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April 28, 2006

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DallasMike

Many of the Hebrew Scriptures predicted the imminent coming of a Messiah — which is not the same thing as God becoming man — but those predictions demonstrably never came true.

What? You've got to be kidding. It is well-documented that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of his coming. For example, see here and here and here and here and answers to skeptics here. The evidence that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah are overwhelming.

D. C.

Michael McCullough, thanks for leaving the links. I'm not going to do a point by point analysis here. The short answer is:

1. It's very clear from the Hebrew Scriptures that the messianic prophecies foretold the imminent coming of Mashiach, a divinely-anointed warrior-king who would rescue God's people from their (usually Babylonian) conquerors. Jerusalem had been, or was about to be, destroyed, its elites and others killed or carried off into exile. The prophecies predicted that the Anointed One would soon come to kick butt and restore a repentant Chosen People to their rightful place in the LORD's service. The prophecies have a consistent tone: defiance in a position of helplessness ("Just you wait, you foreign conquerors, you're gonna get yours!"), often mixed with reassurance and encouragement to fellow sufferers ("Hang in there, Chosen People — Mashiach is coming!"). Unless you count Cyrus of Persia, however, the foretold Anointed One never did appear.

And if you read the prophetic books in their entirety, Mashiach was a distinctly secondary concept — the overwhelming emphasis of the books was that the LORD God would take care of matters; Mashiach was merely what the LORD would happen to use as his instrument in rescuing his people.

2. I don't think we can take seriously the claims that Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies, for a couple of reasons.

First, the fulfillment claims have a distinct air of very selective use of the OT predictions ex post facto. Inconsistencies in the NT, e.g., about Jesus's birthplace and genealogy, suggest that some NT authors were willing to doctor the facts to make them serviceable for their purposes. It's as though some in the early church went looking through the OT for potential proof-text prophecies, then tweaked the history to make it look as though those particular prophecies had been fulfilled, QED.

Second, and more importantly, Jesus just didn't do what the messianic prophecies had said Mashiach would do.

3. Incidentally, as to the prophecies of Isaiah: A plain reading shows that the suffering servant is the author himself and not Mashiach, and that earlier "servant" passages in the book refer to the Chosen People, again not to Mashiach.

I appreciate your stopping by; the links to collections of resources were quite helpful.

bls

Well, D.C., many quite reasonable secular folks think Christians are ridiculous for believing in God at all, referring to God as our "invisible friend in the sky."

They think that an invisible Creator God, IOW, is just as likely to exist as "giant Siamese cats, governed by a constitutional monarchy, and who inhabit the Alpha Centauri star system."

bls

(BTW, here's the website of R.J. Rummel a Professor of Political Science at U Hawaii, who's done extensive research on "Democide in the 20th Century" - which he calls "murder by government." He puts the total death-by-democide during the past century at 262,000,000. And he doesn't count war casualties in that figure, BTW.

So I don't think it's very surprising that many people aren't terrifically sunny about human nature, and don't see much of Enlightenment or Progress there.)

D. C.

bls writes:

Well, D.C., many quite reasonable secular folks think Christians are ridiculous for believing in God at all, referring to God as our "invisible friend in the sky."

They think that an invisible Creator God, IOW, is just as likely to exist as "giant Siamese cats, governed by a constitutional monarchy, and who inhabit the Alpha Centauri star system."

bls, the difference is that we have hard evidence that is quite reasonably explained by the existence of a Creator. To any given person, maybe the evidence is persuasive, or maybe it's not, but there's no question that a reasonable person could be persuaded by it. In contrast, we have no such evidence about the Cats of Alpha Centauri.

(I draw here on a standard principle of Anglo-American appellate law: If a jury of reasonable people could have reached a particular verdict after considering the evidence of record, then [with very limited exceptions] the appellate court will not disturb that verdict, even if the appellate judges personally would have reached a different conclusion if they had been the jurors.)

It's nice to hear from you, BTW.

bls

D.C., I can never figure out why you absolutely insist there's clear evidence of an invisible Creator God - and yet categorically deny the Incarnation or the Resurrection. If God could create the entire Universe ex nihilo - and in the process avoid detection by human beings for all eternity! - surely God could become Incarnate from the Virgin Mary and be Made Man. It would be a snap, in comparison. And surely on the Third Day He could Rise again in accordance with the Scriptures.

Oh, well. I guess that's what makes horse races.

;-)

(About the Alpha Centauri Cats: it's really just a matter of individual faith. I believe in them, and that's what counts!)

D. C.

bls writes:

If God could create the entire Universe ex nihilo - and in the process avoid detection by human beings for all eternity! - surely God could become Incarnate from the Virgin Mary and be Made Man.

Sure, he could have. The question is, did he? On that point, the evidence, or at least evidence I'm willing to rely on, just isn't there.

D. C.

bls writes:

(About the Alpha Centauri Cats: it's really just a matter of individual faith. I believe in them, and that's what counts!)

You and John Wilkins both, I'm guessing. :-)

Sometimes beliefs can properly be left in the realm of individual faith. In large part, it depends on how consequential a decision you propose to make on the basis of that belief.

Suppose my doctor believes I have colon cancer and need to have my colon removed (as I read happened to new White House press secretary Tony Snow). That likely would mean I'd have to live the rest of my life with a colostomy bag. You can rest assured I'm not going to regard the cancer diagnosis and surgery decision as properly a matter of the doctor's individual faith.

So now consider this decision: Should I accept that Jesus was God Incarnate, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, etc.? I cannot imagine a more consequential decision. I'm not going to make that decision on the basis of evidence that, in my professional judgment, would not even pass the red-face test in court. It's too important for that.

Anyway, that's where I'm coming from.

bls

Well, if Christ was divine and there's only One God, then I'd say the evidence is clearly there.

If Christ wasn't divine - and Mark's account of the baptism of Jesus implies otherwise - then I'll probably become a Buddhist.

Gassho!

D. C.

bls writes: "Well, if Christ was divine and there's only One God, then I'd say the evidence is clearly there." (Emphasis added.)

Objection, your honor; assumes facts not in evidence.

bls

That was a decision tree, D.C. I'm saying if Christ = Divine, then Action 1. If not Christ = Divine, then Action 2.

And from my point of view, the facts are definitely in evidence. "Christ = Divine" leads to profound spiritual experience. Good enough for me.

D. C.

bls writes: "Christ = Divine" leads to profound spiritual experience.

Two questions:

(i) Is that a causal relation, or merely correlation? If the latter, what's the cause?

(ii) Can similar profound spiritual experiences arise without Christ = Divine? If so, what are the implications for your own implication?

bls

(i) Cause.

(ii) Not that I've noticed.

David Huff

Well, to wrench the conversation back to the topic of the orig post, I think D.C. is right to call this the Elephant in the Room. If there's any reason more germane as to why church attendance is dropping, I can't think of what it could be.

And the neo-orthodox of TEC are completely unable to deal with this - because they're so wedded to pre-modern, anti-Enlightenment theological stances (heck, the Christian church as a whole is overwhelmingly this way).

If we can't get past this, then maybe we deserve to have our church attendance patterns mirror the EU more & more as time goes by. And I'm not sure this would be a bad thing. Beats an anti-Enlightenment culture by a long shot :)

bls

David, this is the original topic. I'm disagreeing with D.C. about his thesis here. Personally, I can't imagine why anybody would want to go to Church to experience "Enlightenment Culture." Christianity is by its very nature a mystical religion; that's it's whole basis and that's why it began.

And we have "Enlightenment Culture" all around us. We have Philosophy and Ethics and Psychology and Science. Why would anybody need religion at all, in that case? Religion is non-rational by definition.

Again: many rationalists think religion of any kind is crazy. I really can never understand why people find belief in God to be perfectly reasonable and then go nuts over the Trinity and the Incarnation. (And really: the Incarnation is quintessential Anglicanism. Without it, I can't see what's left, and I certainly wouldn't bother getting up on Sunday mornings. I'd be out of the Church in about a second and a half.)

bls

(Now that I think about it, maybe you guys are seeing this in a skewed way because you live in Texas and all you see is the fundamentalist forms of religion.

There's a good, mystical version of traditional Christianity, you know. Lots of very smart and reasonable folks were religious Christians: Pascal, Copernicus (who was a priest), Kepler, Galileo, Arthur Eddington, C.S. Lewis, Gregor Mendel, Fermi, Euler, Gauss. Etc.

I really don't think Church attendance (or non-attendance) is related to this theology or that one. Most people outside the Church can't tell us apart, and think we're all crazy. I think attendance is dropping because people don't need Church and would rather sleep in.

And they're not going Unitarian, either, so that should probably tell us something, no?

bls

(And BTW, Europeans have a totally difference take on religion than we do. They have a pretty bad history of religious war that we don't have here. I'm pretty sure this is a big factor in their avoiding Church.)

bls

And just to ask: What are these "more-persuasive reasons" you speak of, D.C.? I think you'll have to name them in order to convince us you're right.

D. C.

BLS —

A. I'm not saying I have more persuasive reasons to follow Jesus. I'm saying that what we have, has failed to get the job done.

I do have an embryonic candidate for a more persuasive reason to follow Jesus. I claim that the historical evidence gives us sufficient reason to believe that the following things are going on:

1. There IS a Creator.

2. The Creator's work was not a one-time thing, but has been going on for billions of years. That work has been happening via natural processes, and quite possibly via on-going intervention. (Putting it another way, the story of Creation isn't a snapshot, it's a movie.)

3. If historical trends are any guide, the end result of the Creation is likely to be unimaginably wonderful.

4. We seem to be workers in the Creator's construction crew: Evidently, by living our lives, exercising our gifts of memory, reason, and skill — and, importantly, the gift of desire, the sense that things aren't as we would like them to be and that we should do something about it — we play a significant role in this continuing creation. As a Lutheran theologian (whose name escapes me at the moment) puts it, we are created co-creators.

5. Our service as created co-creators is sufficient to give meaning to life. In fact, it can properly be the primary focus of our lives. (This part needs more work, I know.)

6. We don't know what happens when we die. But it's not unreasonable to conjecture that we will not simply be dismissed when our service in the continuing creation is finished.

7. Arguably THE formula for success in our service — and, not coincidentally, a key to our evolutionary success — is to do as Jesus preached, namely, to strive (i) to follow the Great Commandment, which entails among other things facing the facts; (ii) to love your neighbor as yourself — and your neighbor is whoever crosses your path, not just your kinsman; and (iii) to keep trying to do better, to work to change your mind and heart (metanoia, usually translated as "repentance") when you see that you're missing the mark (hamartia, usually translated as "sin"). In emphasizing these things, Jesus appears to have put his finger on something fundamental in the divine order of things: "Do this and you will live."

I need to elaborate on these points a good deal more, I realize.

--------------------

B. A mystic's intelligence doesn't automatically mean that his or her understanding of God, his works, and his will, are correct. The acid test is: how well does the understanding explain the evidence of the real world — that is, the evidence we have of what God has actually wrought — and predict future events in God's creation? That's why I keep citing Deut. 18.22: "If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken."

--------------------

C. From what I've read of UU "theology," the UUs don't offer a lot that would seem to give life any meaning. As you say, if that's all you have, why bother getting out of bed on Sunday morning?

David Huff

Sorry, been away for awhile :) I mentioned the Enlightenment above not as a "code word" for being opposed to a mystical Christian sensibility, but as a way for saying I'm against the sort of anti-modern, anti-science & reason, "reality-impaired" stance of the neo-orthodox.

bls

Actually, D.C., your philosophy sounds quite a bit like Teilhard de Chardin's - a French mystic of the early 20th century.

;-)

What I know of it, anyway.

Let me just respond to your that "A mystic's intelligence doesn't automatically mean that his or her understanding of God, his works, and his will, are correct." I'm sure you're right about this - but is there anybody who does have a "correct" understanding of these things? I wouldn't think so.

But I will say that the mystics were certainly onto something, at least. First, most report exactly the same experiences; that means that what they are doing is real and a method of action. Second, many did live lives of incredible sacrifice and love, sometimes sacrificing their own lives in the process. I don't think it's actually necessary that they be able to predict events; that isn't part of the Great Commandment, or the command that we love one another. And of course, in the religious life there is daily and continual self-examination and prayer and repentence.

bls

I know, David. Sorry. I do forget that there's this whole other version of Christianity that I rarely see around here, but that exists in a lot of other places. We don't have "neo-orthodox" around here, much.

Andrew

With respect, your underlying assumptions are way off base with this post. You seem to want people to believe that traditional Christianity is losing ground to New-Age style churches.

Yes, the "traditional" Catholic church is losing ground from the scandals of pedophiliac priests and because the mother church has drifted away from preaching the simple truth of the Bible -- sola sciptura --and salvation through Jesus Christ.

You did not mention that the Anglican/Episcopalian church has also lost well over 1 million members in its efforts to promote a non-Biblical, feel-good New-Age kind of Christianity that is really not Christianity at all.

What you're missing is the explosive growth of millions of people moving to Bible-based, evangelical churches that preach and teach the good news of the Bible. People are hungry to hear the truth of God's word and desirous of coming to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

It saddens me when someone who does not believe the Bible, and does not accept Christ as divine, refers to themself as a "Christian." Being a Christian means that you are a follower of Christ; how can you follow someone you do not believe in?

The night before he was seized by the Romans, Jesus told his worried followers: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me...I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Christ boldly and repeatedly said that he and the Father are one. If you reject what he said about himself, I would submit that you are not a Christian, you are a Deist or an agnostic.

That's bad news. The good news is you still have time to reach out in prayer to Jesus: acknowledge that you are a hopeless sinner, accept Him as your personal Lord and Savior, then strive to live your life faithfully for Him each day with the Bible as your "instruction manual" and the Holy Spirit as your inner guide.

Through this process --and God's grace-- you are saved and will someday enter Heaven.

P.S: The book of John is an eyewitness account that most experts agree was written in 2 or 3 stages by John the Disciple of Christ beginning around 50 A.D. He later wrote the Book of Revelation on the Isle of Patmos around 95 A.D.

In Him,

Andrew

D. C.

Andrew, thanks for the comment.

1. Actually, my contention is that among educated people, the whole church is losing ground to atheism and agnosticism because traditional Christianity -- and by that I include even the New-Age varieties that still try to patch up traditional doctrines -- simply has too many holes in it to be credible.

(Did you see the recent NY Times article reporting that evangelical leaders are concerned that their young people are abandoning the faith in droves?)

2. I'm a follower of Jesus because I try to live in accordance with his teachings. The trads are unconvincing in their ipse-dixit claim that more than this is supposedly required.

3. As for any of us being hopeless sinners: With respect, rubbish. We seem to be created co-creators who, by learning, aspiring, serving, and trusting, are playing a non-trivial role in the Creator's continuing work. Sure, we're all imperfect, but the glass is half-full at least. It's tragic that so many trads are so obssessed with the imperfections.

4. I guess we'll have to disagree about the Fourth Gospel.

5. I appreciate your having taken the time to comment. And thanks for the good wishes.

Andrea

I ask you to look at your life in truth. Assess it for its beauty, goodness, and truth. Everything. And then deny try to the need for repentance.

Your article screams denial to me, and I worry for you as a brother. I know you are trying.

I recommend Jeff Cavins' "The Great Bible Adventure". If only to prove me wrong. But I believe then you'll have to try proving God wrong.

I am so concerned for you. I want you to be as close to Him as possible! And I have gotten there, and continue to grow there, through my upbringing as a Catholic. The other day, after recieving our Lord in Holy Communion, I saw a crack in the floor, and was told "Even that crack is sanctified by my sacrifice - you have no idea how close you are to sanctity."

I pray you take a step out of this culture (and I am a huge pop culture consumer) and find a Holy Hour of expostition. MAybe it will prove nothing to you. But maybe, it will be everything.

Your Sister in Christ,

Andrea

Matt

1 Corinthians 9:22-23

"To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it."

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