Does God hate the sin but love the sinner?

“There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but it would be wrong to conclude that God has nothing but hate for the sinner. A difference must be maintained between God’s view of sin and his view of the sinner. Nevertheless the cliché (God hates the sin but loves the sinner) is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom. 1:18ff.) and on the sinner (John 3:36).

Our problem, in part, is that in human experience wrath and love normally abide in mutually exclusive compartments. Love drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. We come closest to bringing them together, perhaps, in our responses to a wayward act by one of our children, but normally we do not think that a wrathful person is loving.

But this is not the way it is with God. God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love … wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God.”

D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (2000 Crossway books), page 68-69.

Moral Truth Matters

“Obviously the project of moral persuasion is very difficult — but it strikes me as especially difficult if you can’t figure out in what sense anyone could ever be right and wrong about questions of morality or about questions of human values . . .

There are impediments . . . the main one being that most right-thinking, well-educated, and well-intentioned people — certainly most scientists and public intellectuals, and I would guess, most journalists — have been convinced that something in the last 200 years of intellectual progress has made it impossible to actually speak about “moral truth.” Not because human experience is so difficult to study or the brain too complex, but because there is thought to be no intellectual basis from which to say that anyone is ever right or wrong about questions of good and evil.

My aim is to undermine this assumption, which is now the received opinion in science and philosophy. I think it is based on several fallacies and double standards and, frankly, on some bad philosophy. The first thing I should point out is that, apart from being untrue, this view has consequences.

In 1947, when the United Nations was attempting to formulate a universal declaration of human rights, the American Anthropological Association stepped forward and said, it can’t be done. This would be to merely foist one provincial notion of human rights on the rest of humanity. Any notion of human rights is the product of culture, and declaring a universal conception of human rights is an intellectually illegitimate thing to do. This was the best our social sciences could do with the crematory of Auschwitz still smoking.

But, of course, it has long been obvious that we need to converge, as a global civilization, in our beliefs about how we should treat one another. For this, we need some universal conception of right and wrong. So in addition to just not being true, I think skepticism about moral truth actually has consequences that we really should worry about.”

Sam Harris at the Edge Conference: “The New Science of Morality”

If you’re living in Auckland, don’t forget our event next week with Glenn Peoples addressing Sam Harris’ claims about science and morality.

Faith Seeking Understanding

Gregory E. Ganssle explains when certain issues take us beyond the parameters of scripture we must think both Christianly and philosophically.

Christian philosophers have traditionally sought to think Christiainly by thinking in the mode of faith seeking understanding. This mode was introduced as early as Augustine (354-430) and has been articulated throughout the history of the church. What it means to operate in this mode is that Christian philosophers recognize that they know some things by faith in a reliable authority. For example, they know some things simply because they see them in the Scriptures. As God’s written revelation, the Scriptures are reliable indicators of what is true. Philosophers begin with this knowledge (we could call it faith-knowledge) and try to reach another kind of knowledge (understanding-knowledge). Understanding knowledge is knowledge gained through the application of one’s own reason.

Faith seeking understanding is not an approach for turning mere beliefs into knowledge. Rather, it is a mode for turning one kind of knowledge into another kind. It turns faith-knowledge into understanding-knowledge. We begin with God’s revelation in the Scriptures, recognizing that we know certain things based on it. We then apply our reasoning to these things to see if we can also grasp the same things by our reason. Grasping some issue by our reason often involves a process of unfolding what is only suggested or hinted at in the Scriptures. Thus philosophers may differ from each other in what they claim to have grasped.[1]


[1] Gregory E. Ganssle, Four views: God & Time (Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 2001) p. 11-12.

Insufficient but not Unnecessary: The Importance of Arguments

Andy Naselli has posted a great quote by American theologian and founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, J. Gresham Machen, on the place of arguments in the proclamation of the Gospel:

“Certainly a Christianity that avoids argument is not the Christianity of the New Testament. The New Testament is full of argument in defense of the faith. The Epistles of Paul are full of argument—no one can doubt that. But even the words of Jesus are full of argument in defense of the truth of what Jesus was saying. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” Is not that a well-known form of reasoning, which the logicians would put in its proper category? Many of the parables of Jesus are argumentative in character. Even our Lord, who spake in the plenitude of divine authority, did condescend to reason with men. Everywhere the New Testament meets objections fairly, and presents the gospel as a thoroughly reasonable thing.

Some years ago I was in a company of students who were discussing methods of Christian work. An older man, who had had much experience in working among students, arose and said that according to his experience you never win a man to Christ until you stop arguing with him. When he said that, I was not impressed.

It is perfectly true, of course, that argument alone is quite insufficient to make a man a Christian. You may argue with him from now until the end of the world: you may bring forth the most magnificent arguments: but all will be in vain unless there be one other thing—the mysterious, creative power of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. But because argument is insufficient, it does not follow that it is unnecessary. Sometimes it is used directly by the Holy Spirit to bring a man to Christ. But more frequently it is used indirectly. A man hears an answer to objections raised against the truth of the Christian religion: and at the time when he hears it he is not impressed. But afterwards, perhaps many years afterwards, his heart at last is touched: he is convicted of sin; he desires to be saved. Yet without that half-forgotten argument he could not believe: the gospel would not seem to him to be true, and he would remain in his sin. As it is, however, the thought of what he has heard long ago comes into his mind; Christian apologetics at last has its day, the way is open, and when he will believe he can believe because he has been made to see that believing is not an offence against truth.”

from “The Importance of Christian Scholarship” (pdf file at reformedaudio.org).

(HT: Joe Fleener)

The Resurrection Effect

“The message of the Resurrection is that this present world matters; that the problems and pains of this present world matter; that the living God has made a decisive bridgehead into this present world with his healing and all-conquering love; and that, in the name of this strong love, all the evils, all the injustices, and all the pains of the present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won the day. That’s why we pray: “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” Make no bones about it: Easter Day was the first great answer to that prayer.

If Easter faith is simply about believing that God has a nice comfortable afterlife for some or all of us, then Christianity becomes a mere pie-in-the-sky religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is simply about believing that Jesus is risen in some “spiritual” sense, leaving his body in the tomb, then Christianity turns into a let-the-world-stew-in-its-own-juice religion, instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is only about me, and perhaps you, finding a new dimension to our own personal spiritual lives in the here and now, then Christianity becomes simply a warmth-in-the-heart religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. It becomes focused on me and my survival, my sense of God, my spirituality, rather than outwards on God and on God’s world that still needs the kingdom message so badly.

But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes what the New Testament insists that it is: good news for the whole world, news that warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. The living God has in principle dealt with evil once and for all, and is now at work, by his own Spirit, to do for us and the whole world what he did for Jesus on that first Easter Day.”

NT Wright, Grave Matters, Christianity Today 4/06/1998.

Evil and the Evidence for God

“No argument from evil I am aware of makes it likely or even reasonable to believe there is no God. Evil cannot carry that evidential load. But suppose I’m wrong. Suppose evil is evidence to think God does not exist. Does it follow that it’s reasonable to believe there is no God?

Let’s approach this question by way of analogy. Suppose you learn in your European Culture class today that 95 percent of the French population can’t swim. That statistic is some evidence to think that Pierre, your friend from Paris, can’t swim. Does it follow that you should believe Pierre can’t swim? Of course not. What if you and Pierre spent last Saturday afternoon together swimming and chatting about the fine-tuning argument and Albert Camus’ The Plague? Surely, in that case, it isn’t reasonable for you to believe Pierre can’t swim. Your experience with him is much better evidence to think he can swim even though the statistical evidence by itself makes it very likely that he cannot.

The same goes with evil and God. Even if evil is some evidence that there is no God, you might have much better evidence to think that God exists; in that case, it wouldn’t be reasonable for you to believe there is no God.

This line of thought naturally leads to some weighty questions not the least of which are these: Is the evidence for God significantly better than the evidence that evil provides against God? What sources of evidence are there? How should we balance the evidence for and against theism?”

Daniel Howard-Snyder, “God, Evil, and Suffering” in Reason for the Hope Within edited by Michael J. Murray (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) page 114.

Vernon C. Grounds on Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed and Napoleon; without science and learning, He shed more light on things human and divine, than all the philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of the school, He spoke words of life such as were never spoken before, nor since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, He has set more pens in motion and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, works of art, learned volumes, and sweet songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times. Born in a manger and crucified as a malefactor, He now controls the destinies of the civilized world, and rules a spiritual empire which embraces one-third of the inhabitants of the globe.

Vernon C. Grounds, The Reason For Our Hope (Chicago: Moody, 1945), p. 40.

Meditation in a Toolshed

Does being a Christian forever disqualify you as an appropriate authority on the truth of Christianity? If I wanted a true account of the Christian religion, would I do better to try see things as a Christian, or as a fair-minded secular religious studies professor? C. S. Lewis provides a helpful illustration in “Meditation in a Toolshed”[1]

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.

C. S. Lewis seeks to combat the idea that it is better to evaluate the truth of a worldview (to slightly change the metaphor) by looking in from the outside. Lewis observes that this “modern” idea has been swallowed and assumed without discussion for the last fifty years. If this idea were correct it would be disastrous for the Christian, for how then can one be confident of their religious belief?

Let us go back to the toolshed. I might have discounted what I saw when looking along the beam (i.e., the leaves moving and the sun) on the ground that it was “really only a strip of dusty light in a dark shed”. That is, I might have set up as “true” my “side vision” of the beam. But then that side vision is itself an instance of the activity we call seeing. And this new instance could also be looked at from outside. I could allow a scientist to tell me that what seemed to be a beam of light in a shed was “really only an agitation of my own optic nerves”. And that would be just as good (or as bad) a bit of debunking as the previous one. The picture of the beam in the toolshed would now have to be discounted just as the previous picture of the trees and the sun had been discounted. And then, where are you?

In other words, you can step outside one experience only by stepping inside another. Therefore, if all inside experiences are misleading, we are always misled.

He calls the idea that we should only be confident with just one way of knowing – such as by looking at things – “rot.” He concludes,

. . . we must never allow the rot to begin. We must, on pain of idiocy, deny from the very outset the idea that looking at is, by its own nature, intrinsically truer or better than looking along. One must look both along and at everything. . . we must start with no prejudice for or against either kind of looking. We do not know in advance whether the lover or the psychologist is giving the more correct account of love, or whether both accounts are equally correct in different ways, or whether both are equally wrong. We just have to find out. But the period of brow-beating has got to end.

1. C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 212

God, the Cosmos, and Necessary Existence

Dawkins has complained that if theists are allowed to posit the necessary existence of God, then he ought to be allowed to posit necessary existence of the cosmos. There are two problems with this. First, theists do not begin with some arbitrary concept, x and then add on necessary existence. Their reasoning, rather, is that necessary existence is part of the existence of God. If someone were to report, “Oh, God existed at noon today and then perished at 2:00 PM,” we would normally think the person is joking. The concept of God simply is the concept of a being that cannot be vulnerable to nonexistence. Second, there does not appear to be anything in the cosmos or about the cosmos that involves necessary existence. The fact that science must observe the world in order to explain it is evidence that world could have been different. The concept of the cosmos is contingent; various scientific theories explaining the way that the world works may have conditional necessity (a quark must have a certain electric charge, given the prevailing laws of physics), but nothing in or about the cosmos is essentially necessarily existent, nor are the laws of physics themselves necessary. There are current laws of the conservation of energy, but none of them provides any reason to think that energy itself necessarily exists. The mere endurance of some force or event over time, even if it is without beginning, does not itself constitute necessary existence.

Charles Taliaferro and Elsa J. Marty “The Coherence of Theism” in Contending with Christianity’s Critics (B&H Academic 2009), page 188.

Faith and Doubt

“A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenceless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart sceptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.

Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts – not only their own but their friends’ and neighbours’. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs to sceptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. And, just as important for our current situation, such a process will lead you, even after you come to a position of strong faith, to respect and understand those who doubt.”

Tim Keller, The Reason for God (Hodder 2008), pages xvi-xvii.

In a Million Years

“Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever. Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse – so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Granite Publishers, Inc, 2006).

Crowns Rolling in the Dust

“Now can this really be, as the media so continuously insist, what life is about—this worldwide soap opera going on from century to century, from era to era, whose old discarded sets and props litter the world? Surely not. Was it to provide a location for so ribald and repetitive a production as this that the universe was created and man—or homo sapiens, as he likes to call himself, heaven knows why—came into existence? I cannot believe it.

If this were all, then the cynics, the hedonists, the suicides are right. The most we can hope for from life is amusement, gratification of our senses, and death. But of course it is not all. Thanks to the great mercy and marvel of the incarnation, the cosmic scene is resolved into a human drama. God reaches down to become a man, and man reaches up to relate himself to God. Time looks into eternity and eternity into time, making now always and always now. If this Christian revelation was ever true, then it must be true for all time and in all circumstances. Whatever may happen, however seemingly inimical to it may be the way the world is going, its truth remains intact and inviolate. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” our Lord said, “but my words shall not pass away.” Our western civilization, like all others before it, must some time or other decompose and disappear. The world’s way of regarding intimations that this is happening is to engage equally in idiot hopes and idiot despair. On the one hand, some new policy or discovery is confidently expected to put everything to rights: a new fuel, a new drug, détente, world government, a common market, North Sea oil, revolution or counter-revolution. On the other hand, some disaster is as confidently expected to prove our undoing: Capitalism will break down, communism take over, or vice versa; fuel will run out, atomic wastes will kill us all, plutonium will lay us low, overpopulation will suffocate us.

In Christian terms, such hopes and fears are equally beside the point. As Christians we know that here we have no continuing city, that crowns roll in the dust, and that every earthly kingdom must some time founder. As Christians, too, we acknowledge a King men did not crown and cannot destroy, just as we are citizens of a city men did not build and cannot destroy. It was in these terms that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome and in Corinth, living as they did in a society as depraved and dissolute as ours—under a ruler, the emperor Nero, who makes even some of our rulers seem positively enlightened—with the games, which, like television, specialized in spectacles of violence and eroticism: “Be steadfast, unmoveable,” he exhorted them, “always abounding in God’s work and concerning yourselves with the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, and the things that are not seen are eternal.” It was in the breakdown of Rome that Christendom was born, and now in the breakdown of Christendom there are the same requirements and the same possibilities to eschew the fantasy of a disintegrating world and seek the reality of what is not seen and is eternal—the reality of Christ. In this reality we see our only hope, our only prospect in a darkening world.”

Malcolm Muggeridge in Christ and the Media, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 21/3, September 1978.