My New Blog!

golden bulletFriends and readers, I am starting a new blog called Select Arrow! In the near future, this will be my one and only blog, replacing Theology Geek and my other online projects. I will preserve some of my favorite posts and continue my exploration of Theology, Mental Health, and Art. Please check out SelectArrow.org. Thank you!

A Biblical Theology of Mathematics

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The Bible does not answer all possible questions regarding the role and purpose and reasonable extent and use of mathematics. Mathematical ideas and concepts seem to have existed in the mind of God before mankind elucidated them, but this is more in a Biblical sense that David wrote, “Before a thought is on my lips, you know it completely, O Lord” (Psalm 139:4) rather than the Platonic sense that true mathematical ideas exist in the mind of God before man discovers them and that mathematical discovery is somehow probing the mind of God. To be sure, a created world that gives such evidence of mathematical thinking, combined with God’s assertions of the created order and use of mathematics in Scripture give evidence that the process of creation involved mathematical thinking on the part of the creator.

However, theoretical physics and mathematics are not the best process for knowing God’s thoughts…

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IS GOD EVERYWHERE?

We have tackled the weighty questions of ‘Does God Know Everything?’ and ‘Can God Do Anything?’ Now we turn our attention to ‘Is God Everywhere?’

I have procrastinated a long time in writing this post. The concept of omnipresence is very abstract and complicated. We must delve into the brain-teasing subject of the spatial relationships of spiritual beings, objects, and places. While this is a favorite area of inquiry for me, we can quickly spiral off into tangents with no practical value to our day-to-day lives as Christians. On the surface, it does not seem that omnipresence is even a doctrine worth spending time on. Omniscience and omnipotence have immediate implications for Christian belief and life whereas whether or not God is “present in all places at all times” (Merriam-Webster) or ‘spatially infinite’ appears to be rather academic. Why did early theologians even bother themselves with this infinite attribute?

Allow me to share a perspective that will hopefully illuminate why this discussion is both helpful and relevant. Some people may assume a religion like Hinduism is polytheistic. Polytheism, in contrast to monotheism, means belief in multiple gods. However, Hinduism is more accurately defined by pantheism or even perhaps panentheism. In a pantheistic system, the divine penetrates and permeates all things: a rock is divine; a tree is divine; a mosquito is divine, the West Nile virus that mosquito is carrying is divine… Now, I do not pretend to be an expert on the incredibly diverse religion of Hinduism, but this concept of pantheism is also found in Taoism, the New Age movement, as well as in the fictional Jedi religion of the Star Wars series. Pantheism is today, in its many forms, an influential worldview.

In contrast, Christianity presents a worldview with a clear distinction between Creator and Creation. God is eternally pre-existent and qualitatively different from everything that came after him. The ‘creature’ (e.g., you and me) is closer in essence to the nothingness from whence it was called into being than to the infinite God that transcends the physical cosmos. Christians can categorically say “this is God” and “this is not God.” So, how do we reconcile this theological proposition of God being “present in all places at all times” with the clear Creator / Creation distinction? How could anything not be divine if God is fully present throughout all creation? Or, perhaps the common perception of omnipresence is off base.

Our discussion will necessitate an examination of the Transcendence and Immanence attributes of God, a look at the Biblical data where language depicting proximity and presence of the divine is used, and a discussion of how the doctrine of omnipresence radically differs between the different persons of the so-called Trinity.

To save time, I will go ahead and share my hypothesis upfront and then examine each member of the Trinity in more depth in subsequent posts:

Current Hypothesis:

God the Father is, by his nature, transcendent and necessarily separate from the physical universe. It would be more accurate to say that the cosmos exists within God rather than to think of God the Father as being present within the cosmos. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). “… in him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:28a)

God the Son, especially post-Incarnation as Jesus Christ, has a physical body and, although he can go anywhere he wants, cannot be in more than one location at a time. “Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.” (Matthew 24:25-16) Jesus has a physical form by choice (albeit now glorified) that precludes omnipresence. “… Christ Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God … emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (see: Philippians 2:5-6)

God the Spirit is who we would most consider to represent the classic depiction of omnipresence. The Holy Spirit can fill the entire universe and be everywhere at all times, although it does not necessarily follow that he IS everywhere at all times. Although the Spirit of Yahweh has operated throughout Biblical history, Jesus specifically mentions asking for the Father to send the Spirit. Elsewhere we read about the Spirit being poured out on all flesh at a future point in time. So spiritual-spatially, this Spirit did not seem to be everywhere at once at all times in the past. Today, Christians can experience the Holy Spirit simultaneously on opposite sides of the planet. A key is this: most descriptions of God being near or distant seem to speak to relational closeness and distance, rather than physical proximity. In the most well-known passage that is used as evidence of the doctrine of omnipresence, the psalmist poetically intones, Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand will lay hold of me.” (Psalm 139:7-10, emphasis added)

To be continued…

THE SPEED OF LIGHT AND SPIRITUAL LAWS

642736_76463569Einstein famously said, “God doesn’t play with dice.” Observers of our created universe note predictable patterns that govern the motion of physical matter. Over time, scientists test hypotheses and develop theories. Theories, given enough testing and widespread acceptance, become laws.

There are a variety of fundamental scientific laws / principles that have been discovered, and they often bear the names of the human discoverers. Naturally, as a Christian I believe that the creator of these laws is Yahweh himself, who through his wisdom established every aspect of the physical reality we inhabit (Proverbs 3:19).

Here are a few examples of scientific laws:

Newton’s First Law of Motion: The velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force.

Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics: If two systems are in thermal equilibrium with a third system, they are also in thermal equilibrium with each other.

Einstein’s Principal of the Constancy of the Speed of Light: The speed of light in a vacuum is a universal physical constant.

These scientific laws appear to accurately and predictably describe how our physical universe operates and will continue to operate. Proponents of multiverse theories argue that such laws may be totally different in other universes. The speed of light may not be 299,792,458 meters per second in another universe. With an infinite number of universes, the argument goes, we just happen to be in one with an essentially randomized speed of light. Now, I am not convinced as to the existence of a parallel physical universe, but I do believe in a parallel spiritual reality.

For whatever reason, God actualized a universe (the physical reality we live in) in which we observe the speed of light as indeed being 299,792,456 meters per second. Like it or not, that is just the way it is. You can’t change the facts. This may even be an inconvenient truth, because no matter how much I would like to fly a spaceship to Polaris, it would take me 434 years if I could somehow travel at light speed. I could never arrive sooner. Warp drives don’t exist.

What many people do not realize is that there are spiritual laws in place that govern our spiritual reality just like scientific laws govern our physical reality. Regardless of our opinions, beliefs, understanding, or desires, they remain true and timeless. One such spiritual law is as follows:

“… without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22b)

Many people do not understand the atonement. ‘Wait… why did Jesus have to die to forgive our sins? He’s God, right? Can’t he just snap his fingers and make everything better? Why are Christians so obsessed with the blood of Christ?’ In fact, many lay Christians do not know that there are many competing and intersecting theories of atonement debated in theological circles about what the sacrifice of Christ accomplished. Regardless of all that, there seems to be a very real spiritual constant in much the same way that the speed of light in a vacuum is a physical constant. Sin can never be forgiven unless blood is shed. This is a spiritual law, presumably established as a wise design decision of God, which predates any of us and cannot be altered. No human can use a spiritual warp drive to shortcut this unavoidable fact about their sinfulness.

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” (Leviticus 17:11)

minimalism

minimalism

Is minimalism a fad, a trend, a movement, or a revolution? The answer is yes.

As a writer, I had primarily been acquainted with ‘literary minimalism,’ which is a particular writing style. However, through encountering blogs such as ‘Becoming Minimalist,’ books such as ‘The Joy of Less,’ and television shows such as ‘Tiny House Nation,’ I have arrived late to a party I didn’t know was going on right up the block – minimalism as a lifestyle ethos.

I have two competing aesthetic impulses. One is my attraction to monasticism and the other to perfectionism. I admire monks that withdraw from society and the distractions of the world, wholly devoted to deeper spiritual pursuits. I once spent five days in a monastery for a personal spiritual retreat. At the same time, I am an adherent to Sturgeon’s Law, which states that “ninety percent of everything is crap.” It would seem like those impulses are complimentary, but I feel an urge to hoard that remaining 10%. I desire to own ALL of the best books ever written, ALL of the greatest films, ALL of the (fill in the blank), etc. That drive for owning the best has the side-effect of materialism and consumerism – acquire enough golden needles from haystacks and you end up with a very large pile of needles.

So why the lifestyle reappraisal? My children are a big part of it. Having two kids under two and being the only breadwinner has shifted the financial margins of my life. Suddenly, I am ‘living within my means’ even less than usual. And as for my collections? Well, I barely have enough time during the day to crack open one exquisite Bible, let alone eighteen and counting. Owning more stuff has not directly correlated to a happier life. Indeed, I often feel anxiety about neglecting to make more use out of my belongings at a time in my life where I have very little free time.

Although minimalism may appear more in leftist, hipster, and survivalist circles, it is thoroughly compatible with Christianity. Jesus told this parable in Luke 12: “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared? So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

You can’t take your belongings with you, and it is far better to store up treasure in heaven. On this earth, Romans 13:8 encourages us to “owe nothing to anyone…” Many places in scripture talk about the importance of contentment, which is counter-cultural to the American Dream.

Minimalism isn’t just about de-cluttering, but simplifying. In focusing on the things that truly matter the quality of your life improves. I am finding all kinds of advice such as “have nothing on your counters” and “make a list of every single thing you own.” So, I am taking my first tentative steps in this new direction. Sometimes less allows you to be more. Hmmm… now which of my awesome coffee mugs do I give away?

OCCULTISM IN VIDEOGAMES

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I have been a fan of videogames from the time Mario first stomped on a goomba. I remember fondly the first videogame that was mine, truly mine – Bomberman (1990) for the TurboGrafx-16, unwrapped on a Southern California Christmas day. Decades later, my deep-seated appreciation of the art form remains. A well-made videogame can be an experience of pure pleasure, like a continuous dopamine explosion inside your brain with very few negative side-effects. And although videogames are truly meaningless in the grand scheme of things, they offer the closest analogue of God’s creative power compared to just about anything else on Earth.

More so than any other medium, a videogame allows people to “go inside” a unique world created by an intelligent mind, to interact with that environment and often with other people, to express one’s self individually inside that artificial reality, and to live and die according to the rules and boundaries established by the creator. The creator himself can choose to bend or suspend the rules of his created world at will, and he establishes the parameters by which good performance and accomplishment of goals is measured.

I personally enjoy obscure Japanese videogames. The more obscure and “hardcore” the better. That is why I own ‘Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires’ for Xbox One… not because it is that good but because it is pretty much your only option for a semi-obscure Japanese videogame on Xbox One (I am kicking myself for not getting a PS4… there have been more awesome games released for FREE on that system than are currently available for Xbox One. Alas…) Japan is the country that has been most influential in the history of gaming, from Donkey Kong to Pac Man to Mega Man to Street Fighter to Pokémon to the Legend of Zelda and beyond.

But all is not well in paradise. Christians must face the fact that videogames are rife with occultism. Many professing Christians would likely avoid videogames that had explicit sexual or pornographic content. And, in real life, many Christians would choose not to engage in obvious forms of occult activity: engaging in seances, fortune telling and divination, transcendental meditation, praying to false gods, idol worship, human sacrifices on pagan altars, Satan worship… or any other such magical or occult rituals clearly forbidden in the Bible. But when it comes to videogames… many Christians hardly bat an eye when confronted with occult content.

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Some Christians reading this will argue for “Christian freedom” and “matters of conscience,” and I quite agree with them. But I have to recognize 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (NIV). What can contaminate the human spirit more than the occult?

Like the country of Japan, which I deeply love, the world of gaming is neck-deep in spiritual darkness. The CIA World Factbook gives the following statistics on religion in Japan: Shintoism 83.9%, Buddhism 71.4%, Christianity 2%, other 7.8% note: total adherents exceeds 100% because many people belong to both Shintoism and Buddhism (2005). As shrines and superstition permeate Japanese culture, occultism or “magic” fills the shelves of videogame retailers.

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This can seem at times benign: the paranormal ghost, psychic, fairy, and dark type Pokemon, the sprites and Harvest goddess in Harvest Moon, the mystical tri-force in Zelda, the fiery netherworld of Minecraft, even the frigging Magikoopa character in Mario games. Other times the occultism can be striking: demonic background art in Mortal Kombat stages, summoning undead minions as a necromancer in Diablo II, learning words of power to create magical shouts as the prophesied Dragonborn in Skyrim (which is admittedly a masterpiece of videogame design).

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Drew Koehler at ‘Geeks Under Grace’ writes: “There certainly are things that we, as Christians, just should not partake in. Some of the more obvious ones are hyper-sexual situations or clearly occult, demonic things. There are also things that some of us have deep convictions about, and we could easily slip into sin by allowing only a little bit of it in at a time. We must guard our hearts and minds at all times so we don’t fall into these traps.”

Ultimately, every Christian gamer will have to prayerfully determine where they draw the line in their own entertainment choices, and should never be a stumbling block to others. And yes, there are some awesome games out there that avoid occultism… but not nearly enough of the obscure Japanese variety.

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HOW THE REFORMATION NEGLECTED THE HOLY SPIRIT

The following are excerpts from a chapter on pneumatology from Timothy C. Tennent’s excellent book, Theology in the Context of World Christianity:

“The Reformation’s emphasis on the authority of Scripture, ecclesiology, and Christology are clearly reflected in the post-Reformation attempt to systematize the theological deposit of the Reformers. However, this meant that, as was the case during the patristic period, a full development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was delayed and several vital aspects of his person and work were neglected in post-Reformation Protestant theology in the West. Over time, several major theological traditions developed that either denied completely or extremely limited the active role of the Holy Spirit in performing miracles, divine healing, demonic deliverance, prophecy, tongue-speaking, and other elements that later became central features of the Pentecostal doctrine of the Holy Spirit. For example, this tendency is evident in many expressions of Reformed theology as well as in the later nineteenth-century emergence of dispensationalism …” (Tennent 2007, 171).

“Traditional Western theologies were written by scholars who received their education in respected universities that were deeply influenced by Enlightenment assumptions. The Enlightenment worldview creates a high wall separating the experiential world of the senses – governed by reason and subject to scientific inquiry – from the unseen world beyond the wall; such a world either does not exist (naturalism) or, if it does, we can know little about it (deism). The result has been essentially a two-tiered universe that separates the world of science from the world of religion.

Biblical evangelicalism has challenged this worldview by insisting that God has supernaturally broken through this wall in the incarnation and that knowledge of the unseen world has been provided by the certainty of divine revelation. Evangelicals argued that through prayer we can have sustained communication and fellowship with God. The problem with this approach is that the basic two-tiered universe of the Enlightenment worldview remains intact. It has merely been modified so that Christians punch a few holes in the wall to provide a framework whereby God can come into the empirical world through the incarnation and revelation and we, in turn, can have access to the unseen world through prayer. The basic separation is left unchallenged …” (Tennent, 178).

“The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring the “not yet” of the kingdom into the “already” of our fallen world. All the future realities of the kingdom are now fully available to all believers through the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Doctrines of cessationism or partial cessationism are, in the final analysis, detrimental concessions to an Enlightenment worldview that has unduly influenced the church with its naturalistic presuppositions…” (Tennent, 179).