is difficult to understand by this view why killing and eating infants is any more problematic than consuming a Big Mac.

Of course the liberal can avoid this by claiming that it is the potential to acquire properties such as rationality, self-awareness, autonomy, not their actuality that matters. This will enable one to claim infants are protected by the non-initiation of force principle and will exclude animals. But the problem of course is that foetuses will also be protected by the non-initiation of force principle because fetuses also have the potential to possess these properties.

In summation, liberal proponents of the non-initiation of force principle can only support abortion if they are willing to be inconsistent and arbitrary in their application of the principle or if they are willing to endorse not just infanticide but the eating of newborn infants or state mandated vegetarianism or coercive abortions. These policies are an anathema to most liberals; as such, abortion is not liberal.

[i] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (London: Penguin Classics, 1985), 69.
[ii] Ibid. 71.
[iii] Murray N Rothbard, For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (New York: Collier Books, 2002) 23.
[iv] Francis J. Beckwith & Stephen Thomas, “Consent, Sex, and the Prenatal Rapist; A Brief Reply to McDonagh’s Suggested Revision of Roe v Wade,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 17: 3 (2003): 4.
[v] Ibid, 6.
[vi] Peter Creswell “Not PC: Cue Card Libertarianism – Abortion”
http://pc.blogspot.com/2005/05/cue-card-libertarianism-abortion.html.
[vii] Here I am influenced by Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 45-47 and Francis J Beckwith, Politically Correct Death, 124.
[viii] David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 125.
[ix] Ibid, 121.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Ibid.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] It is generally accepted that sentience occurs around 24 week’s gestation. There is some dispute over this and some scientists date sentience in the first 14 weeks of gestation.
[xiv] Michael Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983) Ch. 11.5.

oldtestament

Did God order genocide in the Old Testament against the Canaanites?

One of the most difficult episodes to understand in the Old Testament is God’s command for Israel to kill the Canaanites. Paul Copan, a philosophy and ethics professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, has made available an article, due out in the next issue of Philosophia Christi addressing this topic. The President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society (he also blogs at Parchment and Pen), Copan evaluates the passages in the context of archaeology and Ancient Near East literature  and argues that the evidence suggests that  the Canaanites who were killed were combatants rather than noncombatants (“Scenario 1”) and that, given the profound moral corruption of Canaan, this divinely-directed act was just.” Should this scenario be shown to be false, he also maintains that “even if it turns out that noncombatants were directly targeted (“Scenario 2”), the overarching Old Testament narrative is directed toward the salvation of all nations–including the Canaanites.”

The Canaanite campaign jars our moral sensibilities and jeopardizes our confidence in the Bible as a supernaturally inspired interpretation of history. Christians therefore have an obligation to try to understand this episode and Copan’s article, as a follow-up to his eariler essay on this issue (“Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics”), is very helpful in this regard.

I have tried to summarize the main points but if you’re interested in the topic, I strongly recommend that you read the whole thing.

Firstly, Copan argues that God’s judgment on the Canaanites was not only morally just but that evidence also indicates that the Israelite campaign was directed primarily at military combatants (Scenario 1):

1. The Canaanites were morally corrupt.
There was a profound moral corruption amongst the Canaanites that called out for God’s justice, in keeping with His salvation historical purposes. The divine judgment enacted upon the nation was consistent with God’s oracles against other nation states that had crossed moral thresholds. The Canaanite campaign is also, in a sense, anticipatory of the final judgment where justice will be firmly established on a cosmic scale. (Also see Clay Jones, “We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites: An Addendum to ‘Divine Genocide’ Arguments,” Philosophia Christi 11 (2009): 53–72.))

2. The Canaanites were morally culpable.
God has made available moral ideals and insights through general revelation to Gentile nations such that they are sufficiently accountable. Prophetic warnings as in Amos 1 -2 demonstrate that God can hold other nations responsible for stifling compassion, suppressing their consciences, and carrying out particularly heinous acts. The language used in the New Testament of the Gentile population also confirms this (“disobedient” (Heb. 11:31)–a term indicating a moral awareness of wrongdoing but a refusal to turn from it and also Paul’s affirmation of those outside the Sinai covenant who possess the capacity (through conscience) to distinguish right from wrong (Rom. 2:14–15))

3. The preservation of Rahab’s family demonstrated the possibility of amnesty.
Rahab’s embrace of Yahweh and discovery of salvation exhibited both the compassionate character of Yahweh and His to relent from judgment, whether Canaanite, Ninevite (Jon. 4:2) or those from any “nation” that “turns from its evil” (Jer. 18:7–8). It is Yahweh’s desire that the wicked turn rather than die (Ezek. 18:31–32; 33:11) but once a nation surpasses a point of no moral and spiritual return, God will intervene (as He did even upon Israel and Judah (2 Chron. 36:16; cp. 2 Kings 18:11–12; 1 Chron. 5:23) ).

4. The Canaanite campaign was not motivated by racial hatred or ethnic superiority.
Yahweh repeatedly commands Israel to show concern for strangers and aliens in their midst (for example, Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:18–19) and throughout the Old Testament this theme is evident in the way enemies of Israel are shown as eventual objects of His salvation and are consequently incorporated into the people of God (Ps 87). Yahweh’s concern for the nations and His continual reminder that the taking of the land is not due to Israel’s intrinsic superiority (“indeed, the Israelites are “a stubborn people” (Deut. 9:4–6)”) hardly supports a Gentile-hating, arrogant ethnocentrism.

5. The religious dimension of Israel’s campaign cannot be equated with the sanctioning of human sacrifice.
The OT passages that treat Israel’s motivation for the campaign highlight punishment against idolaters (especially those who have lead Israel astray or committed injustice against her), the total destruction of warriors and the consecration to God of everything that was captured. Further, the OT strongly condemns child sacrifice as the epitome of anti-Yahwist and anti-social behavior. Even to take certain (dubious) readings as demonstrating the act of sacrifice is to forget that not all behavioral examples included in Scripture are good ones (cp. 1 Cor. 10:1–12) and in fact the theology of Judges emphasizes the nadir of Israelite morality and religion.

6. The rhetorical devices common to Ancient Near East (ANE) literature must be taken into account when understanding the passages that talk of total obliteration.

The phrase “all that breathes” is a standard ANE expression of military bravado and refers to total victory and the crushing defeat over one’s enemies. The accounts made clear that many inhabitants remained in the land and prescriptions against alliances and intermarriage with them actually assumed this.

7. Following OT scholar Richard Hess, it can be argued that the Canaanites targeted for destruction were the political leaders and their armies rather than noncombatants. The language employed appears to be stereotypical for describing all the inhabitants of a town or region, without forcing the reader to conclude anything further about their ages or even their genders.

8. Both the language and archaeological evidence point to Jericho, Ai, and the other targeted cities in Canaan as military forts, lacking civilian populations.
The actual battles in Joshua do not mention noncombatants and excavated physical evidence show that,  for example, Jericho was a military settlement and therefore all those killed were warriors.

9. The methods of Israel’s warfare demonstrate restraint and lack the bloodthirsty fervor of similar ANE annals.
Many battles were defensive and in response to calculated assaults and attempts to lead Israel into immorality. God often prohibited Israel from conquering other neighbouring nations.

10. The Canaanite campaign did not set down a pattern or legitimize similar action for later Israel or even professing Christians.
The killing of the Canaanites was deliberately limited in scope and restricted to a specific period of time. Neither Deuteronomy nor Joshua imply the campaign as precedent-setting and successive OT leaders did not take it as such. We see do not see Saul, David or the other leaders of Israel and Judah undertaking similar action against Assyria, Babylon, Persia, or the local equivalents of the Canaanites in the Second Temple period. Christians that have sought to justify their military campaigns with the killing of the Canaanites ignore Jesus clear own kingdom teaching (Matt 26:52; John 18:36).

However, even if the evidence was overturned and it could be shown that women and children were explicit targets of the campaign (Scenairo 2):

1. For the Israelites, the killing of the Canaanites would have been a grim task but in the ANE, warfare was a way of life and a means of survival.
Combatant and noncombatant would not have been easily distinguished and in combination with the hardness of human hearts (Matt. 19:8) and human moral bluntedness in the ANE, would have likely rendered such actions considerably less psychologically damaging for the Israelite soldier.

2. The Canaanite campaign must be set within the context of God’s overarching goal to bring blessing and salvation to all the nations, including the Canaanites, through Abraham (Gen. 12:3; 22:17–18; cp. 28:13–14). The killing of the Canaanites is not the norm but a troubling exception, apart of a background of Yahweh’s enemy-loving character and worldwide salvific purposes. While simultaneously punishing a morally wicked people and seeking to establish Israel in the land, God was certainly willing to preserve any who acknowledged his evident lordship over the nations, which was very well known to the Canaanites (Josh. 2:8–11; 9:9–11, 24; cf. Exod. 15:14–17; Deut. 2:25).

3. We should expect God’s purposes to be often unclear and even baffling, but not let this eclipse the overwhelming revelation of God’s trustworthy character.
We cannot measure God by our own defective standards, afterall, humanity is incapable of refereeing God’s actions. Apart from God, we have no transcultural standpoint to assess the moral fitness of a culture, least of all, judge God Himself and His purposes in judgment. We must remember both His “kindness and severity” (Rom. 11:22) and realize God’s unique cosmic authority will seek to correct our profoundly selfish human ways, even in civil contexts. Given the inadequacy of our “cognitive position”, and the recognition that even in human relationships there must be room for trust, the full picture of God’s purposes may not always be available to us.

Key Terms: Doctrine, Theology and Worldview

Today I want to give you a few definitions that I think you’ll find helpful and then give to an analogy as a way to think about them. All are welcome to comment, ask questions and disagree with the definitions, but I will be strict on this post to make sure the comments are topical to what is written here.

First is the word doctrine – a belief. It could be any single belief about anything, or it could be a set of beliefs about a particular subject. Here we’re mostly interested in the set of Christian doctrines, which will be beliefs affirmed by Christianity. Think of a doctrine as a brick, or a collection of bricks stacked on top of each other.

The next word is Theology. This is made out of two Greek words; Theos, that your Bible translates “God,” and Logos, which is “rationality” or “the study of.” So theology is the study of God and by extension, the study of God’s revelation. If a doctrine is a brick, then a theology is a wall. Now your wall can be as big as you want. It could be one brick! You might think that there is no God and theology is worthless. But you see, that is a belief about God and therefore a theological belief. So in other words everyone is a theologian – because everyone has some opinion about God or the Bible.

Theology is that first order discipline which studies God and his revelation, and that second-order discipline which that seeks to form a coherent worldview from all sources of available knowledge. While philosophy employs reason and experience, theology also considers the possibility of specially revealed knowledge. Thus theology is oft called the Queen of the sciences.

On this definition anyone with an opinion about God or some aspect of his revelation is a theologian. Ironically this means Richard Dawkin’s disdain for the discipline can be directed at himself also, for even fundamentalist atheists are theologians. He who thinks that God cannot be known is doing theology, making him an agnostic theologian. There are folk theologians aplenty. Examples multiply. The issue is not if one is a theologian, but is ones theology is correct.

For practical reasons, sometimes people find it helpful to define theologian in a more narrow fashion. They reserve the title for those who study and intentionally reflect on theological thought. The sort of theologians we want to pay attention to and become are those who take time to examine their beliefs about God and his revelation. In other words, we want to make an effort to construct a wall that is made of the same quality of material (true beliefs), that all fit well together (are coherent), and have a strong foundation (is correspondent to reality).

Where does Christ fit in the analogy? Perhaps he is a particular brick or a section of the wall; the foundation stone; the mortar that holds everything together, or all of the above. Perhaps here the analogy is pressed too far and begins to fall apart.

The higher you build your wall, the better the view you have of the surrounds. Your worldview is the way you view the world – or the set of beliefs that influence your perspective. The Christian worldview is, we’d contend, the strongest tower. Perhaps some bricks in your wall are missing, damaged or unconnected. Well, like Nehemiah, lets set about fixing it together.